Poverty, public assistance, and children in intact and single-mother families

by Lingxin Hao


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This article examines the effects of poverty, public assistance, and family structure on school-age children's home environment and developmental outcomes using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. The central question of this study is whether public support negatively affects school-age children's developmental outcomes, thereby contributing to the intergenerational transmission of welfare dependency. The results show that long duration and late timing of poverty have a detrimental effect on home environment and child developmental outcomes. Long duration of public assistance disturbs reading ability for children of intact families only. Late timing of public assistance actually enhances the cognitive and emotional environment and has a greater effect on the emotional environment for single-mother families. Long duration and late timing of single motherhood are detrimental to the emotional environment. Taken together, the findings suggest that the process of intergenerational transmission of welfare dependency during school-age years is primarily attributable to poverty and single motherhood rather than the duration and timing of public assistance.

Originally published in: Journal of Family and Economic Issues, v. 16, nos. 2 and 3, 1995, pp. 181-205.

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