The prevailing public opinion is that women on welfare are having lots of babies. People believe this because they think women on welfare don’t control themselves, they lack education and knowledge, or they do it for some sort of additional public assistance. According to a study in the American Sociological Review, however, there’s an average of fewer than two children per household in families that receive welfare benefits. Public opinion polls about welfare recipients, on the other hand, tend to inflate that number to three, four, or five children per family. It’s unfortunate that so many Americans believe that welfare recipients are only trying to cheat the system and be a permanent burden on the taxpayer. Still, the question is whether welfare hurts your rate of fertility or not.

The most likely answer is probably no. Contrary to popular belief, many people who are on welfare do use it as a temporary safety net while they get back on their feet. For those people, the effect of being on welfare for a short time isn’t going to have much of an impact on their overall fertility rate. In the case of chronic welfare recipients, it seems like they are largely having fewer children than they otherwise would, with the possible exception of young girls who get pregnant and then seek out welfare.

It’s also a bit general to talk about women on welfare as if they’re one monolithic group. What exactly is welfare referring to? There are programs for housing aid, unemployment benefits, Medicaid, Food Stamps, and many more. Although I probably won’t find the time to conduct this study, it might be enlightening to see how fertility is affected by these individual categories of welfare assistance to low-income, single mothers.

I don’t know what the solution is, but I do think that there’s a pretty substantial negative opinion of young single mothers who are trying to do right by their children. I’m sure you agree that it’s good news to hear that most women on welfare aren’t deliberately having a lot of kids to game the system. In reality, whether they do that or not depends a lot on their particular state’s welfare benefits, but ultimately, the important thing is to focus on getting themselves out of poverty.

Rank, M. R. (April 1989). Fertility Among Women On Welfare: Incidence and Determinants. In JSTOR. Retrieved May 17, 2013.

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