Media Briefings


  • Published Date: February 2009

Welfare programmes like the UK’s Working Tax Credit – which target poor families with income supplements that are contingent on work – have increased employment among recipients. But according to a study by Jeffrey Grogger and Lynn Karoly, published in the February 2009 Economic Journal, such reforms need to be carefully designed since certain features can have either positive or negative effects on marriage and children.

For example, welfare programmes that give couples more flexibility over whether the wife or husband has to meet the work requirements increase marriage and reduce divorce. And programmes that require parents to work more but also provide for a more generous wage subsidy may increase family income and help improve children’s educational achievement.

Equally, programmes with different designs may discourage marriage, increase the risks of divorce and/or be detrimental to children’s wellbeing.

The study discusses how researchers would expect work-conditioned transfer programmes to affect marriage and children’s wellbeing based on economic theory. It also assesses the empirical research to see what has been found in practice.

In terms of marriage, there are two possible effects of requiring welfare recipients to seek work, according to researchers. Some programmes may be designed to give single parents more options, which may discourage welfare recipients from getting married. Other programmes may favour married couples by providing them more income through wage subsidies or provide flexibility by allowing them to decide who fulfils the work requirement.

When researchers examined studies done on two different welfare programmes in the United States and Canada, they found evidence that such programmes may either raise or lower marriage rates. Marriage increased under the programmes that gave couples flexibility in meeting the work requirement and fell under programmes that mandated that mothers worked a set number of hours.

Researchers say there are also possible conflicting effects of work- conditioned welfare programmes for child wellbeing. Children may be better off because of the increase in family income. At the same time, the requirement to work may reduce the time parents have to spend with their children, which could have detrimental, neutral or beneficial effects depending on the quality of the substitute childcare.

Examining results from the same two welfare reform programmes, researchers found some improvements in school achievement for elementary school-age children, with the impact being greater when the programmes did more to raise family income.

The programmes also increased the use of childcare, which may have limited the potential negative effects from an increase in parental work. There is also evidence of more detrimental effects on adolescents, even if their family income rises. There is little evidence to suggest that children benefit directly from the positive marriage effects of these programmes.

The empirical evidence for the study findings comes from evaluations associated with three social experiments: the Canadian Self-Sufficiency Program and two variants of the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP).

Examples of the types of welfare programmes these findings may apply to include in the United States, the Earned Income Tax Credit and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and in the UK, the Working Tax Credit.


Notes for editors: ‘The Effects of Work-conditioned Transfers on Marriage and Child Wellbeing’ by Jeffrey Grogger and Lynn Karoly is published in the February 2009 issue of the Economic Journal.

Jeffrey Grogger is at the University of Chicago. Lynn Karoly is at the RAND Corporation.

For further information: contact Romesh Vaitilingam on 07768-661095 (email:; or Jeffrey Grogger +1-773-834-0973 (email: