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4 The Effect of Welfare on Marriage and Fertility Robert A. Moffitt The research literature on the effects of welfare on marriage and fertility contains a large number of studies over the last 30 years. The studies use a variety of methodologies, employ several different datasets with different types of individuals, and cover different time periods. Several studies were conducted in the 1970s and early 1980s, but there has been a second wave of studies begin- ning in the mid-1980s and still under way. Based on the early studies, a consen- sus among researchers developed a decade or so ago that the welfare system had no effect on these demographic outcomes. However, a majority of the newer studies show that welfare has a significantly negative effect on marriage or a positive effect on fertility rather than none at all. Because of this shift in findings, the current consensus is that the welfare system probably has some effect on these demographic outcomes. However, there is considerable uncertainty surrounding this consensus be- cause a significant minority of the studies finds no effect at all, because the magnitudes of the estimated effects vary widely, and because there are puzzling and unexplained differences across the studies by race and methodological ap- proach. For example, the findings show considerably stronger effects for white women than for black or nonwhite women, despite the greater participation rates of the latter group in the welfare system. Also, the findings often differ when demographic outcomes are correlated with welfare generosity in different ways- variation in welfare benefits across states in a particular year, for example, versus variation in welfare benefits over time. Whether the differences in study findings are the result of inherent differences in different datasets or differences in the way the data are analyzed for example, in estimating techniques, definitions of vari 50

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ROBERTA. MOFFIIT 51 ables, characteristics of the individuals examined, other influences controlled for, and so on is difficult to determine because most authors do not systematically attempt to determine why their findings differ from those of other studies. This chapter summarizes the literature and discusses these differences across studies. Because of the diversity of findings, methodological considerations nec- essarily must be a major focus of the discussion. The first section provides background on the U.S. welfare system and those aspects of its structure relevant to marriage and fertility, and discusses the context of social science theories of marriage and fertility in which the welfare system plays a role. The second section outlines the different questions of interest and discusses those questions that have been addressed in the research literature. The third section discusses the methodological approach taken in the research literature toward the question and contrasts the method of experimentation with the nonexperimental method of using natural program variation. Broad trends in the United States on demo- graphic outcomes and the welfare system are presented in the following section; these trends establish a set of basic patterns in the data. The next section reviews the multivariate research studies on the question, compares and contrasts their approaches, and discusses possible reasons for the diversity of findings. Finally, suggestions for future research are outlined in the last section. BACKGROUND The U.S. welfare system is currently undergoing major change as the result of 1996 legislation, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Recon- ciliation Act. However, because the research whose review is the main focus of this chapter entirely concerns the welfare system prior to this legislation, only the old system is described here. The relevance of this research to the future welfare system is discussed in the last section. Chapter 3 contains a discussion of the welfare system that provides a general background. In this chapter, only the features of the system specific to marriage and fertility are outlined. The most well-known aspect of the welfare system bearing on marriage and fertility is the set of of eligibility rules in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program that result in a high concentration of single mothers among recipients, a relatively tiny fraction of married couples on the rolls, and no families or individuals without children (single mothers are defined as women with children under 18 in the household but no spouse or cohabiting partner present). This feature is a result of the basic eligibility requirement, laid out in the 1935 Social Security Act, which created the AFDC program, that the program is intended to provide cash support only to children living without at least one of their biological parents. Thus children for whom one parent has died are eligible, but so are children whose parents never married but are living apart or whose parents are divorced or separated. The mother, or other caretaker relative, is also

