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Teenage Mothers and Welfare Dependency


Harris, Kathleen Mullan (1991). Teenage Mothers and Welfare Dependency. Journal of Family Issues, 12(4), 492-518.


This article examines the process by which teenage mothers work their way off welfare. Data come from the Baltimore Study, which followed a group of Black teenage mothers for 17 years after their first birth. Results revealed extensive labor market activity among the young mothers on welfare. Human capital investments are the key determinants of welfare exits through work. In particular, education facilitates more rapid job exits, and cumulative work experience among the less-educated mothers allows women to eventually work their way off welfare. Education provides a more efficient route out of welfare by leading to a higher-paying job. Child-care constraints prolong welfare dependency by making it especially difficult for welfare mothers to work. Analysis first focuses on the extent to which teenage mothers on welfare enter the labor force and whether the transition to work results in an exit from welfare. Then, the process of leaving welfare through labor market experience is examined among those women who combine work and welfare. Event history models are used to analyze the transition to work among teenage mothers on welfare and the transition off welfare among the working welfare mothers. Implications for the new welfare reform legislation calling for a mandatory work requirement from all welfare recipients are discussed.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Journal of Family Issues


Harris, Kathleen Mullan