Why Family Caps Work: Evidence from a National Study

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Family Caps are considered by many policy experts to be the one welfare reform explicitly designed to reduce birth rates among poor unmarried women. Despite their operation in 23 states, some since the early 1990’s, the empirical record remains mixed on how effective the policy has been in reducing non-marital births. In this paper we present results from a national study which indicates that Family Caps work as a targeted incentive, producing their largest impacts in states like New Jersey which pay for ‘medically necessary’ abortion and which have large proportions of poor black women aged 15-44 in the population and on the welfare caseloads. Family Caps conditioned by these factors lower non-marital birth rates among black women by 4 per 1000 women of childbearing age and the illegitimacy ratio by 5 non-marital births per 100 live births.. Caps also raise abortions under these conditions by 6 per 1000. Hispanic fertility behavior is also affected by the synergy of Family Cap x Medicaid funding for medically necessary abortions, decreasing non-marital birth rates by over 6 per 1000, deceasing illegitimacy ratios by about 7 per 100 and increasing abortions by nearly 7 per 1000. Hispanic composition of the state population is not as important to this joint effect of Family Cap and Medicaid funding as it is for black women, however. The policy implications of this research are discussed using an empirically derived taxonomy we term ‘the lesser of two evils typology.’


Keywords: Family Cap, Welfare Reform, Race and Abortion, Abortions and Non-Marital Births, Medicaid Funding for Abortions
Stream: Politics, Public Policy and Law
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Michael J. Camasso

Professor, Department of Food
Agricultural and Resource Economics, Rutgers University

New Brunswick, NJ, USA

Michael J. Camasso is a Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at Cook College, Rutgers University. Professor Camasso received his Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology. The principal focus of his research has been the assessment of risk and decision processes in human services organizations. His most current book Family Caps, Abortions and Women of Color (Oxford University Press) examines the confluence of policy and politics as the U.S. seeks to put poor women to work. His recent work has appeared in such journals as the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Research in Labor Economics, the Journal of Marriage and Family, the Journal of Labor Economics, and the Journal of Economic Perspectives. Professor Camasso has discussed his research nationally and internationally in such forums as the Lehrer News Hour, National Public Radio, CNBC, PBS, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the London Times, and at many national and international conferences. He has also conducted evaluations for many state and federal agencies and for private companies such as Dupont, Johnson & Johnson, and Beneficial Finance.

Radha Jagannathan

Associate Professor, Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy, Rutgers University
New Brunswick, NJ, USA

Radha Jagannathan is an Associate Professor of Urban Planning & Policy Development in the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey . Professor Jagannathan received a Ph.D. in Public Affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, in 1999. Professor Jagannathan’s recent work has appeared in the Journal of Labor Economics, Research in Labor Economics, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, and American Journal of Public Health and many other journals. Professor Jagannathan’s forthcoming book When to Protect: Decision Making in Child Welfare for Oxford University Press (with Professor Michael Camasso) attempts to meld decision making approaches from economics, criminology, and social psychology, with an eye toward the formulation of a unified decision making framework that can help child welfare professionals. She has also conducted evaluations of human services programs for many state and federal agencies and for private companies such as Johnson & Johnson. Her teaching interests include courses in statistics, econometrics and research methods at the doctoral, master’s and bachelor’s levels and other substantive courses in the area of demography and poverty.

Ref: I08P0732