Who Needs a Ring? The 1996 Welfare Reform’s “Independence Effect”

Ratio of earnings and employment for single mothers vs. single men

In 1996 federal welfare reform replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, the oldest welfare program for the poor, with the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. The primary goal of this historic reform was to encourage work and decrease welfare dependence. However, another explicit goal was to decrease single motherhood and encourage marriage. This emphasis on single motherhood and marriage is based on a long-standing criticism of the AFDC program—that it discouraged marriage because the eligibility rules made it difficult for married couples to receive benefits from the program.

In a recent study, Robert Moffitt, Brian Phelan, and Anne Winkler take advantage of the passage of time to reexamine whether welfare reform had its intended effect of discouraging single motherhood and encouraging marriage.
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