The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Assessing the Impact of Education, Marriage, and Domestic Violence On TANF Receipt Over-Time for Women with Children

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 2:30 PM
Seabreeze 1 and 2 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Rachel J. Voth Schrag, MSW, LCSW, Doctoral Student, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Shanta Pandey, PhD, Associate Professor, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Background: The introduction of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program dramatically altered the social safety net, reducing emphasis on postsecondary education and emphasizing marriage as a pathway out of poverty. The 2005 reauthorization further limited access to higher education and included $1.8 billion in grants for marriage promoting programs.  Human Capital Theory suggests that higher education reduces poverty, while the Barriers Model of Welfare Receipt suggests that intimate partner violence (IPV) will increase instability, and thus increase poverty.  Given that current TANF policy focuses on marital relationships as a pathway to sustainability, estimates that 20% of TANF recipients are currently experiencing IPV suggest a disconnect of policy from the lives of families.  In this study we answer the following question: To what extent do educational attainment, marital status, and IPV predict a new mother’s use of TANF during the first nine years of her child’s life?

Methods: We used four waves of data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N=4488) to evaluate mother’s use of TANF after the birth of a child.  TANF receipt is measured dichotomously at each time point.  Marriage and IPV were measured dichotomously and were allowed to vary over time, while education was measured categorically and was fixed.  We also controlled for theoretically important covariates. We used longitudinal hybrid logistic regression to assess the odds of welfare receipt over nine years, allowing us to combine both fixed and random effects into a single model by decomposing the time-varying predictors into within-person and between-person components.

Results: At Wave 1, 25% of mothers were receiving TANF, while 22% experienced IPV, 37% had not completed high school, and 31% were married.  Nine years after, 13% were receiving TANF, 11% experienced IPV, 22% had not completed high school, and 38% were married.  We found that having a high school diploma substantially decreased the likelihood of TANF receipt compared to not having a high school diploma (OR=.80; CI .66-.98)but no significant effects were found between no diploma and having some college.  Bachelor’s degree attainment had a strong protective effect (OR=.34; CI .18-.66).  Being married reduced the likelihood of TANF receipt (OR=.16; CI .13-.21), and experiencing IPV increased the likelihood of TANF receipt over time (OR=1.49; CI 1.14-1.95). 

Conclusions and Implications:  Stable marriages reduced welfare receipt; however, 46% of women changed their marital status at least once during the study and IPV survivors had 49% higher odds of receipt. Greater attention to the needs of IPV survivors among TANF clientele is called for. Additionally, evidence showed a 66% decrease in odds of TANF receipt for those with a bachelor’s degree. We suggest that pursing policy focused on marriage as a primary pathway out of poverty while decreasing support for mother’s education and underfunding IPV services is misguided.  Placing additional barriers in front of mothers wishing to pursue higher education does not serve the goal of sustainability, as earnings and later welfare-receipt are both substantially impacted by educational attainment.