Changes in the Welfare Caseload and the Health of Low-Educated Mothers

Robert Kaestner, University of Illinois at Chicago
Elizabeth Tarlov, University of Illinois at Chicago

Declines in the welfare caseload in the late 1990s brought significant change to the lives of many low-educated, single mothers. Many single mothers left welfare and entered the labor market and others re-arranged their lives in order to avoid going on public assistance. These changes may have affected the health and health behaviors of these women. To date, there has been no study of this issue. In this paper, we obtained estimates of the association between the welfare caseload and welfare policies, and three health behaviors--smoking, drinking, and exercise--and two self-reported measures of health--days in poor mental health, and overall health status. The results of our study reveal that changes in the caseload had little effect on measures of health status, but were significantly associated with two health behaviors: binge drinking and regular exercise. Changes in the welfare caseload were positively related to binge drinking and changes in the welfare caseload were negatively related to the probability of engaging in regular and sustained physical activity.

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Presented in Session 47: Demography of Welfare and Economic Wellbeing