Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 203–238

Welfare reform and the subjective well-being of single mothers

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00148-012-0406-z

Cite this article as:
Herbst, C.M. J Popul Econ (2013) 26: 203. doi:10.1007/s00148-012-0406-z


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 StyleTM 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.


HappinessSingle mothersWelfare reform



Supplementary material

148_2012_406_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (463 kb)
(PDF 462 KB)

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Public AffairsArizona State UniversityPhoenixUSA