Welfare dynamics, support services, mothers' earnings, and child cognitive development: Implications for contemporary welfare reform

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This prospective longitudinal study, using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY; N = 614), addresses the gap in the research literature regarding the effects of welfare reform on children. Key questions addressed include whether welfare dynamics and support services relevant to welfare reform, both measured across the first 5 years of life, are associated with mothers' earnings in the 6th year and three child cognitive outcomes in the 7th and 8th years: Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT) math and reading scores, and the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT). Welfare dynamics are represented by total time on welfare, degree of cycling on and off welfare, and degree to which welfare and work are combined. Support services measured include three forms of child care (relative, babysitter, and center-based), as well as three forms of human capital supports (child support, job training, and education). Controlling for a range of background factors and for different patterns of welfare use across the first 5 years, small positive associations with mother's earnings were found for child support, education, and job training. Small positive associations also were found between child support and both math and reading scores. Finally positive associations of medium effect size were found between center care and both mothers' earnings and child PPVT scores. Although effect sizes are generally small, the results suggest the potential value of welfare reform approaches that emphasize long-term human capital development. Interactions between welfare dynamics and support services suggest subgroup differences. Specifically, positive effects of support services on earnings are strongest among mothers with higher levels of human capital (higher levels of work while on welfare, lower total time on welfare). Babysitter care appears to have negative effects on both reading and math scores of children whose mothers report low levels of work while on welfare. Implications for welfare reform policy are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)779-801
Number of pages23
JournalChild development
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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