The effects of a Minnesota Welfare Reform Program on marital
stability six years later
LISA A. GENNETIAN & VIRGINIA KNOX
MDRC, 16 East 34th Street, New York, NY 10016, USA
Abstract. Do welfare reform policies aﬀect marital stability among two-parent families?
Long term ﬁndings from an experiment in Minnesota, evaluated via a random assign-
ment design, contribute to the little evidence to date about whether or not welfare and
income-support policies can aﬀect marital stability. In 1994, Minnesota began to test a
major welfare reform initiative that emphasized ﬁnancial incentives for work, a par-
ticipation requirement for long-term recipients, and the simpliﬁcation of rules and
procedures for receiving public assistance. An analysis of this program’s long-run eﬀects
on marital stability for two-parent families ﬁnds no eﬀect overall but contrasting eﬀects
for several subgroups. MFIP particularly lowered the rate of divorce among families
who were already receiving welfare when they entered the study. There are less con-
sistent eﬀects among new applicants to MFIP – who show a trend toward higher rates of
divorce relative to the control group.
Keywords: Economic incentives, Marital stability, Welfare policy
In 1994, Minnesota began a major welfare reform initiative that
emphasized ﬁnancial incentives for work, a participation requirement
for long-term recipients, and the simpliﬁcation of rules and procedures
for receiving public assistance. The eﬀectiveness of this program – called
the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) – and its impact on
various populations served was evaluated using a random assignment
design that placed over 14,000 families in either the MFIP or the Aid to
Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) system (Miller et al. 2000).
One of the striking ﬁndings of the initial MFIP evaluation was that
among two-parent families who were receiving welfare at the outset of
the study and were part of a small follow-up survey sample, families in
the MFIP group were 19.1 percentage points more likely than families
in the AFDC group to report being married and living with a spouse at
the three-year follow-up point (Gennetian & Miller forthcoming). This
ﬁnding was especially surprising in their contrast to the most notable
marriage eﬀects from social policy interventions – increases in marital
Population Research and Policy Review 23: 567–593, 2004.
Ó 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.