Research / BFI Working PaperNov 16, 2020

Effects of Welfare Reform on Parenting

Nancy Reichman, Hope Corman, Dhaval M. Dave, Ariel Kalil, Ofira Schwartz-Soicher

This study investigated the effects of welfare reform in the 1990s, which represented a major policy shift that substantially and permanently retracted cash assistance to poor mothers in the U.S., on parenting. Using data on women from the 1979 cohort of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth linked with information on their 10- to 14-year-old children from the Child Self- Administered and Self-Report surveys, we exploited variation in the implementation of welfare reform across states, over time, and across treatment and comparison groups to estimate the effects of welfare reform on parent-child activities and closeness of the mother-child relationship. We found that welfare reform had adverse effects on engagement in parent-child activities, children feeling close to their mothers, and mothers knowing their children’s whereabouts, with the effects generally concentrated among boys. These findings have implications for children’s development and contribute to a virtually non-existent literature on the effects of welfare reform on parenting and the small but growing economic literature on parenting. We found no evidence that the effects of welfare reform on parenting operated through the mother working more than full time, having multiple jobs, working in a service job, or having a non-standard work schedule.

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