The popular view is that welfare dependence among American women rose in the 1980s. But a new study by economists Peter Gottschalk of Boston College and Robert Moffitt of Brown University finds no increase in dependency at all.
The researchers compared the histories of representative samples of U.S. women, age 15 to 44, at the start of two periods, 1974-'80 and 1981-'87. In each seven-year period, they calculated both the total time spent on welfare and the share of income derived from welfare by the entire group. They found no significant difference in the two groups' time spent on welfare, while welfare payments as a share of income actually dropped, from 2.7% in the 1970s to 2.5% in the 1980s. They also found no increase in the average length of individual spells of welfare dependency.
To be sure, the researchers did find a rise in welfare dependency among younger women aged 15 to 24, a trend they attributed to a tendency in this group to go on welfare at an earlier age in the 1980s. But this was offset by shifts in dependence among older women. Contrary to popular perceptions, conclude Gottschalk and Moffitt, "overall welfare dependency among women does not appear to have increased in the 1980s."