The 1990s Head Start Expansion and the Employment Decisions of Single Mothers

Riley Wilson, University of Maryland
Jocelyn Wikle , Brigham Young University

In the 1990s, the Head Start program expanded, tripling funding and doubling enrollment. For low-income mothers, this expansion provided a significant childcare subsidy, potentially enabling more women to work. Also during this time, employment rates of single mothers rose dramatically, often attributed to changing tax policy and welfare reform. In this paper, we exploit variation over time and across metropolitan areas in Head Start funding to estimate the impact of Head Start funding on female employment to determine if part of this trend can be attributed to changes in the availability of preschool. Increased Head Start funding raised employment rates among single mothers with age-eligible children, relative to mothers with younger, ineligible children in the same area. This also resulted in more weeks worked and higher wage earnings. The increased availability of Head Start can explain a small share of the rise in single mother employment in the 1990s.

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 Presented in Session 175. Gender, Work, and Family: Assessing Policy Effects