NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Single Women Leaving Welfare Work More, Marry Less

June 5, 2002

As the 1996 welfare reforms come up for renewal this year, the Bush Administration has sought more stringent work requirements and more support for marriage. However, unexpectedly, new research suggests that the stricter work requirements of contemporary welfare policy significantly reduce the chances that a single mother will wed.

In a Connecticut study of mothers of preschool children randomly assigned to traditional welfare programs or the state's Jobs First program, researchers found:

  • Three years after mothers had gone through Connecticut's Jobs First program, only 7 percent were married and living with a spouse, compared with 15 percent of those assigned to traditional welfare grants, Aid to Families with Dependent Children.
  • Among women in the two groups with stronger employment histories, the gap was even greater -- 6 percent versus 18 percent.
  • The same wedding gap has shown up in a six year study in Iowa, where the research corporation Mathematica found that 32 percent of the old-style welfare group were married, but only 24 percent of the welfare applicants assigned to Iowa's new program.

In both states, a majority of women in both traditional and reformed programs left welfare for work, but the welfare-to-work programs raised employment rates in the affected groups by 6 percent to 11 percent.

Child-bearing was not affected in either study. Researchers suggested two main reasons for the lower marriage rates among the women in work-first groups:

  • Some women who have left welfare and gone to work may have become less willing to settle for the wrong man.
  • Strict work requirements and low wage jobs may have left some mothers with less time, energy and income to attract a partner or nourish a relationship.

The Bush Administration has proposed $300 million in increased spending on projects like premarital counseling and pro-marriage education campaigns.

Source: Nina Bernstein "Strict Limits on Welfare Benefits Discourage Marriage, Studies Say," The New York Times, Monday, June 3, 2002.


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