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52 THE EFFECT OF WELFARE ON MARRIAGE AND FERTILII Y supported by the grant. Children who are living with both parents are eligible, along with their parents, only for the AFDC-UP (unemployed parent) program, but eligibility for those benefits has additional conditions requiring that at least one parent be unemployed, that this parent have a significant history of employ- ment, and that the family meet the same stringent income and asset requirements as a single-parent family. As a result, AFDC-UP families constitute only a small fraction of the AFDC caseload.] The Food Stamp program provides food coupons to low-income families regardless of family structure and hence does not have the same "bias" toward single-parent families as does AFDC. Eligibility and benefits for the program are based on the income and resources of a group of people who eat together, regard- less of their relationship to each other. Thus two-parent as well as single-parent families are eligible, although the fixed upper income and asset limits knock more two-parent families than single-parent families out of eligibility.2 Single individuals and childless families are also eligible. The Medicaid program provides subsidized medical care assistance to poor families. Historically it has been made available primarily to AFDC recipients and therefore has the same bias toward single-parent families. However, in the last decade, eligibility for Medicaid benefits has been greatly broadened to in- clude children in poor families even if both parents are present and the family is off AFDC. However, despite the growth of Medicaid recipients under these new eligibility rules, the program is still disproportionately composed of single-parent families. Housing programs come in several different forms public housing as well as subsidized private housing, for example and provide housing at below-mar- ket rents to families with low income and assets. However, these programs are distinguished from the other programs so far discussed by their nonentitlement status. Expenditure allocations to local public housing authorities limit the amount of funds available and therefore limit the number of recipients that can be served. Eligible families who apply and are accepted but cannot be supported are put on waiting lists that can be quite long (e.g., several years). To choose from among the pool of eligibles, local housing authorities are required to give certain groups priority over others (called "preferences". One of the preferred groups is AFDC recipients. This, along with the fact that family income (per family member) is lower among the single-parent population than the two-parent popu- lation, results in a high fraction of single-parent families receiving housing ben- efits. However, the preference is not absolute, and there have been been times in 1 The eligibility rules have many other important facets which space does not permit discussing, especially rules governing eligibility of children living with cohabiting adults and whose caretaker parent has remarried. For details on these rules, see Moffitt et al. (1998). 2AFDC recipient families are automatically eligible for Food Stamp benefits, so this also results in a disproportionate number of single-parent families actually on the Food Stamp rolls.

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ROBERTA. MOFFITT 53 the history of the program when middle-income families were preferred, so there are sizable representations of two-parent families in the housing program. In summary, therefore, the conventional perception of the U.S. welfare sys- tem as largely favoring single-parent families over two-parent families and child- less couples and individuals is essentially correct.3 This favored treatment affects incentives to marry as well as incentives to have children. Fertility incentives are present in one additional way, however, which arises simply because benefits are based on the number of children present in the family unit. Hence the monetary cost of having an additional child is smaller in the presence of these welfare programs than it would be in their absence. That these marriage and fertility incentives may have an effect on behavior can be understood both with common sense and from a variety of theoretical perspectives. The most natural modern conceptual framework is the economic theory of marriage and fertility as developed by Becker (1981) because that model emphasizes the economic gains to marriage and the economic benefits and costs of having children. However, one could easily understand incentives in- duced by the welfare system without the formalization of the Beckerian theory, for almost any framework in which economic factors play a role will predict that, if all else is held fixed, a welfare system biased against marriage and toward childbearing will change behavior in that direction (although the magnitude of the effect can, of course, be large or small). Although more complex theories can give different predictions, the only simple economic theory that does so is that which conceptualizes single parent- hood as an unlucky outcome of an attempt at marriage (or union formation in general) and in which benefits play the role of insurance against that outcome. Standard economic theories imply that government provision of such insurance- welfare benefits would induce more individuals to attempt marriage in the same way that providing insurance to protect checking accounts against bank failure encourages individuals to put their money in banks. The difficulty with this way of viewing the problem is that it ignores what is called the "moral hazard" problem in insurance terminology the simple fact that individuals who are given insurance have an incentive to put themselves more at risk or even to cause the insured-against event to happen; this means, in the case of welfare and family structure, simply that individuals have an incentive to take actions that lead, directly or indirectly, to single motherhood as an outcome. lit is worth noting, however, that any program that provides benefits on the basis of the income of a family unit rather than the income of individuals will necessarily, and inherently, have at least a minimal amount of bias toward single-parent families. If bias is defined as occurring when the income gain to marrying, for example, is less in the presence of a government program than in its complete absence, then a welfare program will be nonbiasing only if benefits are completely unaf- fected if a single parent marries. But this violates the definition of a targeted transfer program, namely, one that concentrates its benefits on those with lower income. This is an example of the equity-efficiency economic principle.

