The impact of welfare reform on marriage and divorce

Abstract

The goal of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act was to end needy parents’ dependence on governmental benefits, in part by promoting marriage. The prereform welfare system was widely believed to discourage marriage because it provided benefits primarily to single mothers. However, welfare reform may have actually decreased the incentives to be married by giving women greater financial independence via the program’s new emphasis on work. This article uses vital statistics data on marriages and divorces during 1989–2000 to examine the role of welfare reform (state waivers and implementation of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) and other state-level variables on flows into and out of marriage. The results indicate that welfare reform has led to fewer new divorces and fewer new marriages, although the latter result is sensitive to specification and the choice of data.

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Correspondence to Hilary W. Hoynes.

Additional information

We thank Steven Haider, Daniel Lichter, and David Loughran for their helpful comments and C. Anitha Manohar for excellent research assistance. Bitler gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute on Aging. Any views expressed here are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, the Federal Reserve System, or any other institution.

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Bitler, M.P., Gelbach, J.B., Hoynes, H.W. et al. The impact of welfare reform on marriage and divorce. Demography 41, 213–236 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1353/dem.2004.0011

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Keywords

  • Current Population Survey
  • Divorce Rate
  • Welfare Reform
  • Marriage Rate
  • Vital Statistic Data