The Public Interest

Is the welfare state replacing the family?

Mary Jo Bane

Winter 1983

THE United States, like the other industrialized countries, is experiencing quite dramatic changes in the structure of its families and households. We see low fertility rates, low marriage rates, increasing numbers of one-person households, smaller household size on average, high and increasing labor force participation rates among women, and increasing numbers of single parent families. These changes have generated considerable speculation about the “decline of the family” and the quality of contemporary private life. Most sharply, they raise the question whether the state is being forced to take on responsibilities that families assumed in the past, or conversely (and more insidiously) whether the expansion of the welfare state itself has undermined the family and reduced its role.

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