The Impact of Welfare Reform on Academic Outcomes: Does Parental Work Boost Grades? (WP-02-33)


IPR-WP-02-33

Amber Stitziel Pareja and Dan A. Lewis

The 1996 welfare reform forced many poor parents into the labor market, with little understanding of how the parents’ workforce participation would affect family life in general and the children in particular. In this paper, we examine the relationship between parental workforce participation, welfare receipt, and children’s academic outcomes for a random sample of welfare mothers and their children. Findings from two waves of the Illinois Families Study show that children whose parents transitioned from not working in Wave 1(1999-2000) to working in Wave 2 (2001) were significantly more likely to be achieving academically — receiving A’s and B’s — at Wave 2. Parental employment at Wave 2 was not found to be a positive factor in all cases, however. We found that children whose parents were employed in both waves were significantly less likely to receive A’s and B’s at Wave 2 than were children whose parents transitioned from not working to working. We also found that receiving welfare during Wave 2 had a positive relationship with receiving A’s and B’s at Wave 2, which suggests that welfare payments may be a protective factor for families. We argue that parental employment may be beneficial for children’s academic achievement, particularly if families are able to continue receiving welfare benefits.

Amber Stitziel Pareja, Doctoral student, Human Development and Social Policy, Northwestern University
Dan A. Lewis, Human Development and Social Policy, Northwestern University

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