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State-level Welfare Policies and Nonmarital Subsequent Childbearing


  • Suzanne Ryan


  • Jennifer Manlove
  • Sandra Hofferth


Using discrete time event history analyses of data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), we examine the association between state-level welfare waiver policies implemented before the 1996 welfare reform legislation and the risk of a nonmarital subsequent birth. Our study makes a unique contribution to the existing literature by using a national-level sample of unmarried mothers who ever received welfare. This high-risk sample represents the women of most interest to policymakers, as it is the exact group to whom welfare reform is targeted—welfare mothers at risk of having nonmarital additional births. The state policies we study include: family cap, earnings disregard, work exemptions, work requirements, and sanctions. We conclude that, although reducing the number of nonmarital births is a key goal of welfare reform, state-established welfare waiver policies do not have any influence on women’s childbearing behaviors in this sample, net of women’s individual characteristics and state economic environments. Even the family cap policy, which was designed for the sole purpose of reducing additional births, has no significant association with nonmarital subsequent childbearing. Instead, personal characteristics, not public policies, are stronger determinants of women’s childbearing decisions. Age, race/ethnicity, marital status, number of previous children, education level, and welfare receipt are significantly associated with nonmarital subsequent births. Overall, this paper contributes to an expanding body of research that shows minimal effects of welfare waivers on fertility. Our work suggests that more targeted policies are necessary to be able to influence individual family formation behaviors. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Suggested Citation

  • Suzanne Ryan & Jennifer Manlove & Sandra Hofferth, 2006. "State-level Welfare Policies and Nonmarital Subsequent Childbearing," Population Research and Policy Review, Springer;Southern Demographic Association (SDA), vol. 25(1), pages 103-126, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:poprpr:v:25:y:2006:i:1:p:103-126
    DOI: 10.1007/s11113-006-0004-4

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Melissa Schettini Kearney, 2004. "Is There an Effect of Incremental Welfare Benefits on Fertility Behavior?: A Look at the Family Cap," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 39(2).
    2. John M. Fitzgerald & David Ribar, 2001. "The Impact of Welfare Waivers on Female Headship Decisions," JCPR Working Papers 247, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
    3. Rebecca M. Blank, 1999. "What Goes Up Must Come Down? Explaining Recent Changes in Public Assistance Caseloads," JCPR Working Papers 78, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
    4. David N. Figlio & James P. Ziliak, 1999. "Welfare Reform, the Business Cycle, and the Decline in AFDC Caseloads," JCPR Working Papers 77, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ohinata, Asako, 2008. "Fertility Response to Financial Incentives-Evidence from the Working Families Tax Credit in the UK," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 851, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    2. David Swanson & Jerome McKibben, 2010. "New Directions in the Development of Population Estimates in the United States?," Population Research and Policy Review, Springer;Southern Demographic Association (SDA), vol. 29(6), pages 797-818, December.


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