, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 103-126

State-level Welfare Policies and Nonmarital Subsequent Childbearing

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Abstract

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.