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54 THE EFFECT OF WELFARE ON MARRIAGE AND FERTILITY Welfare effects on marital and fertility behavior occur necessarily through one of a fixed set of routes. An unmarried childless woman entering adulthood may have an child out of wedlock, for example, and welfare may affect the probability of this outcome. She may later marry and possibly have additional children within marriage, but then separate or divorce, returning to a state of single motherhood; welfare may also affect the likelihood of this outcome. Alter- natively, she may have married and begun childbearing within marriage but then divorce or separate, which is a different path to the same eventual outcome. Once divorced or separated, she may have additional children out of wedlock; and she may or may not remarry. Both of these behaviors may be affected by the pres- ence of welfare and the level of benefits. Whether welfare is more likely to influence some of these behaviors than others is an empirical matter, but it is often argued on intuitive grounds that some "routes" to single motherhood are more likely to be affected than others. For example, it is often argued that an unmarried woman's second and subsequent out-of-wedlock births may be more influenced by welfare benefits, especially if the woman is already on welfare, than the first birth because the latter is more likely to be "unintended" and because awareness of welfare is less acute before a woman has been on welfare. It is also often argued that divorce and separation are likely to be less affected by welfare than remarriage probabilities, because divorce and separation are heavily influenced by other factors most notably, whether the marital "match" is a good one while remarriage is (so it is argued) more subject to rational calculation. These notions are useful as a starting point in thinking about differential motivations for women in different positions, but they should be regarded initially only as hypotheses to be tested. When other determinants of marriage and fertility are considered, a rich set of conceptual models developed over decades of research is available. Some of the more important factors posited to affect marriage propensities and fertility rates are economic opportunities for women; economic opportunities for men (often hypothesized to have the opposite effects of those of women); sex and sex-employment ratios in the population; neighborhood effects; and the influence of education, family background, and other factors on social norms and values. Although enumerating these factors in detail would take us too far afield from the review exercise, it is important to emphasize that there are many influences on marriage and fertility other than welfare benefits, a point that is often Reemphasized in studies whose sole focus is a single-minded search for welfare effects. Moreover, even if these other factors are not exam- ined in detail when testing for the effects of the welfare system, it is always necessary either implicitly or explicitly to parcel out their influence relative to that of welfare, which means in most cases controlling for these other factors statistically, a point to be discussed further in the next section. Since a single mother does, after all, have alternatives to welfare, it is only the influence of the welfare benefit relative to the alternatives that should affect her choices.

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ROBERTA. MOFFITT 55 Unfortunately, the large number and diversity of these alternative factors make it difficult empirically to control for them all and often leave the door open to doubts as to whether it is welfare that is affecting behavior or some other omitted factor, as discussed below in the review of the empirical research literature. DIFFERENT QUESTIONS OF INTEREST In turning from theories of welfare effects to the more specific issue of what empirical questions are of interest, an important distinction necessary to make at the outset is between what may properly be called a "time-series" question and a "cross-sectional" question. An important time-series question is why marriage rates have declined and nonmarital childbearing rates have increased in the United States. The corresponding welfare-related question is whether the welfare sys- tem has contributed to these trends. An important cross-sectional question, on the other hand, is whether welfare, if eliminated or reduced in generosity (for example), would raise marriage rates and lower nonmarital fertility rates, if all else is held fixed. The answers to these questions need not be the same. One may simulta- neously conclude, for example, that welfare is not a major contributor to the time- series trends in marriage and fertility but also that welfare, if reduced in generos- ity, would have the effects mentioned above, if all else is held fixed. Differing answers to these two questions are not necessarily inconsistent because all else is not held fixed in time series; many other factors are changing at the same time, most notably, changes in the economic and social environment and in social norms. These other factors could have been primarily responsible for the mar- riage and fertility trends, and could have outweighed any welfare effect. How- ever, if it is concluded that welfare would have had an effect if nothing else had changed, one must also conclude that the time-series trend would have been different if welfare had not trended the way it did. Both questions are of importance. Some analysts argue that the only impor- tant question is the time-series question. That question does receive much of the attention of the public. However, the cross-sectional question is also important because it bears on what would happen in the future if the welfare system were altered, regardless of what might have caused marriage and fertility trends in the past. If welfare has undesirable effects, for example, it could be used as a tool to increase marriage rates and reduce nonmarital fertility rates in the future. In any case, as the review below shows, virtually the entire research literature on the effect of welfare on demographic outcomes has focused on the cross-sectional question, not the time-series question. The majority of analyses have attempted to hold everything else fixed in a cross-sectional sense. Indeed, those studies that have utilized data over multiple time periods, which could conceivably examine time-series questions, have, by and large, deliberately eliminated the influence of

