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Does welfare play any role in female headship decisions?

During the last thirty years, the composition of white and black families in the United States has changed dramatically. In 1960, less than 10 percent of families with children were headed by a single mother, while in 1990 more than 20 percent of families with children were female-headed households. A large body of research has focused on the role of the U.S. welfare system, and in particular, the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, in contributing to these dramatic changes in family structure. Most studies use cross-sectional data and identify the effect of welfare on female headship through interstate variation in the AFDC program. Recent research finds that controlling for state effects has a large impact on the estimated welfare effect. This paper examines why state effects matter for estimating the role of welfare in female headship decisions by examining the importance of individual effects and policy endogeneity. A natural explanation for why state effects matter is that the composition of the population across the states differs, and the composition is related to the generosity of the state's welfare program. If that is true, then controlling for individual effects should have the same result as controlling for state effects. Second, the endogeneity of AFDC policy is examined by including controls representing the determinants of state welfare generosity. The results show that after controlling for individual effects, there is no evidence that welfare contributes to increasing propensities to form female-headed households for either whites or blacks. Further, the results suggest that welfare-induced migration among blacks leads to an upward bias in the estimated welfare effect in previous studies.

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Paper provided by University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty in its series Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers with number 1078-95.

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Handle: RePEc:wop:wispod:1078-95
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  1. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:97:y:1982:i:3:p:519-34 is not listed on IDEAS
  2. Moffitt, Robert & Wolfe, Barbara L, 1992. "The Effect of the Medicaid Program on Welfare Participation and Labor Supply," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 74(4), pages 615-26, November.
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  9. Timothy Besley & Anne Case, 1994. "Unnatural Experiments? Estimating the Incidence of Endogenous Policies," NBER Working Papers 4956, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  15. Darity, William, Jr & Myers, Samuel L, Jr, 1983. "Changes in Black Family Structure: Implications for Welfare Dependency," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(2), pages 59-64, May.
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  19. Sara McLanahan, 1988. "Family structure and dependency: Early transitions to female household headship," Demography, Springer, vol. 25(1), pages 1-16, February.
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