NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Welfare Reform Reduced Teen Birth Rates

May 28, 2002

Welfare reform has reduced the birth rate among teenage women who are at the greatest risk of going on public assistance, cut their welfare use and lowered their school dropout rate, according to a new study by former Congressional Budget Office Director June O'Neill and a colleague, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Economists O'Neill, Sanders Korenman and Robert Kaestner of Baruch College in New York also said that teenage mothers were less likely to go on welfare and "more likely to live with a spouse or to live with at least one parent than in the pre-reform era."

These results suggest that the 1996 act overhauling the welfare system has changed the behaviors of teenagers -- particularly those most at risk of falling into welfare, the researchers said.

They tracked the fortunes of "high risk" girls aged 17 and 19 in the 1979 sample of the federally funded National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and a group of similarly aged teens in the 1997 survey. High-risk teens were defined as girls who, among other things, lived at age 12 in a family headed by a single female and had a mother with relatively little education. They found:

  • Some 28 percent of the 19-year-olds in the 1979 study group had given birth, compared with 19 percent in the 1997 group.
  • The dropout rate stood at 26 percent among 19-year-olds in the 1979 sample but at 16 percent in the most recent group.
  • About 10 percent of these teens in the earlier study had received welfare, compared with 5 percent in the post-reform group.

The 1996 welfare act expires in the fall. The House recently passed a Republican welfare plan but the Senate has not yet voted on welfare legislation.

Source: Richard Morin and Claudia Deane, "Welfare Reform Reforms Teens," Study Says, Washington Post, May 28, 2002; Robert Kaestner, Sanders Korenman and June O'Neill, "Has Welfare Reform Changed Teenage Behaviors?" NBER Working Paper No. 8932, May 2002, National Bureau of Economic Research.

For NBER text


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