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Child Cash Benefits and Family Expenditures: Evidence from the National Child Benefit


  • Lauren E. Jones
  • Kevin S. Milligan
  • Mark Stabile


A vast literature has examined the impact of family income on the health and development outcomes of children. Income may improve child outcomes through two mechanisms. First, income may improve development outcomes if it improves a family’s ability to purchase direct inputs into child education and health production such as reading material, educational equipment, and health care. Second, by reducing stress and conflict, additional income helps to foster an environment more conducive to healthy child development, regardless of the nature of specific expenditures. In this paper, we exploit changes in refundable tax benefit income in Canada to study these questions. Importantly, our approach allows us to make stronger causal inferences than has been possible in existing studies. Using variation in child benefits across province, time, and family type, we study expenditure patterns of families receiving child benefits. Our findings suggest that additional income may improve outcomes through both mechanisms: some benefit income is spent on direct education and health inputs, while some is spent on everyday items likely to improve the general conditions children face. Additionally, some families reduce spending on risky behavior items. Spending responses to benefit generosity appear to vary by income.

Suggested Citation

  • Lauren E. Jones & Kevin S. Milligan & Mark Stabile, 2015. "Child Cash Benefits and Family Expenditures: Evidence from the National Child Benefit," NBER Working Papers 21101, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:21101
    Note: CH PE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Baugh, Brian & Ben-David, Itzhak & Park, Hoonsuk, 2013. "Disentangling Financial Constraints, Precautionary Savings, and Myopia: Household Behavior Surrounding Federal Tax Returns," Working Paper Series 2013-20, Ohio State University, Charles A. Dice Center for Research in Financial Economics.
    2. Hilary Hoynes & Doug Miller & David Simon, 2015. "Income, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Infant Health," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 7(1), pages 172-211, February.
    3. Andrew Goodman-Bacon & Leslie McGranahan, 2008. "How do EITC recipients spend their refunds?," Economic Perspectives, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, issue Q II, pages 17-32.
    4. Sumit Agarwal & Chunlin Liu & Nicholas S. Souleles, 2007. "The Reaction of Consumer Spending and Debt to Tax Rebates-Evidence from Consumer Credit Data," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 115(6), pages 986-1019, December.
    5. Garry Barrett & Peter Levell & Kevin Milligan, 2014. "A Comparison of Micro and Macro Expenditure Measures across Countries Using Differing Survey Methods," NBER Chapters,in: Improving the Measurement of Consumer Expenditures, pages 263-286 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Reagan Baughman & Stacy Dickert-Conlin, 2009. "The earned income tax credit and fertility," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 22(3), pages 537-563, July.
    7. Kevin Milligan & Mark Stabile, 2011. "Do Child Tax Benefits Affect the Well-Being of Children? Evidence from Canadian Child Benefit Expansions," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 3(3), pages 175-205, August.
    8. Marianne Bertrand & Adair Morse, 2016. "Trickle-Down Consumption," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 98(5), pages 863-879, December.
    9. Janet Currie & Mark Stabile & Phongsack Manivong & Leslie L. Roos, 2010. "Child Health and Young Adult Outcomes," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 45(3).
    10. McGranahan, Leslie & Schanzenbach, Diane Whitmore, 2013. "The Earned Income Tax Credit and Food Consumption Patterns," Working Paper Series WP-2013-14, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
    11. Nicholas S. Souleles, 1999. "The Response of Household Consumption to Income Tax Refunds," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(4), pages 947-958, September.
    12. Christopher D. Carroll & Thomas F. Crossley & John Sabelhaus, 2014. "Introduction to "Improving the Measurement of Consumer Expenditures"," NBER Chapters,in: Improving the Measurement of Consumer Expenditures, pages 1-20 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Elizabeth M. Caucutt & Lance Lochner & Youngmin Park, 2017. "Correlation, Consumption, Confusion, or Constraints: Why Do Poor Children Perform so Poorly?," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 119(1), pages 102-147, January.
    2. Elizabeth M. Caucutt & Lance Lochner, 2012. "Early and Late Human Capital Investments, Borrowing Constraints, and the Family," NBER Working Papers 18493, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Peter Burton & Shelley Phipps, 2017. "The Economic Well-Being of Canadian Children," LIS Working papers 704, LIS Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg.
    4. Randall Akee & Emilia Simeonova & E. Jane Costello & William Copeland, 2015. "How Does Household Income Affect Child Personality Traits and Behaviors?," NBER Working Papers 21562, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H51 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Government Expenditures and Health
    • H53 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Government Expenditures and Welfare Programs
    • J18 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Public Policy


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