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The Dynamics of U.S. Household Economic Circumstances Around a Birth


With the arrival of an infant, many households face increased demands on resources, changes in the composition of income, and a potentially heightened risk of income inadequacy. Changing household economic circumstances around a birth have implications for child and family well-being, women’s economic security, and public program design, yet have received little research attention in the United States. Using data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, this study provides new descriptive evidence of month-to-month changes in household income adequacy and the composition of household income in the year before and after a birth. Results show evidence of significant declines in household income adequacy in the months around a birth, particularly for single mothers who live without other adults. Income from public benefit programs buffers but does not eliminate declines in income adequacy. Results have implications for policies targeted at this period, including public benefit and parental leave programs.

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Data Availability

Data used in this article and supporting materials are available at


  1. The related relationship between individual and household economic circumstances and fertility has received considerable theoretical and empirical attention (see, e.g., Blau et al. 2010). In this article, I focus not on the fertility decision but on household economic circumstances around a birth, conditional on a live birth.

  2. Dollar amounts used as dependent variables in the online appendix, Fig. A2 (other household adults’ earnings) and Fig. A3 (public program income, by source), are inflation-adjusted to 2013 dollars.

  3. Although some zero-income observations in survey data are cases of misreporting, many represent households with no income of the types included in the measure (Nichols and Zimmerman 2008). Negative values on income may be related to investment and self-employment income and are more likely among individuals of higher socioeconomic status.

  4. Corresponding full regression results are available in the right columns of Tables A1 (income-to-needs), A2 (alternative income-to-needs), and A3 (gross household income) of online appendix, section C.

  5. As in Fig. 2, each line in Figs. 4 and 5 represents results from a separate regression, all estimated using Eq. (2). Solid dots indicate statistically significant changes in the share of household income from the given source, relative to the pre-pregnancy level (p < .05). Corresponding full regression results are available from the author by request.

  6. Earlier pre-birth reductions in lower-educated mothers’ earnings contributions along with faster post-birth recovery are both consistent with existing research and are somewhat puzzling to reconcile. Future research should investigate mechanisms that help explain these patterns.


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Analyses of Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) data benefited from training supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. SES 1131500. John Hisnanick at the U.S. Census Bureau provided valuable details on the SIPP data. The author also gratefully acknowledges support for this study from the University of California, Davis Center for Poverty Research as well as feedback on earlier versions of this project from Julia Henly, Heather Hill, Hans-Peter Kohler, Susan Lambert, Taryn Morrissey, Harold Pollack, Marci Ybarra, and participants at the Council on Social Work and Education (CSWE), Population Association of America (PAA), Research Conference on Self-Sufficiency (RECS), Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR), and Work and Family Researchers Network (WFRN) conferences.

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Correspondence to Alexandra B. Stanczyk.

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Stanczyk, A.B. The Dynamics of U.S. Household Economic Circumstances Around a Birth. Demography 57, 1271–1296 (2020).

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  • Household income adequacy
  • Poverty
  • Economic security
  • Birth
  • Infant