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Selected Publications

The Impact of Welfare Reform on Marriage and Divorce

Hoynes, Hilary. “The Impact of Welfare Reform on Marriage and Divorce,” Demography, Volume 41, Number 2, pp. 213-236, May 2004 (with Marianne Bitler, Jonah Gelbach, and Madeline Zavodny).


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 (state waivers and TANF implementation) and other state-level variables on flows into and out of marriage. The results indicate that welfare reform has led to fewer new divorces and fewer new marriages, although the latter result is sensitive to specification and data choice.