, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 451-478

How an earnings supplement can affect union formation among low-income single mothers

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Using data from an experimental evaluation in two Canadian provinces, we found that offering an earnings supplement to single mothers in place of welfare altered rates of marriage and cohabitation, but that the direction of the effects varied by province. Our findings suggest that research on the relationship between women’s economic well-being and marital decisions at the national level is likely to mask important variation at the local level. After eliminating several explanations for the opposite effects in the two provinces, we propose that local labor markets and local policy contexts are potentially important mediating characteristics of marriage and cohabitation.

The authors gratefully acknowledge Human Resources Development Canada, which provided the funding for the Canadian Self-Sufficiency Project; the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation, which managed the Self-Sufficiency Project; and the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, which conducted the evaluation. The Office of Population Research, the Woodrow Wilson Society of Fellows, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Scholars in Health Policy Research Program provided additional support for this research. We are grateful for comments received from two anonymous reviewers, Gordon Berlin, Reuben Ford, Josh Goldstein, John Greenwood, Nick Guyatt, Jean Knab, Sara McLanahan, Rebecca Maynard, Charles Michalopoulos, Tod Mijanovich, Pamela Morris, Elizabeth Peters, David Ribar, German Rodríguez, Jeffrey Smith, Marta Tienda, James Trussell, Craig Upright, and Bruce Western. Lauren Larin and Bryan Richetti provided valuable research assistance. We also thank Wendy Bancroft and Sheila Currie Vernon for their insights based on focus groups conducted as part of the Canadian Self-Sufficiency Project evaluation.