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Changes in Family Structure and Welfare Participation Since the 1960s: The Role of Legal Services
Andrew Goodman-Bacon, Jamein P. Cunningham
 
Abstract
This paper evaluates the effects of the War on Poverty’s Legal Services Program (LSP) on family structure and welfare participation. LSPs provided subsidized legal assistance to poor communities, focusing on divorce and welfare access. We use a difference-in-differences research design based on the rollout of the program to 251 counties from 1965 to 1975. We find temporary increases in divorce and persistent increases in welfare participation and nonmarital birth rates. Nonmarital births rose because marriage rates fell, not because birth rates rose. Expanded access to legal institutions thus contributed, directly and indirectly, to changes in family structure in the 1960s.