The Happiness of Single Mothers after Welfare Reform

John D. Ifcher, Santa Clara University

U.S. welfare programs were transformed by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWORA). The changes were life altering for those on welfare, or prone to be. What was the impact on happiness? To investigate, I compare the happiness of single mothers before and after PRWORA. Using data from the General Social Survey and the World Value Survey, I find that single mothers’ happiness increased during the period. To demonstrate that the observed increase was likely the result of policy changes, I use a Difference in Difference test. Specifically, I compare the happiness of single mothers with low levels of education to the happiness of three comparison groups before and after PWRORA; each comparison group is similar to the single mothers in many respects but unlikely to be affected by the policy changes. PRWORA appears to have increased, and certainly did not decrease, happiness. Alternate explanations, such as robust economic growth and the Earned Income Tax Credit expansion, are considered.

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Presented in Session 174: Policy Impacts in Social and Economic Well-Being