The Impact of Welfare Reform on Marriage and Divorce

Marianne P. Bitler, Jonah B. Gelbach, Hilary W. Hoynes, and Madeline Zavodny
Working Paper 2002-9
June 2002

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The goal of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) was to end the dependency of needy parents on government benefits, in part by promoting marriage; the pre-reform welfare system was widely believed to discourage marriage because it primarily provided benefits 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 paper uses Vital Statistics data on marriages and divorces during 1989-2000 to examine the role of welfare reform and other state-level variables on marriage and divorce rates. The results indicate that implementation of TANF is negatively associated with marriage and divorce rates, as are pre-TANF waivers from the AFDC program in some specifications.

JEL classification: I3, J1

Key words: welfare reform, marriage, divorce

The authors thank Steve Haider and David Loughran for 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. The views expressed here are the authors' and not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta or the Federal Reserve System. Any remaining errors are the authors' responsibility.

Please address questions regarding content to Marianne P. Bitler, RAND, P.O. Box 2138, Santa Monica, California 90407, 310-393-0411, ext. 6012, 310-393-7061 (fax),