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Welfare, the Family, and Reproductive Behavior: Report of a Meeting responds to changes in benefit levels, which is one of the main policy instruments the states have. The federal government has already changed some provisions of the 1996 act dealing with benefits to immigrants, and the entire act will come up for reauthorization in 2001. The saga of welfare reform neither began nor ended in 1996. This summary begins with a discussion of the historical context leading up to the 1996 welfare reform, including society-wide changes in marriage and nonmarital fertility and changes at both national and state levels in the welfare system itself. We next summarize the lessons from available research on how the welfare system has affected marriage, pregnancy, and abortion. Most of this work has focused on women, especially young women, as decision makers; in the next section we discuss the effects of the welfare system on children and on the fathers. The final section brings together some lessons for future research—how evaluations of state-level waivers and of current policy changes can better contribute to the continuing work of welfare reform. TRENDS IN MARRIAGE AND FERTILITY A retreat from marriage and increases in nonmarital fertility have occurred among all social classes and income levels in the United States—and indeed in most industrial countries—in recent decades. Christine Bachrach pointed out in her presentation that some understanding of these broader national and even international shifts is required in order to assess the role of the welfare system as an influence on the behavior of the poor and near-poor. There has been a steady increase in the proportion of births to unmarried women (now about one-third of all births in the United States). Age-specific fertility rates for unmarried women declined for most age groups from peaks around 1965 until the mid-1970s, when they began to climb again rapidly (see Figure 1). For unmarried women aged 15–19, fertility rates rose steadily from the 1940s until the early 1990s, when they began to level off. Fertility rates rose between 1982 and 1992 for unmarried women in every education category. Bachrach emphasized that much of the increase in the rate of births among unmarried women, especially teens, has resulted merely from the reduction in rates of marriage. As Figure 2 shows, the proportion of unmarried women (who are potentially at risk of having a nonmarital birth) has increased since 1960. Bachrach reports that this increase has been the major cause of the increase in nonmarital childbearing for black women and an important cause of the increase for white women as well. Thus a larger part of the story behind increases in nonmarital childbearing is that women today are less likely to marry when having children, not that they are more likely to have children (see also Lichter, 1995, for a review). The decline in marriage rates has to some extent been accompanied by an increase in the proportion of women and men cohabiting (see Table 1). Nonmarital fertility rates have been strongly affected by the disappearance
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Welfare, the Family, and Reproductive Behavior: Report of a Meeting Figure–1 Birth–rates–for–unmarried–women–by–age,–United–States,a–1940–1993. Source:–National–Center–for–Health–Statistics–(1995). Figure–2 Percentage of unmarried women, by age, selected years. Source: National Center for Health Statistics (1995:Table III. 1) and U.S. Bureau of the Census (1996:Table 59).
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Welfare, the Family, and Reproductive Behavior: Report of a Meeting TABLE 1 Percentage of Women and Men Currently Cohabiting, by Age, 1987–1988 and 1992–1994 1987–1988 1992–1994 Women 20–24 10 n.a. 25–29 7 12 30–34 4 7 35–39 2 7 40–44 4 5 Men 20–24 6 n.a. 25–29 7 12 30–34 6 7 35–39 5 7 40–44 4 5 n.a. = not available Source: Larry Bumpass, unpublished analysis of data from the National Survey of Families and Households. of the "shotgun wedding." Although the decline in marriage rates has been an important contributor to the increase in nonmarital birth rates, an increase in childbearing among the unmarried is also a factor. Sexual activity rates and sexual experience in the population have increased, according to Bachrach. Although use of contraception has increased, it has not been sufficient to outweigh increases in sexual activity, leading to an increase in pregnancies. In addition, rather surprisingly, trends in abortion have recently accelerated the increase in nonmarital fertility: the proportion of pregnancies of unmarried women that are terminated by abortion has declined somewhat, from a peak in the late 1970s, when about two-thirds of such pregnancies ended in abortion, until the early 1990s, when just over half of pregnancies ended in abortion. "The rate of nonmarital births would have increased only marginally between the early 1960s and the mid-1980s if unmarried pregnant women who carried to term had continued to marry between conception and birth at the same rate as they had in 1963." —Christine Bachrach, citing Morgan et al. (1995)
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