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56 THE EFFECT OF WELFARE ON MARRIAGE AND FERTILII Y time trends in the data and have based their welfare results on the cross-sectional variation in the data instead.4 METHODOLOGIES USED IN ESTIMATING WELFARE EFFECTS Experimental Versus Nonexperimental Analysis Although nonexperimental analysis is the norm in the social science research literature, experimental analysis is more familiar today to policy analysts in- volved in evaluations of welfare reforms. The most well-known experimental evaluations have examined the effects of various interventions on the employ- ment, earnings, and welfare participation outcomes of welfare recipients (e.g., see the studies reviewed in Gueron and Pauly, 1991~. However, experimental methods have not been widely applied to the study of welfare effects on fertility and marriage.5 Because much of the discussion of reasons for differences in study findings turns on differences in nonexperimental methodologies or, in the language of evaluation, the use of different nonexperimental comparison groups- a brief discussion of the reason that experimental methodologies have not been applied in this area is warranted. The method of experimentation, wherein a randomly chosen experimental group of individuals is given a "treatment" and a randomly chosen control group is not, is a general methodology for inferring causal effects of a program or an alteration in a program. One can imagine experimenting with the level of welfare benefits, for example, giving the treatment group a higher level than the control group (or possibly giving the control group none, if it is the total effect of welfare that is of interest). Clearly the methodology cannot be applied in time series because the rest of society cannot be frozen in place and held fixed when the welfare system is altered. However, experimental methods are not always easily applied in cross section either, for a number of reasons. One is that the outcomes of interest under discussion here marriage and fertility-do not respond quickly to changes in the welfare and socioeconomic environment, so any experiment to measure welfare effects might have to last several years for a credible estimate to be obtained. A second problem is that many welfare reforms are intended to have "community" effects that is, effects that percolate through the community and affect general norms. Experiments cannot capture such outcomes unless the ex 4In a regression framework, ``eliminating the influence of time trends in the data,, is meant to imply, for example, entering dummies for year or other time intervals into the equation. 5There are exceptions, and more experimental evaluations examining demographic outcomes are under way at this writing. see Chapter 6 for a discussion of state-level experiments on demographic outcomes. Also, the negative income tax (NIT) experiments of the 1980s were used to examine the effect of an NIT on marital stability (Hannan and Tuma, 1990; Cain and Wissoker, 1990) but, aside from being troubled by small sample sizes and design problems in the experiments, their results cannot be generalized to the AFDC program.

