Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Business and Economics



First Advisor

Dr. James P. Ziliak


This dissertation consists of three essays examining the role of two particular social safety net programs, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), on the well-being of children from disadvantaged households. While the impact of these programs on the adults and parents of the household have been studied extensively, less is known about their effect on children. This is true for both their immediate impact on child well-being and any long-run impacts on children who grow up under these programs. Given the demonstrated importance of child well-being on later life adult outcomes, understanding the lasting effects of the programs is of great policy importance.

In Essay 1, I examine the effect of welfare reform on long-run educational attainment and family structure outcomes on children who grew up under the reformed welfare system. In the early 1990’s, the United States reformed its welfare system through state waivers and the TANF program. These changes altered family resources and potential investments for childhood human capital, which in turn could affect later adult outcomes. Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) Child Development Supplement (CDS) and the Transition to Adulthood Supplement (TAS), I examine the short-run effects of welfare reform on cognitive and noncognitive outcomes and the long-run impact of welfare reform on adult education and family structure through age 28. I find that as children, these individuals have higher reading test scores by an average of 6 percent of a standard deviation. As adults, I find robust evidence that these treated individuals are on average 9 percent more likely to graduate college. I also find some evidence that they are more likely to be married and less likely to have a child out of wedlock. The impacts of welfare reform are larger for women than men for childhood test scores and college completion, marriage rates, and out of wedlock births as adults.

In Essay 2, I continue to study the effects of welfare reform on child well-being, here focusing on the effect of welfare reform on the health insurance coverage, healthcare utilization, and the health status of children. In addition to changing the overall resources available to the family to invest in child health, welfare reform also has specific implications for health insurance coverage. As mothers were moved to work they could gain private coverage and welfare reform eliminated automatic eligibility for Medicaid. In this essay, I use data from the PSID CDS. I find a 3-5 percent decrease in the likelihood that a child has had their annual checkup but no change to the insurance coverage of children. For health status, I find lower rates of asthma by 17 percent among African American children and an increase of 3-5 healthy days a year for all children. I present suggestive evidence that the improvements in child health are driving the reduction in healthcare utilization. Given the evidence in the literature on the importance of childhood health, these improvements have potentially large ramifications for future adult health.

Finally, in Essay 3 I explore the effect of the real purchasing power of SNAP benefits for households with children on dietary quality of food acquisitions and food insecurity. SNAP, formerly food stamps, is one of the most important components of the social safety net. However, there is concern that benefits are inadequate given high food insecurity rates among participating households. Currently SNAP does not account for variation in local food prices and does not sufficiently consider the dietary needs of adolescent children. Using data from the Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS), I exploit variation in county level food prices and family composition to estimate the purchasing power of food expenditures for SNAP and SNAP–eligible households to test for the effect of additional benefits on dietary quality and food security. I find that a ten percent increase in purchasing power is associated with increased per person weekly acquisition of grains, proteins, dairy, and vegetables by 1.5-2.5 percent. However the quantity of added sugars also increases by approximately two percent, suggesting an ambiguous impact on health. In line with these modest changes in quantity, I do not find a statistically significant impact of purchasing power on food insecurity rates.

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