The Long-Term Effects of the Minnesota Family Investment Program on Marriage and Divorce Among Two-Parent Families

| Lisa Gennetian

Launched in 1994, the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) used a rigorous random assignment research design to test a welfare reform initiative that provided financial incentives to work, streamlined rules and procedures for receiving public assistance, and mandated participation in employment services for single-parent long-term recipients. One striking finding from a 36-month follow-up survey was that a small survey sample of MFIP two-parent recipient families was 19.1 percentage points more likely than their control group counterparts to report being married. Left unanswered by this preliminary analysis was whether or not this effect held up for the full sample of two-parent families and how sustainable the higher rates of marital stability would prove to be. Funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this report explores that question further by using data from publicly available divorce records and marriage certificates. Investigating MFIP’s effects on marriage and divorce among the program’s nearly 2,500 welfare recipients and applicants who were married or cohabiting at study entry, the report finds that MFIP reduced the incidence of divorce among two-parent family recipients by 3.5 percentage points through a seven-year follow-up period. Some of this reduction occurred among MFIP two-parent recipient families who were married at study entry, and some occurred among those who were cohabiting at the outset of the study. For couples who were initially cohabiting, the cumulative marriage rate was similar for MFIP and control group families, but cohabiting MFIP parents who married were more likely than their control group counterparts to have remained married during the follow-up period. MFIP had no cumulative effect on divorce during the follow-up period among two-parent families who were new welfare applicants, but it did somewhat increase the incidence of divorce late in the follow-up period.