Review of Economics of the Household

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 1345–1372 | Cite as

Income and child maltreatment in unmarried families: evidence from the earned income tax credit

  • Lawrence M. BergerEmail author
  • Sarah A. Font
  • Kristen S. Slack
  • Jane Waldfogel


This study estimates the associations of income with both (self-reported) child protective services involvement and parenting behaviors that proxy for child abuse and neglect risk among unmarried families. Our primary strategy follows the instrumental variables approach employed by Dahl and Lochner (2012), which leverages variation between states and over time in the generosity of the total state and federal earned income tax credit for which a family is eligible to identify exogenous variation in family income. As a robustness check, we also estimate standard OLS regressions (linear probability models), reduced form OLS regressions, and OLS regressions with the inclusion of a control function (each with and without family-specific fixed effects). Our micro-level data are drawn from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a longitudinal birth-cohort of relatively disadvantaged urban children who have been followed from birth to age nine. Results suggest that an exogenous increase in income is associated with reductions in behaviorally approximated child neglect and CPS involvement, particularly among low-income single-mother families.


Child abuse and neglect Child protective services Child welfare Earned income tax credit Fragile families and child wellbeing study 

JEL Classification

I38 J13 H75 H53 



The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study is funded by NICHD grant numbers R01HD36916, R01HD39135, and R01HD40421, as well as a consortium of private foundations and other government agencies. This research was supported by funding from the Institute for Research on Poverty and the Waisman Center (NICHD grant number P30 HD03352) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Population Research Center (R24 Center Grant) 5 R24 HD042849 NICHD and Training Program in Population Studies 5 T32 HD007081, NICHD at the University of Texas at Austin, and Population Research Center (R24 Center Grant) 2 P2C HD058486 at Columbia University School of Social Work. The authors are listed alphabetically. Address for correspondence: Lawrence M. Berger, University of Wisconsin-Madison, School of Social Work, 1350 University Avenue, Madison, WI 53706

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lawrence M. Berger
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sarah A. Font
    • 2
  • Kristen S. Slack
    • 3
  • Jane Waldfogel
    • 4
  1. 1.University of Wisconsin-Madison, Institute for Research on Poverty and School of Social WorkMadisonUSA
  2. 2.University of Texas at Austin Population Research CenterAustinUSA
  3. 3.University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Social WorkMadisonUSA
  4. 4.Columbia University School of Social WorkNew YorkUSA

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