Truth #5: There are many reasons women have children; increased benefits isn’t one of them.

Women receiving aid have fewer children than women who are not receiving aid (Handler and Hasenfeld 2007:53). Further, there is no evidence that the children they are having are viewed as meal tickets; in fact, evidence suggests it is quite the opposite.

Reasons Women Have Children

Women have children for many reasons. Some pregnancies are intended, planned and/or desired; others are not. For those that are intended, women balance a number of complex issues in order to reach their decision to have another child.1 Finances can be a consideration, but typically in terms of whether a person feels they can afford to have another child.2 Despite the stories that circulate, there is no research that indicates women have children expecting to improve their financial situation.

Having More Children Doesn’t Pay Much


Some people tell stories about women who have more babies in order to increase their benefits. The story is tough to shake, appearing in print as early as 19593 and still shared regularly today. Over half of Americans believe welfare encourages women to have more children.4 The evidence, however, suggests otherwise. With the welfare reforms of 1996, a woman who gets pregnant while receiving TANF funds cannot apply for TANF funds for that child.5

Having more children, therefore, does not reap larger TANF benefits.

Now for argument’s sake, let’s take the scenario—even more unlikely than choosing to have children for an increase in one’s TANF check—of a woman who is not currently receiving TANF, but who plans to apply and before doing so, calculates the increase in benefits for more children. In North Carolina, for each additional child, she would receive an average of $28 per month,6 hardly an incentive to add a new person to the family.

Further, these low numbers should force us to ask whether these amounts are sufficient to raise a child. Although the legends would have us believe the amounts are too high, the reality is that they are likely too low. And since there is no data that suggests women base their procreative decisions on welfare benefit amounts, we should be considering raising, not cutting, these amounts.

Food Stamps

However, because the government wants to ensure that children are properly fed, additional children may be eligible for SNAP or food stamps. Does this additional money in food stamps provide sufficient motivation for women to have more children? The numbers suggest no. Here’s why:

Microsoft Word - Scales Graphic3.docxA new child could raise a family’s SNAP benefits by $159 per month. But as we saw in Truth #1, food is expensive and even the maximum amount of food stamps barely covers the most frugal diet developed by the USDA. Is this enough to entice a woman to have a child? Perhaps, but doubtful. $159 hardly covers the costs of raising a child. For families in the lowest income bracket, the USDA estimates that a single-parent family will spend an average of $7,760 per child per year.7 That’s  $647/month. Of course, that’s an average. But even if the parent considers only the most basic expenses of food, diapers, and clothing, and assuming that health care could be covered by Medicaid, $159 in food stamps plus $28 in TANF for a total of $187 per month does not go very far.

Evidence Does Not Support the Legends

But let’s not leave it to numbers and assumptions of rational decision making. If women were motivated by increased benefits to have more children, we should expect to see a correlation between benefit levels and birth rates among poor women. But studies show no such correlation.8 Further, we should see higher birth rates among aid recipients in states that provide relatively higher benefits. But again, we do not.9 Finally, as benefits drop, so should birth rates among aid recipients. Again, we see no such drop.

Stories about women having more babies for small increases in their food stamp benefits—increases quickly offset by associated costs with having an additional child—simply are not supported, not by the numbers, not by the policies, not by the trends, and not by logic. Similar increases in benefits for additional children are granted to the middle class who get a tax credit of up to $1000 per child, yet no one assumes these middle class families are having more children for the tax break.


1 “Preconception desire for pregnancy was related to a woman’s values and goals (including goals for marriage, desire for family, and beliefs about the importance of family), preparation and readiness (including employment, career development, financial preparation, emotional preparation, and readiness of other children), relationships with others (preeminently the partner and his desires, but also extended family and friends), prior experiences with pregnancy and family, experiences in her family of origin, and expectations for a pregnancy. We found that preconception desire for pregnancy arises from a complex interaction between long-term goals and values and current circumstances, and therefore it changes with time” (2000:185). In Stanford, Joseph B., Rachel Hobbs, Penny Jameson, M. Jann DeWitt, and Rachel C. Fischer, “Defining Dimensions of Pregnancy Intendedness.” Maternal and Child Health Journal, (2000) 4 (3):183-89.
2 See the Child Timing Questionnaire developed by Miller and Pasta (1994) and discussed in Miller 1994:12. Miller, Warren B. 1994. Reproductive Decisions: How We Make Them and How They Make Us. Advances in Population 2:1-27.
3 A 1959 editorial in The Daily News claimed, “Ladies have babies by assorted gentlemen so as to keep the relief checks growing fatter each year.” The article is cited in a New York Times obituary for James R. Dumpson, November 9, 2012, page B8 by Douglas Martin, “James R. Dumpson, a Defender of the Poor, Dies at 103.” Online at:
4 A 2001 poll conducted jointly by National Public Radio the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation indicated that 57% of Americans believes that welfare encourages women to have more children ( Qualitative data from research conducted by Public Agenda confirms that some people hold this view (as does qualitative data from our own research in Alamance County), though one woman also noted: “l don’t feel that they have more babies to get more welfare, but I think they feel comfortable having more babies because they know they’ve got money coming in. Welfare takes the worry away” (Farkas, Steve, and Jean Johnson. 1996. The Values We Live By: What Americans Want from Welfare Reform: Public Agenda, page 22. Online at:
5 NC TANF State Plan, NC Dept. of Health and Human Services, 2010-2013, page 28; online at (scroll to the bottom for the link). The family cap is explained as follows: “A family cap on assistance is in effect. This means that a family’s Work First Family Assistance cash payment or Work First Benefits will not increase when a child is born ten (10) months after a month in which a family received cash assistance.”
6 According to the NC DSS guidelines:
7 These numbers are based on a survey by the US Department of Agriculture, with numbers updated to 2011 dollars using the Consumer Price Index. The amounts are for each child, but based on families with 2 children. Produced by the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, online at:
8 The nonpartisan Urban Institute published a report on welfare reform that synthesized much of the previous scholarship relevant to this issue. See in particular Figure 3: Research Studies on Welfare and Non-marital Childbearing: “None [of the ten major studies] finds a direct effect of benefit levels on subsequent births to women on welfare” (Sawhill, Isabel V. 1995. “Welfare Reform: An Analysis of the Issues”: Urban Institute. Online:
9 In The Nation, December 12, 1994; cited by FAIR: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting:
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