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ROBERTA. MOFFIIT 57 periments are "saturation site" in nature that is, unless entire communities are made the unit of observation and all individuals within a community are either given the "treatment" or all are not. Saturation site experiments are rare and have never been very successful when tried. A third problem is that experiments can at best determine the effects of only one "bundle" of welfare reforms at a time, making it difficult to isolate the effects of any one piece of a welfare reform program from others that are part of the same reform package. This problem afflicts many of the welfare experiments undertaken in the last decade or so in the United States. Fourth, and relatedly, it is often difficult to extrapolate and general- ize from experimental results, since experiments by and large test only one reform, or one bundle of welfare reforms, at a time. Fifth, for ethical reasons, experiments are limited in the types of reforms that can be tested (e.g., eliminating benefits entirely for the experimental group has, thus far, not been thought ethical).6 For these reasons, almost all of the research studies on the effects of welfare on marriage and fertility have utilized nonexperimental methods. Nonexperi- mental methods identify the effects of welfare by using natural variation in the welfare system, variation that generally arises through the political process, and by determining the existence and magnitude of correlations of such variation with variation in fertility and marital outcomes. Variations in benefits across states, across individuals within states, and over time across states have all been used for this purpose. Unfortunately, it is possible that different sources of welfare varia- tion may have different empirical associations with marriage and fertility behav- ior even though they should not "in theory" and it is possible that this will lead to conflicting results across methods. Reconciling those differences requires determining why they yield different results and what confounding factors might be present in each. Most of the research in this area has examined the effects and correlates of variation in the level of welfare benefits, rather than of variation in other features of welfare programs (e.g., earnings disregards, training programs, child support reform). While this may seem limiting from the point of view of a policy maker, for whom more specific programmatic reforms are generally of greater interest, much can be learned from the basic issue of whether welfare-eligible women alter their behavior in response to benefit levels. If they do so, it is not unreason- able to assume that they will respond as well to changes in other characteristics of the program that have, either directly or indirectly, monetary implications. Types of Natural Variation Used in the Research Literature Aside from time-series variation, three types of natural variation in the wel- fare system have been utilized in most studies. These are cross-state comparisons 6Even the 1996 welfare legislation does not eliminate welfare entirely for anyone, because some minimum number of years of receipt is guaranteed.

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58 THE EFFECT OF WELFARE ON MARRIAGE AND FERTILITY of levels, cross-state comparisons of changes over time, and within-state com- parisons. The differences are important because welfare-effect estimates often differ depending on which is used. A cross-state comparison of levels is the most common method in the litera- ture and involves a determination of whether levels of welfare benefits are corre- lated with marriage and fertility behavior across states. Such comparisons need not literally be conducted at the state level, but rather can be conducted at the individual level so long as the data include individuals in multiple states. The widespread use of this technique is based upon the recognition that AFDC ben- efits are set at the state level and hence are generally the same within states, at least for families of the same size and with the same income and other character- istics. Consequently, when holding these family characteristics constant, ben- efits vary only across states. Using individual-level data, one can control for other confounding factors at the individual level (age, education, and the other factors referred to previously) and therefore get closer to determining the effect of welfare when all else is held fixed. Cross-state comparisons of changes are less common but have recently gained popularity in the research literature, where they are often called "state fixed effects" models. In this case, changes over time in benefit levels across states are compared to changes over time in outcome variables such as marriage and fertility. A case can be made that such comparisons are superior to those using cross-state comparisons of levels, inasmuch as the levels of benefits and levels of marriage-fertility behavior may covary across states not only because of some true relationship but also for some other, spurious reason. For example, the low AFDC benefit levels and high marriage rates in most southern states may not be a reflection of a true welfare effect but may instead reflect the fact that the South is socially a relatively conservative region where social and cultural norms encourage marriage, as well as being a relatively conservative region politically where elected representatives do not legislate generous welfare benefits.7 In this latter interpretation, a positive correlation between benefit levels and marriage (for example) would arise because there is a third variable social, cultural, and political norms that leads to them both, not because benefits affect marriage. In the method of cross-state comparisons of changes, changes in benefits over time are inspected instead of differences in levels. For example, as it turns out, benefit levels have been falling in the South more slowly than they have been falling in the Midwest over the last two decades; if there is a true effect of welfare on marriage, then marriage rates should fall less (or rise more) in the South than in the Midwest, even if the two regions started off at very different levels that is, even if marriage levels were higher to begin with in the South for other reasons. The method of cross-state comparisons of changes has its own difficulties, however. One important problem is the difficulty of measuring long-term re 7This notion appears to have first been explicitly discussed and emphasized by Ellwood and Bane (1985).

