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Income and child maltreatment in unmarried families: evidence from the earned income tax credit


  • Lawrence M. Berger

    () (University of Wisconsin-Madison, Institute for Research on Poverty and School of Social Work)

  • Sarah A. Font

    (University of Texas at Austin Population Research Center)

  • Kristen S. Slack

    (University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Social Work)

  • Jane Waldfogel

    (Columbia University School of Social Work)


Abstract This study estimates the associations of income with both (self-reported) child protective services involvement and parenting behaviors that proxy for child abuse and neglect risk among unmarried families. Our primary strategy follows the instrumental variables approach employed by Dahl and Lochner (2012), which leverages variation between states and over time in the generosity of the total state and federal earned income tax credit for which a family is eligible to identify exogenous variation in family income. As a robustness check, we also estimate standard OLS regressions (linear probability models), reduced form OLS regressions, and OLS regressions with the inclusion of a control function (each with and without family-specific fixed effects). Our micro-level data are drawn from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a longitudinal birth-cohort of relatively disadvantaged urban children who have been followed from birth to age nine. Results suggest that an exogenous increase in income is associated with reductions in behaviorally approximated child neglect and CPS involvement, particularly among low-income single-mother families.

Suggested Citation

  • Lawrence M. Berger & Sarah A. Font & Kristen S. Slack & Jane Waldfogel, 2017. "Income and child maltreatment in unmarried families: evidence from the earned income tax credit," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 15(4), pages 1345-1372, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:reveho:v:15:y:2017:i:4:d:10.1007_s11150-016-9346-9
    DOI: 10.1007/s11150-016-9346-9

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Kristen Shook Slack & Jane L. Holl & Bong Joo Lee & Marla McDaniel & Lisa Altenbernd & Amy Bush Stevens, 2003. "Child protective intervention in the context of welfare reform: The effects of work and welfare on maltreatment reports," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 22(4), pages 517-536.
    2. Chris Herbst, 2011. "The Impact of the Earned Income Tax Credit on Marriage and Divorce: Evidence from Flow Data," Population Research and Policy Review, Springer;Southern Demographic Association (SDA), vol. 30(1), pages 101-128, February.
    3. Gordon B. Dahl & Lance Lochner, 2012. "The Impact of Family Income on Child Achievement: Evidence from the Earned Income Tax Credit," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(5), pages 1927-1956, August.
    4. Gruber, Jon & Saez, Emmanuel, 2002. "The elasticity of taxable income: evidence and implications," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(1), pages 1-32, April.
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    11. Donald S. Kenkel & Maximilian D. Schmeiser & Carly Urban, 2014. "Is Smoking Inferior?: Evidence from Variation in the Earned Income Tax Credit," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 49(4), pages 1094-1120.
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    15. Bruce D. Meyer, 2010. "The Effects of the Earned Income Tax Credit and Recent Reforms," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 24, pages 153-180, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Amelia M. Biehl & Brian Hill, 2018. "Foster care and the earned income tax credit," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 16(3), pages 661-680, September.
    2. Sandner, Malte & Thomsen, Stephan L., 2018. "The Effects of Universal Public Childcare Provision on Cases of Child Neglect and Abuse," IZA Discussion Papers 11687, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    3. Feely, Megan & Seay, Kristen D. & Loomis, Alysse M., 2019. "Harsh physical punishment as a mediator between income, re-reports and out-of-home placement in a child protective services-involved population," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 103(C), pages 70-78.
    4. Sandner, Malte & Thomsen, Stephan L., 2020. "Preventing Child Maltreatment: Beneficial Side Effects of Public Childcare Provision," Hannover Economic Papers (HEP) dp-669, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Wirtschaftswissenschaftliche Fakultät.
    5. Wan, Guowei & Wang, Miao & Chen, Sitao, 2019. "Child abuse in ethnic regions: Evidence from 2899 girls in Southwest China," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 105(C), pages 1-1.
    6. Monahan, Emma Kahle, 2020. "Income instability and child maltreatment: Exploring associations and mechanisms," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 108(C).
    7. Natasha Pilkauskas & Katherine Michelmore, 2019. "The Effect of the Earned Income Tax Credit on Housing and Living Arrangements," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 56(4), pages 1303-1326, August.
    8. Maria D. Fitzpatrick & Cassandra Benson & Samuel R. Bondurant, 2020. "Beyond Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic: The Role of Teachers and Schools in Reporting Child Maltreatment," NBER Working Papers 27033, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item


    Child abuse and neglect; Child protective services; Child welfare; Earned income tax credit; Fragile families and child wellbeing study;

    JEL classification:

    • I38 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - Government Programs; Provision and Effects of Welfare Programs
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth
    • H75 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Government: Health, Education, and Welfare
    • H53 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Government Expenditures and Welfare Programs


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