Lessons of United States welfare reforms for Australian social policy

Lessons of United States welfare reforms for Australian social policy

Matthew Gray and David Stanton

Research Paper No. 29 — November 2002
Lessons of United States welfare reforms for Australian social policy

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Recent developments in policies towards lone parents in Australia have emphasised the role of employment in increasing income and self-sufficiency. The emphasis on employment is also the case in other OECD countries with a general trend towards benefits for lone parents being made dependent on participation in the labour market.

The United States of America has undertaken substantial reforms over the 1990s, to the ways in which social assistance is provided to lone parents. Following the reforms there has been a dramatic fall in the number of lone-mother families in the United States receiving welfare payments and increases in employment rates.

This paper reviews the evidence on the impact of the United States welfare reforms on a wide range of outcomes, including the number of benefit recipients, employment rates, income, mental and physical health of mothers and children’s wellbeing. Implications of the United States experience of welfare reform for policy in Australia are considered. The importance of differences in Australian institutions, particularly the labour market and income support systems, are highlighted. 

Authors and Acknowledgements

Dr Matthew Gray is a Principal Research Fellow and Head of the Family and Society Research Program at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. He has written on a range of topics including the determinants of Indigenous labour force status, the impact of child rearing on mothers’ subsequent earnings, and access to family-friendly work practices.

Mr David Stanton is the Director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies. He has had extensive experience in the Australian Public Service over some 32 years. He was First Assistant Secretary of the then Development Division, the policy and research Division of the Department of Social Security. Subsequently he was Director of the New South Wales Office of the Department and First Assistant Secretary responsible for all family programs. David has undertaken major policy evaluations on the social security systems of a number of countries, including Egypt, China, and Trinidad and Tobago.


The authors thank Jenny Clausen, Boyd Hunter, Jocelyn Pech, Narda Sowter, and Peter Whiteford for comments on this paper, an earlier version of which was presented to the Australian Conference of Economists on 2 October 2002, in Adelaide.

Publication details

Research Paper
No. 29
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, November 2002.
Suggested citation:

Gray, M., & Stanton, D. (2002). Lessons of United States welfare reforms for Australian social policy (Research Paper No. 29). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

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