Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 203–238 | Cite as

Welfare reform and the subjective well-being of single mothers

  • Chris M. Herbst
Original Paper


Although a large body of research examines the impact of welfare reform, there remains considerable uncertainty as to whether single mothers’ well-being improved in the wake of these policy changes. Using unique data from the DDB Worldwide Communications Life StyleTM survey, this paper exploits a large battery of survey questions on self-reported life satisfaction and physical and mental health to study the impact of welfare reform on the subjective well-being of single mothers. The identification strategy relies on a difference-in-differences framework to estimate intent-to-treat effects for the welfare waiver and TANF periods. Results indicate that the bundle of TANF reforms had mostly positive effects on single mothers’ subjective well-being. These women experienced an increase in life satisfaction, greater optimism about the future, and more financial satisfaction. Furthermore, these improvements did not come at a cost of reducing mental and physical health. Welfare waivers, in contrast, had largely neutral effects on well-being. I provide indirect evidence that the increase in single mothers’ employment after welfare reform can plausibly explain the gains in subjective well-being.


Happiness Single mothers Welfare reform 


I38 J08 I31 



I would like to thank participants at the 2010 meeting of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, John Ifcher, Lawrence Mead, and an anonymous referee for helpful comments and suggestions. I am also grateful to Chris Callahan, at DDB Worldwide Communications, who provided the Life Style™ survey data between 1999 and 2005 and answered many questions along the way.

Supplementary material

148_2012_406_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (463 kb)
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Public AffairsArizona State UniversityPhoenixUSA

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