Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 29, Issue 3, pp 757–779 | Cite as

Welfare reform and immigrant fertility

  • Catalina Amuedo-Dorantes
  • Susan L. Averett
  • Cynthia A. BansakEmail author
Original Paper


Immigration policy is at the forefront of US policy discussions, and the use of welfare benefits by immigrants has been hotly debated. In 1996, Congress enacted welfare reform legislation, which imposed strict restrictions on welfare eligibility for noncitizens. However, a number of states restored access to welfare benefits to immigrants that had been cut out in the federal welfare reform law. Using data from the Current Population Survey, we examine whether immigrant women adjusted their childbearing in response to changes in the generosity of welfare benefits at the state-level. We find that noncitizen women reduced their fertility in response to cutbacks imposed by the legislation. Our findings, which prove robust to a number of identification and robustness checks, underscore how immigrants respond to state-level policies and provide insight into the potential impacts of comprehensive immigration reform, particularly the components related to the path to citizenship and access to public benefits.


Welfare reform Immigrants Fertility 

JEL Classification

I38 J13 J15 



The authors thank Laura Argys and seminar participants at Colgate University, IZA Bonn and Colorado State University for helpful comments on earlier drafts. They also appreciate the feedback received from three anonymous referees.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Bachu A, O’Connell M (2001) Fertility of American women, June 2000. US Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, Bureau of the CensusGoogle Scholar
  2. Bitler MP, Hoynes HW (2011) Immigrants, welfare reform and the U.S. Safety Net. NBER Working Paper 17667Google Scholar
  3. Blank R (2002) Evaluating welfare reform in the U.S. NBER Working paper 8982Google Scholar
  4. Borjas G (1999) Immigration and welfare magnets. J Labor Econ 17(4):607–637CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Borjas G (2001) Welfare reform and immigration. In: Blank R, Haskings R (eds) The new world of welfare: an agenda for reauthorization and beyond. Brookings Press, Washington, pp 369–385Google Scholar
  6. Borjas G (2003) Welfare reform, labor supply and health insurance in the immigrant population. J Health Econ 22:933–958CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Camarota SA (2005) Birth rates among immigrants in America comparing fertility in the US and home countries. Center for Immigration Studies, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  8. Capps R, Leighton K, Fix M, Furgiuele C, Passel J, Ramchand R, McNiven S, Perez-Lopez D, Fielder E, Greenwell M, Hays T (2002) How Are immigrants faring after welfare reform? Preliminary evidence from Los Angeles and New York City: report to the office of the assistant secretary for planning and evaluation, Department of Health and Human Services. Urban Institute, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  9. d’Addio AC, d’Ercole MM (2005) Trends and determinants of fertility rates in OECD countries: the role of policies OECD social, employment and migration working papers no. 27. Available online at:
  10. Dye JL (2008) Fertility of American women: June 2008, Current population reports, P20-563. U.S. Census Bureau, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  11. Falasco D, Heer DM (1984) Economic and fertility differences between legal and undocumented migrant Mexican families: possible effects of immigration policy changes. Soc Sci Q 65(2):495–504Google Scholar
  12. Fix ME, Capps R (2002) The dispersal of immigrants in the 1980s. Urban Institute, Washington, . Accessed 10 Oct 2014
  13. Fix M, Passel JS (1999) Trends in noncitizens’ and citizens’ use of publicGoogle Scholar
  14. Fix M, Zimmermann W (1998) The legacies of welfare reform’s immigrant restrictions. Interpreter ReleasesGoogle Scholar
  15. Graefe DR, DeJong GF, Hall M, Sturgeon S, Van Eerden J (2008) Immigrants’ TANF eligibility, 1996–2003: What explains the new across-state inequalities? Int Migr Rev 42(1):89–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Griswold D (2012) Immigration and the welfare state. Cato J 32(1):159–174Google Scholar
  17. Haskins R (2006) Work over welfare: the inside story of the 1996 welfare reform law. Brookings Institution Press, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  18. Kalil A, Ziol-Guest K (2009) Welfare reform and health among the children of immigrants. In: Ziliak JP (ed) Welfare reform and its long-term consequences for America’s poor. Cambridge University Press, New York, pp 308–336CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kaushal N, Kaestner R (2005) Welfare reform and health insurance of immigrants. Health Serv Res 40(3):697–722CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lurie IZ (2008) Welfare reform and the decline in the health-insurance coverage of children of non-permanent residents. J Health Econ 27(3):786–793CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Mazzolari F (2004) Effects of welfare reform on immigrants’ welfare participation: How ‘Chilling’ are they? Unpublished manuscript. Available online at:
  22. Moffitt R (1992) Incentive effects of the U.S. Welfare system: a review. J Econ Lit 30(1):1–61Google Scholar
  23. Moffitt R (1998) The effects of welfare on marriage and fertility. In: Moffitt RA (ed) Welfare, the family, and reproductive behavior: research perspectives. National Academy Press, Washington, pp 50–97Google Scholar
  24. Nam Y (2011) Welfare reform and immigrants: noncitizen eligibility restrictions, vulnerable immigrants, and the social service providers. J Immigr Refug Stud 9(1):5–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Plotnick R, Winters R (1985) A politico-economic theory of income redistribution. Am Polit Sci Rev 79(2):458–473CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Rodríguez MA, Young M-E, Wallace SP (2015) Creating conditions to support healthy people: state policies that affect the health of undocumented immigrants and their families. University of California Global Health Institute, Los Angeles, Available at: . Accessed 26 Oct 2015
  27. Sevak P, Schmidt L (2008) Immigrant-native fertility and mortality differentials in the United StatesGoogle Scholar
  28. Social Security Advisory Report (2006) Available at: Accessed 24 Oct 2015
  29. Watson T (2010) Inside the refrigerator: immigration enforcement and chilling effects in Medicaid participation. WP No. 16278, National Bureau of Economic ResearchGoogle Scholar
  30. Zimmermann W, Tumlin KC (1999) Patchwork policies: state assistance for immigrants under welfare reform. Occasional Paper No. 24. Urban Institute, Washington, Available at:

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Catalina Amuedo-Dorantes
    • 1
  • Susan L. Averett
    • 2
  • Cynthia A. Bansak
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsSan Diego State University and IZASan DiegoUSA
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsLafayette College and IZAEastonUSA
  3. 3.Department of EconomicsSt. Lawrence University and IZACantonUSA

Personalised recommendations