NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 7, 2006

A significant reduction in high school dropout rates and unmarried teen pregnancies among low-income teenage girls is partly due to the 1996 welfare reform legislation, says Paul Offner of the Urban Institute.

The 1996 welfare reform mandated that unmarried teen mothers attend school and live with their parents as a condition of receiving cash assistance. To study the effects of the legislation, Offner analyzed a sample of 24,000 girls, ages 16 and 17, from 1989 to 2001.

He found that the dropout rate:

  • Remained virtually the same for girls not considered to be low-income.
  • Declined from 13.4 percent in 1989 to 8.7 percent in 2001 among low-income girls.
  • Went from 50.1 percent in 1989 to 22.7 percent in 2001 among low-income teen mothers.

Offner also found that the percentage of low-income girls having a child out of wedlock declined from 8.5 percent in 1989 to 5.8 percent in 2001.

Some feared welfare reform would lead to chaos. However, low-income, young people respond to incentives, particularly when those incentives are reinforced with clear messages from society at large, says Offner.

Source: Paul Offner, "Welfare Reform and Teenage Girls," Social Science Quarterly, no. 86, June 2005.

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