- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 17, 2002

A new study in two states finds that welfare reform is discouraging single mothers from having more children and encouraging them to think "more seriously about getting married."
However, "fulfilling family aspirations is a problem for many in this population," said David J. Fein, a welfare researcher at Abt Associates Inc., which is based in Cambridge, Mass.
A "pretty substantial number of people" agree that welfare reform has affected their thinking about family issues, he said. But a lot of the women who said they wanted to marry, did not succeed in doing so, and a lot of the women who said they didn't want to have more children, did have more children.
The findings are in an Abt Associates report released this month called "What Do They Think? Welfare Recipients' Attitudes Toward Marriage and Childbearing."
The study found that 35 percent of 457 Delaware welfare mothers and 30 percent of 695 Indiana mothers agreed that "welfare reform made me want to postpone or stop childbearing." (All the mothers were capable of having children).
It also found that 14 percent of 702 single mothers in Delaware and 12 percent of 993 single mothers in Indiana agreed that "welfare reform made me think more seriously about getting married."
However, interviews taken several years later showed that the Delaware mothers' changes in attitude didn't always play out as intended:
Of mothers who expected to get married, 14 percent did.
Of mothers who said they didn't want to have any more children, 29 percent did.
Having a change of attitude did make some difference in behavior, though, researchers said.
For instance, mothers who began to take marriage more seriously were more likely to marry than the mothers who didn't expect to wed (14 percent vs. 6 percent). And mothers who decided they wanted to postpone having a baby were less likely to give birth than mothers who weren't opposed to having another baby (29 percent vs. 43 percent).
"These findings show a clear association between initial family-formation attitudes and behaviors," the Abt researchers said. "But the associations are not overwhelming: Many people did not realize their stated family-formation aspirations."
The researchers concluded that "policies of persuasion alone" probably won't make much of a dent in single-parenting patterns and that therefore government should stop trying to persuade welfare recipients to get married and stop having children out of wedlock.
"Rather," they wrote, it would be better to improve welfare parents' "marriage prospects," because "a lack of men with decent earnings in low-income communities is another substantial impediment to marriage."
The unwed-childbearing issue could be addressed by "increasing family planning access and education for both low-income women and men," they added.
The 1996 welfare reform law brought sweeping changes in the nation's major social service network by refocusing it on work and the formation of two-parent families.
Work and marriage continue to be the focus of Republicans, and the Bush administration is expected to pressure the new Republican-led Congress to pass a welfare reform bill that includes as much as $300 million a year for marriage education and activities.
The 1996 welfare law expired Sept. 30 and has been temporarily extended. On Thursday the House passed a bill to extend the welfare law to March 31. The Senate is expected to take up the issue this week.


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