Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 369–418 | Cite as

Concrete measures: the rise of public housing and changes in young single motherhood in the U.S.

  • Katharine L. ShesterEmail author
  • Samuel K. Allen
  • Christopher Handy
Original Paper


Between 1950 and 1970, the number of public housing units in the United States grew nearly sixfold, and the percentage of births to unmarried women almost tripled. We provide the first estimates of the effect of public housing on single motherhood, using individual-level data to assess whether young women living near higher concentrations of public housing were more likely to have children out of wedlock. We find a strong and positive relationship between public housing and single motherhood for black high school dropouts. This link is larger when we use lagged measures of public housing, which suggests that exposure during childhood may be driving the result.


Public housing Single motherhood Fertility Marriage 

JEL classification

I38 J13 N32 



The authors thank the editor and anonymous referees of this journal for very helpful comments and suggestions. We also thank William J. Collins, Timothy Diette, Price Fishback, Art Goldsmith, Joseph Guse, Greg Hartman, Ed Olsen, Nick Sanders, and participants from Washington & Lee University, Virginia Military Institute, The College of William & Mary, and the Virginia Association of Economists and Southern Economic Association annual meetings. Carolyn Moehling graciously provided ADC/AFDC data. Lilly Grella, Margaret Hambleton, John Juneau II, Margaret Kallus, Charlotte Karp, Grant Przybyla, and Amanda Wahlers provided excellent research assistance.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Aiken M, Alford RR (1970) Community structure and innovation: the case of public housing. Am Polit Sci Rev 64(3):843–864Google Scholar
  2. Akerlof GA, Yellen JL, Katz ML (1996) An analysis of out-of-wedlock childbearing in the United States. Q J Econ 111(2):277–317Google Scholar
  3. Aliprantis D, Hartley D (2015) Blowing it up and knocking it down: the local and city-wide effects of demolishing high concentration public housing on crime. J Urban Econ 88:67–81Google Scholar
  4. Ananat EO (2011) The wrong side(s) of the tracks: the causal effects of racial segregation on urban poverty and inequality. Am Econ J: Appl Econ 3(2):34–66Google Scholar
  5. Aseltine R (1996) Pathways linking paternal divorce with adolescent depression. J Health Soc Behav 37:133–148Google Scholar
  6. Bailey MJ (2006) More power to the pill: the impact of contraceptive freedom on women’s life cycle labor supply. Q J Econ 121(1):289–320Google Scholar
  7. Bauman JF (1987) Public housing, race, and renewal: urban planning in Philadelphia 1920–1974. Temple University Press, PhiladelphiaGoogle Scholar
  8. Bayor RH (1996) Race and the shaping of twentieth-century Atlanta. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel HillGoogle Scholar
  9. Blau FD, Kahn LM, Waldfogel J (2000) Understanding young women’s marriage decisions: the role of labor and marriage market conditions. Ind Labor Relat Rev 54(4):624–647Google Scholar
  10. Blau FD, Kahn LM, Waldfogel J (2004) The impact of welfare benefits on single motherhood and headship of young women: evidence from the census. J Hum Resour 39(2):382–404Google Scholar
  11. Carter WH, Schill MH, Wachter SM (1998) Polarisation, public housing, and racial minorities in U.S. cities. Urban Stud 35(10):1889–1911Google Scholar
  12. Chetty R, Hendren N (2017) The impacts of neighborhoods on intergenerational mobility I: childhood exposure effects. Working PaperGoogle Scholar
  13. Chetty R, Hendren N, Katz LF (2016) The effects of exposure to better neighborhoods on children: new evidence from the moving to opportunity experiment. Am Econ Rev 106(4):855–902Google Scholar
  14. Chyn E (2016) Moved to opportunity: the long-run effect of public housing demolition on labor market outcomes of children. Working PaperGoogle Scholar
  15. Collins WJ, Margo RA (2000) Residential segregation and socioeconomic outcomes: when did ghettos go bad? Econ Lett 69(2):239–243Google Scholar
  16. Collinson R, Ellen IG, Ludwig J (2015) Low-Income Housing Policy. NBER Working Paper No. 21071Google Scholar
  17. Coulibaly M, Green RD, James D (1998) Segregation in federally subsidized low-income housing in the United States. Praeger Publishers, WestportGoogle Scholar
  18. Currie J, Yelowitz A (2000) Are public housing projects good for kids? J Public Econ 75:99–124Google Scholar
