The Effect of Welfare Reform on the Marital Bargaining Power of Women

Mia Bird, University of California, Berkeley

This study estimates the effect of welfare reform policies on the marital bargaining power of women. I first use family demand behavior to create an indicator of shifts in marital bargaining power within households. I then use policy variation over time to estimate the differential change in the bargaining power of married lower-income women with young children. I find evidence of large and significant reductions in women’s bargaining power at the national level. I then use variation in the intensity of policy implementation across states to precisely identify the effect of welfare reform. Using a triple difference estimator, I estimate a differential decline of 8 percentage points in the marital bargaining power of low-income mothers living in intensive reform states. These findings suggest the effects of welfare reform extend beyond current and former recipients to non-recipient married women who are likely to view welfare as a potential alternative to marriage.

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Presented in Session 114: Public Policy and Families