In the original MFIP evaluation, effects of the program on marital stability were measured for 290 two-parent recipient families who were respondents to a 36-month follow-up survey. The new analysis presented here has expanded on these findings by providing long-term follow-up for the full sample of 1,515 two-parent recipient families and 731 two-parent applicant families who participated in the MFIP evaluation. Overall, the results indicate that the pilot MFIP program that began in 1994 continued to have effects on rates of divorce for two-parent families seven years after they entered the study. Reductions in divorce were concentrated among families who were already receiving welfare when they entered the study rather than new welfare applicants. Impacts were most pronounced for black parents who were already married at the time they entered the study, and for parents who were cohabiting when they entered the study.
Note that because this new analysis relies solely on public records of marriages and finalized divorces, it does not capture any effects that the program may have had on couples' likelihood of separating or living apart without formally divorcing. Nevertheless, the findings represent some of the best evidence to date about the potential for welfare policies to affect marital stability among two-parent families.
The results raise several important questions for future work. First, because most welfare reform evaluations in the 1990s did not collect information on two-parent families, there is little impact information available for two-parent families, making it important to replicate this type of evaluation in some additional geographic areas to determine whether they are generalizable. Second, to further understand the results presented here, future work will examine how MFIP affected the timing of marriages or divorces, particularly for cohabiting parents. In addition, the suggestion of increased divorce among two-parent applicant families in certain years of follow-up is worthy of further investigation.
Finally, the effects on divorce among MFIP's two-parent recipient families suggest that the program could have had important effects on the well-being of children in these families. A finalized divorce is almost always preceded by marital conflict and a period of separation, both of which are likely to extend over a long period of time. The effects on divorce presented here very likely understate the duration and extent of marital strife imposed upon the children in these families. With funding from various foundations, via administrative records (including child welfare records), MDRC is continuing to conduct long-term analyses on the effects of the pilot MFIP on economic, family, and child outcomes among single parent and two-parent families, with the expectation that additional findings will become available in 2004.