  19. Cutler DM, Glaeser EL (1997) Are ghettos good or bad? Q J Econ 112(3):827–872Google Scholar
  20. Danziger S, Jakubson G, Schwartz S, Smolensky E (1982) Work and welfare as determinants of female poverty and household headship. Q J Econ 97(3):519–534Google Scholar
  21. Dawson DA (1991) Family structure and children's health and well-being: data from the 1988 National Health Survey on child health. J Marriage Fam 53(3):573–584Google Scholar
  22. Ermisch J (1999) Prices, parents, and young people’s household formation. J Urban Econ 45(1):47–71Google Scholar
  23. Fairbanks RB (1988) Making better citizens: housing reform and the community development strategy in Cincinnati, 1890–1960. University of Illinois Press, UrbanaGoogle Scholar
  24. Fernandez M (2010) New York plans to topple public housing towers. The New York Times. Accessed 16 August 2017
  25. Flewelling RL, Bauman KE (1990) Family structure as a predictor of initial substance use and sexual intercourse in early adolescence. J Marriage Fam 52(1):171–181Google Scholar
  26. Franck KA (1998) Changing values in U.S. public housing policy and design. In: Varady DP, Preiser WFE, Russell FP (eds) New directions in urban public housing. CUPR/Transaction PublishersGoogle Scholar
  27. Friedrichs C (2011) The Pruitt-Igoe myth. First Run Features, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  28. Garfinkel I, McLanahan S (1986) Single mothers and their children: a new American dilemma. Urban Institute Press, BaltimoreGoogle Scholar
  29. Goetz EG (2013) New deal ruins: race, economic justice, and public housing policy. Cornell University PressGoogle Scholar
  30. Haines MR (2010) Historical, demographic, economic, and social data: the United States, 1790–2000. ICPSR study 2896. Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research, Ann ArborGoogle Scholar
  31. Hanchett TW (1998) Sorting out the new south city: race, class, and urban development in Charlotte, 1875–1975. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel HillGoogle Scholar
  32. Hetherington EM, Clingempeel WG (1992) Coping with marital transitions: a family systems perspective. Monogr Soc Res Child Dev 97(2/3):1–238Google Scholar
  33. Hill MJ (2015) Homes and husbands for all: housing and the post-war marriage boom. Working PaperGoogle Scholar
  34. Holloway SR, Bryan D, Chabot R, Rogers DM, Rulli J (1998) Exploring the effect of public housing on the concentration of poverty in Columbus, OH. Urban Aff Rev 33(6):767–789Google Scholar
  35. Housing Act of 1949 (1949). Pub L no 171: 63 Stat 413Google Scholar
  36. Hoynes HW (1997) Does welfare play any role in female headship decisions? J Public Econ 65:89–117Google Scholar
  37. Hunt B (2009) Blueprint for disaster: the unraveling of Chicago public housing. The University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  38. Jacob BA (2004) Public housing, housing vouchers, and student achievement: evidence from public housing demolitions in Chicago. Am Econ Rev 94(1):233–258Google Scholar
  39. Massey DS, Kanaiaupuni SM (1992) Public housing and the concentration of poverty. Soc Sci Q 74(1):109–122Google Scholar
  40. Matsudaira JD (2016) Economic conditions and the living arrangements of young adults: 1960 to 2011. J Popul Econ 29(1):167–195Google Scholar
  41. McDonald JF (2011) Public housing construction and the cities: 1937–1967. Urban studies res 2011: article ID 985264, 12 pagesGoogle Scholar
  42. McLanahan S, Sandefur GD (1994) Growing up with a single parent: what hurts, what helps. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  43. Meehan EJ (1979) The quality of federal policymaking: programmed failure in public housing. University of Missouri PressGoogle Scholar
  44. Moehling CM (2007) The American welfare system and family structure. J Hum Resour 42(1):117–155Google Scholar
  45. Moffitt R (1994) Welfare effects on female headship with area effects. J Hum Resour 29(2):621–636Google Scholar
  46. Murray CA (1984) Losing ground: American social policy, 1950–1980. Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  47. Murray MP (1999) Subsidized and unsubsidized housing stocks 1935 to 1987: crowding out and cointegration. J Real Estate Finance Econ 18(1):107–124Google Scholar
  48. National Commission on Urban Problems (1969) Building the American city. Frederick A. Praeger, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  49. Newman O (1972) Defensible space: crime prevention through urban design. Macmillan Publishing, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  50. Olsen EO (2006) Whither public housing? Testimony before the House Committee on Government Reform Subcommittee on Federalism and the CensusGoogle Scholar
