The Effect of SNAP on Food Purchases and Family Nutrition

Awarded Scholars:
Jesse Shapiro, Brown University
Justine Hastings, Brown University
Project Date:
Dec 2016
Award Amount:

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) enrolled nearly 20% of all households in 2014, including a substantial number of families in the lower half of the income distribution. If SNAP benefits were considered income, they would remove nearly four million Americans, including nearly two million children, from poverty. Despite its importance in the safety net, however, much remains unknown about its effects on overall food spending and the quality of a family’s diet.

Jesse Shapiro and Justine Hastings have previously been funded by RSF to use a unique dataset to answer questions about "mental accounting," or how households represent money in their financial decision-making. In their study, they analyzed customer spending patterns on groceries, including those of SNAP-eligible participants, and concluded that households treat SNAP benefits as part of a mental food account and that this psychology influences not only how much food households buy, but also what kind of food. They will now extend their analysis to examine the effects of SNAP participation on the amount and composition of food purchased by SNAP households.


RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of original empirical research articles by both established and emerging scholars.


The Russell Sage Foundation offers grants and positions in our Visiting Scholars program for research.


Join our mailing list for email updates.