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ROBERTA. MOFFIIT 59 spouses to changes in welfare benefits. If marriage and fertility behaviors do not respond quickly to benefit-level alterations, a fairly long time interval must be examined to measure changes in behavior.8 If one attempts to examine long time intervals, an additional problem arises because significant state in- and out- migration may occur, which may change state-level average outcomes merely because the composition of the population has changed, not because a fixed set of individuals have changed their behavior. More generally, it has to be assumed that over long time intervals the "omitted" influences for example, the social and cultural norms referred to previously do not change and do not change differentially across states. In addition, a comparison of cross-state changes in welfare merely throws the bias problem back one stage because it then needs to be determined why some states increase their benefits faster, or lower them less rapidly, than other states, and whether omitted state-specific, time-varying influ- ences might confound the welfare effect by being responsible both for benefit trends and for marriage-fertility trends. Within-state comparisons are the most difficult and the least used because they rely on comparisons of outcomes for women within a state who are offered different benefit levels or comparisons between women who are eligible and women who are not eligible for welfare. The problem with this method is that, because the eligibility and benefit determination rules are generally the same statewide, benefit-level differences between women within a state are almost always associated with a demographic characteristic (e.g., having children) that by itself could have an impact on the outcomes of interest. A comparison of eligibles with ineligibles is an extreme version of this method. Time-series analysis is a fourth method that is fraught with the difficulty already mentioned of controlling for alternative factors that are also changing over time. BASIC TIME-SERIES PATTERNS IN WELFARE AND DEMOGRAPHIC OUTCOMES Three of the methodologies cross-state comparison of levels, cross-state comparison of changes, and time-series analysis can be studied by examining trends over time in unadjusted state-level or national-level aggregates of demo- graphic outcomes, on the one hand, and measures of welfare generosity, on the other. It is useful to present the basic patterns of these correlations with unad- justed aggregates before reviewing the multivariate analyses in the econometric literature. As it turns out, the patterns that appear in this analysis capture, in large 8A related possibility is that the comparison-of-changes method measures a short-term response, while the comparison-of-levels method measures a long-term response if it shows where marriage and fertility levels have ended up after several years of adjustment. Thus it may be that the two methods are simply not measuring the same thing.

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60 THE EFFECT OF WELFARE ON MARRIAGE AND FERTILII Y degree, the patterns revealed by multivariate analyses. Consequently, much of the basic story is understandable in relatively simple terms and does not need recourse to controlling for additional variables or use of specialized statistical methods. The pure time-series method involves a simple comparison of trends in welfare benefits and in demographic outcomes. Figure 4-1 shows the time trend in welfare benefits of different types in the United States over the period 1970- 1993. It has been noted repeatedly that the time-series evidence for a welfare effect on marriage and fertility is weak because welfare benefits declined in real terms over the 1970s and 1980s while marriage rates declined and nonmarital childbearing increased; both trends have been noted in the overviews in Chapters 2 and 3. Figure 4-1 provides further confirmation, because it indicates that real AFDC benefits have fallen continuously since the early 1970s. Real Food Stamp benefits have remained roughly constant, primarily because they are indexed to inflation, while real Medicaid benefits were roughly fixed until the m~d-1980s, when they began to rise. The sum of benefits therefore declined up to the late 1980s. It did begin to rise at that time, but this increase is too late to explain the secular trends in marriage and fertility. In addition, Medicaid benefits began to be available to many poor families off AFDC in the late 1980s, thereby weaken- ing the link between welfare and the availability of medical care. The inconsistency between benefit and demographic trends could mask the presence of long lags (Murray, 1993~. The generosity of the transfer system 180 160 140 120 100 80 60 40 20 O - _~ 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 - - - - - I I I I 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1971 1973 1975 1977 1979 1981 1983 1985 1987 1989 1991 1993 + AFDC ~ Food Stamps ~ Medicaid FIGURE 4-1 Trends in real monthly welfare benefits per person. SOURCE: U.S. House of Representatives (1994:378, 782, 806~.

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