  51. Olsen EO (2014) Alleviating poverty through housing policy reform. Working PaperGoogle Scholar
  52. Ruggles SJ, Alexander T, Genadek K, Goeken R, Schroder MB, Sobek M (2010) Integrated public use microdata series: version 5.0. University of Minnesota, MinneapolisGoogle Scholar
  53. Sabia JJ (2008) Blacks and the family cap: pregnancy, abortion, and spillovers. J Popul Econ 21(1):111–134Google Scholar
  54. Salisbury H (1958) The shook-up generation. Crest Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  55. Sandler D (2017) Externalities of public housing: the effect of public housing demolitions on local crime. Reg Sci Urban Econ 62:24–35Google Scholar
  56. Schultz TP (1994) Marital status and fertility in the United States: welfare and labor market effects. J Hum Resour 29(2):637–669Google Scholar
  57. Schultz TP (1998) Eroding the economic foundations of marriage and fertility in the United States. Struct Chang Econ Dyn 9:391–413Google Scholar
  58. Shester KL (2011) American public Housing’s origins and effects. Dissertation. Vanderbilt UniversityGoogle Scholar
  59. Shester KL (2013) The local economic effects of public housing in the United States. J Econ Hist 73(4):978–1015Google Scholar
  60. Silver C, Moeser JV (1995) The separate city: black communities in the urban south, 1940–1968. The University Press of Kentucky, LexingtonGoogle Scholar
  61. Silverman A (1971) Basic needs and social services. In: Committee on banking and currency, U.S. housing of representatives, 92nd congress (1973) papers submitted to subcommittee on housing panels on housing production, housing demand, and developing a suitable living environment. Washington, DC: pp 579–606Google Scholar
  62. Sinai T, Waldfogel J (2005) Do low-income housing subsidies increase the occupied housing stock? J Public Econ 89(11):2137–2164Google Scholar
  63. Stockard JG (1998) Public housing: the next sixty years? In: Varady DP, Preiser WFE, Russell FP (eds) New directions in urban public housing. CUPR/Transaction PublishersGoogle Scholar
  64. Stoloff JA (2004) A brief history of public housing. In: Annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  65. Sugrue TJ (1996) The origins of the urban crisis: race and inequality in postwar Detroit. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  66. United States Bureau of the Census (2016) American housing survey, 1975–1977. Metropolitan public use files. Retrieved 9 March 2018Google Scholar
  67. United States Department of Health and Human Services (2013) Births: final data for 2012. Natl Vital Stat Rep 62:9Google Scholar
  68. United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (1973) Consolidated development directory. U.S. Government Publishing Office, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  69. United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (2015) Resident characteristic report. Retrieved 25 August 2016Google Scholar
  70. Vale LJ (2007) From the puritans to the projects: public housing and public neighbors. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  71. Weicher JC (1980) Housing: federal policies and programs. American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  72. Wilson WJ (1987) The truly disadvantaged: the inner city, the underclass, and public policy. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  73. Wilson WJ (1992) Another look at the truly disadvantaged. Political Sci Q 106(4):1991–1992Google Scholar
  74. Wood E (1982) The beautiful beginnings, the failure to learn: fifty years of public housing in America. National Center for housing management, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  75. Wood RG (1995) Marriage rates and marriageable men: a test of the Wilson hypothesis. J Hum Resour 30(1):163–193Google Scholar
  76. Yelowitz A (2001) Public housing and labor supply. Working PaperGoogle Scholar
  77. Zill N, Peterson J (1986) Marital disruption, parent‐child relationships, and behavior problems in children. J Marriage Fam 48(2):295–307Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katharine L. Shester
    • 1
    Email author
  • Samuel K. Allen
    • 2
  • Christopher Handy
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsWashington and Lee UniversityLexingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Economics and BusinessVirginia Military InstituteLexingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations