The modern state plays a major role in the social organization of consumption ( Rein & Rainwater, 1988). Government intervention, which is intended to alter the market distribution of well-being, often produces different effects on different sections of the population. The result may be to create consumption cleavages between groups that receive unequal state benefits and that make unequal contributions to the costs of the state ( Saunders, 1986).
One possible source of consumption cleavage is the tendency for taxation and income transfer policies to favor individuals in the later stages of the life course ( Cheal, 1995). Efforts to measure accurately the economic status of the elderly relative to the nonelderly, taking into account taxes and transfers, have shown that the elderly enjoy a more favorable position than groups such as households headed by women ( Danziger, van der Gaag, Smolensky, & Taussig, 1984; Danziger & Weinberg, 1994). In the United States, the adjusted disposable income of the elderly is 88 percent higher than the income of sole-parent families ( Smeeding, Torrey, & Rein, 1988). It seems that the modern state has helped to organize an unequal temporal distribution of life chances ( Thomson, 1989a).
In recent decades, programs serving children and their families have grown more slowly than other programs in both the United States and Canada ( Bane, Wilson, & Baer, 1980; Battle & Torjman, 1993). Spending