Children's Welfare Exposure and Subsequent Development

Phillip B. Levine, Wellesley College
David J. Zimmerman, Williams College

Published: Levine, Phillip B. and David J. Zimmerman. "Children's Welfare Exposure And Subsequent Development," Journal of Public Economics, 2005, v89 (1,Jan), 31-56.


We examine the extent to which children are exposed to the welfare system through their mother's receipt of benefits and its impact on several developmental outcomes. Using data from the matched mother-child file from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), we find that children's welfare exposure is substantial. By age 10 over one-third of all children will have lived in a welfare household; black, non-Hispanic children face a much higher rate of exposure. Simple correlations suggest a strong negative relationship between maternal welfare receipt and children's outcomes. In this paper we implement three alternative strategies (instrumental variables, sibling difference, and child fixed effects models) designed to identify whether this correlation can be attributed to the mother's welfare receipt directly or to other characteristics of mothers who receive welfare, regardless of whether or not those characteristics are observable to the researcher. Based on the results of all three estimation strategies, we find little evidence of any causal link between maternal welfare receipt and children's developmental outcomes.