Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Childhood Conditions and Adult Welfare Use: Examining Neighborhood and Family Factors

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Childhood Conditions and Adult Welfare Use: Examining Neighborhood and Family Factors

Article excerpt

Using linked data from the U.S. Census and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, examine how childhood conditions affect the likelihood of welfare use as an adult. I look at a number of theories, including the welfare theory, the social isolation and epidemic theories, and an economic theory. The results indicate that African American women are highly affected by welfare use by their parents and White women are not. African American women are also highly affected by such economic factors as their level of family income and the county unemployment rate during childhood, but their likelihood of using welfare as adults is not affected by childhood neighborhood conditions. White women are highly affected by their neighborhood conditions during childhood

Key Words: AFDC, epidemic theory, intergeneration, isolation, neighborhoods, welfare.

Growing concern over welfare dependency fueled the push for welfare reform in the form of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. One provision of this act sets a maximum time limit on the use of welfare at 5 years. (States are allowed to set a shorter limit.) The rationale for these time limits is to break the cycle of dependency that the law's authors claimed had grown to crisis proportions. This rhetoric of dependency was animated, in part, by the concern that welfare use was increasingly an intergenerational phenomenon. Conservative critics, in particular, have argued that the stigma of welfare is lessened and that the means of accessing welfare are learned when children grow up in families that receive assistance (Herrnstein & Murray, 1994; Lewis, 1968; Mead, 1986; Murray, 1984). Others also have found an intergenerational effect, independent of other economic and social variables (An, Haveman, & Wolfe, 1993; Gottschalk, 1990).

Yet these studies may put too much stress on the family to the exclusion of other factors, particularly, neighborhood conditions. For example, when children live near neighbors who receive government assistance or when children grow up in poor areas where families have fewer economic opportunities than those living in wealthier neighborhoods, children may learn of the welfare system and be less likely to receive the human capital necessary to avoid welfare as adults (Duncan, Hill, & Hoffman, 1988). This may be due to poor schools where they live, to opportunities not afforded to them because of poor parents (which, in part, may be due to a lack of opportunities within poor neighborhoods), and to less stigma attached to the receipt of welfare (Jencks & Mayer, 1990; Vartanian & Gleason, in press; Wilson, 1996).

This article looks at how both childhood family conditions and neighborhood conditions determine how much each of these factors affects the likelihood of welfare use when children become adults. Specifically, I address three questions. First, do children who grow up in relatively poor or underprivileged neighborhoods have a higher likelihood of receiving welfare as adults than children who grow up in more prosperous neighborhoods? Second, do neighborhood conditions affect outcomes for only those who live in the poorest or neediest neighborhoods, or do the negative effects of neighborhoods act linearly? Third, when controlling for neighborhood conditions, do parental welfare use, income, and education affect welfare use of children when they become adults?

Many studies have examined the question of whether parental welfare use increases the likelihood of welfare use by their children (An et al., 1993; Chambre, 1985; Dolinsky, Caputo, & O'Kane, 1989; Gottschalk, 1990; Gottschalk, McLanahan, & Sandefur, 1994; Hill & Duncan, 1987; Hill & Ponza, 1989; Kimenyi, 1991; McLanahan, 1988; Rank & Cheng, 1995; Solon, Corcoran, Gordon, & Laren, 1988) and generally have found that parental welfare receipt is a good predictor of welfare receipt by children when they become adults. …

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