Population Research and Policy Review

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 387–409 | Cite as

Social programs and household size: evidence from New York city

  • Ingrid Gould Ellen
  • Brendan O’Flaherty


What determines how many adults live in a house? How do people divide themselves up among households? Average household sizes vary substantially, both over time and in the cross-section. In this paper, we describe how a variety of government policies affect living arrangements, intentionally or not. Using data from a survey of households in New York City, we find that these incentives appear to have an impact. Specifically, households receiving these housing and income subsidies are smaller on average (measured by number of adults). The impacts appear to be considerably larger than those that would occur if the programs were lump-sum transfers. Small average household size can be extremely expensive in terms of physical and environmental resources, higher rents, and possibly homelessness. Thus, we encourage policymakers to pay greater heed to the provisions built into various social policies that favor smaller households.


Household size Housing subsidies Income subsidies New York Social programs 



We thank Irv Garfinkel and Marcia Meyers for their able editorial guidance and Kiatipong Ariyapruchya for excellent research assistance. In addition, we thank participants in the Columbia University Public Policy Consortium and Applied Micro Lunch, the Union College Economics Department, the University of British Columbia, the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership, the NYC Welfare State project, and the Homer Hoyt Advanced Studies Institute. We also thank Ed Olsen, Sherry Glied, Amy Schwartz, Sewin Chan, Rosanne Haggerty, Denise DiPasquale, and Carol Caton for helpful individual suggestions. Finally, we thank the Russell Sage Foundation for financial support.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wagner Graduate School of Public ServiceNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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