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Keywords:

  • AFDC;
  • nonmarital childbearing;
  • normative climate;
  • premarital childbearing;
  • social norms;
  • welfare benefit levels

Nationally representative, longitudinal survey data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics were used to examine the conditions under which welfare benefit levels affected the likelihood that low-income women age 15–24 bore their first child prior to marriage. Benefit levels had a positive effect on premarital childbearing during the 1980s and early 1990s but not during the 1970s or late 1960s. The effect of benefit levels was also stronger where community attitudes toward premarital sex were more tolerant than where attitudes were less tolerant, but this did not account for the varying effect of benefit levels over time. The study introduces a new way of measuring normative climate using attitudinal data from the General Social Surveys.