Does Social Security Reduce Child Poverty and Boost the Academic Achievement of Low-Income Children?

Awarded Scholars:
Tara Watson, Williams College
Lara Shore-Sheppard, Williams College
Lucie Schmidt, Williams College
Project Date:
Jun 2019
Award Amount:

Recent studies have found that transferring income to disadvantaged families improves outcomes for children, including cognitive development, socio‐behavioral development, and educational attainment. For example, an extra $1000 from the Earned Income Tax Credit has been shown to improve child test scores by 6 percent of a standard deviation. However, one income source that has received little attention are Social Security benefits, for which the number of child beneficiaries has been increasing. A recent Census report notes that Social Security lifts 1.4 million children out of poverty, an effect comparable to that of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and more than four times the effect of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program. 

Economist Tara Watson and colleagues propose to address four questions. First, how can one characterize the changing amount and type of Social Security income in child households, and the children it impacts? Second, what are the immediate impacts of increased Social Security income on household resources and child educational outcomes? Next, what are the longer-run impacts of exposure to Social Security income on child educational attainment? And finally, if there are short- or long-run impacts on child outcomes, what are the mechanisms underlying those impacts?


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