Welfare reform and the subjective well-being of single mothers

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21 Scopus citations


Although a large body of research examines the impact of welfare reform, there remains considerable uncertainty as to whether single mothers' well-being improved in the wake of these policy changes. Using unique data from the DDB Worldwide Communications Life Style™ survey, this paper exploits a large battery of survey questions on self-reported life satisfaction and physical and mental health to study the impact of welfare reform on the subjective well-being of single mothers. The identification strategy relies on a difference-in-differences framework to estimate intent-to-treat effects for the welfare waiver and TANF periods. Results indicate that the bundle of TANF reforms had mostly positive effects on single mothers' subjective well-being. These women experienced an increase in life satisfaction, greater optimism about the future, and more financial satisfaction. Furthermore, these improvements did not come at a cost of reducing mental and physical health. Welfare waivers, in contrast, had largely neutral effects on well-being. I provide indirect evidence that the increase in single mothers' employment after welfare reform can plausibly explain the gains in subjective well-being.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-238
Number of pages36
JournalJournal of Population Economics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013


  • Happiness
  • Single mothers
  • Welfare reform

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Economics and Econometrics


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