This study estimated the effects of welfare reform in the 1990s, which permanently restructured and contracted the cash assistance system in the U.S., on food insecurity—a fundamental form of hardship—of the next generation of young adults. An implicit goal underlying welfare reform was the disruption of an assumed intergenerational transmission of disadvantage; however, little is known about the effects of welfare reform on the well-being of the next generation. Using intergenerational data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and a variation on a difference in differences framework, this study exploits 3 key sources of variation in childhood exposure to welfare reform: (1) Risk of exposure across birth cohorts. (2) Variation of exposure within cohorts because different states implemented welfare reform in different years. (3) Variation between individuals with the same exposure who were more likely and less likely to rely on welfare. We found that longer exposure to welfare reform led to decreases in food insecurity of the next generation of households, by about 10% for a 5-year increase in exposure, with stronger effects for women, individuals exposed at least 13 years, individuals exposed at relatively young ages (0-5 years), and individuals whose mothers were not high school dropouts. We found no evidence that Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits explained any of the observed effects.
The University of Michigan's Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) is the longest continuously running longitudinal survey in the world. It began in 1968 as a survey of 4,802 American families and has followed the same parents, along with their children and grandchildren as they split off to form their own households, so that today there are more than 11,000 PSID families and 25,000 individuals. The topics in the survey span work, welfare, family structure, income, consumption, health, and wealth, making the PSID ideally suited for the study of household behaviors over time and across generations. The USDA sponsored the 18-item Household Food Security Module on the 1999, 2001, and 2003 survey years, along with the 1997 Child Development Supplement. Recently the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) provided funding to include the food security module on the 2014 PSID Child Development Supplement (CDS) survey and on the 2015, 2017, and 2019 core PSID surveys. This offers the first opportunity to answer key pressing scientific and policy issues such as the persistence of food insecurity within and across generations, and how changes in food security affect and are affected by the level and change in consumption, wealth, and broader measures of health.
UKCPR partnered with the USDA's Economic Research Service and the USDA Food and Nutrition Service to launch a competitively awarded grants program in 2017. The first round of projects were completed at the end of 2018. The list of grantees and abstracts of their proposed research is provided below, and we have added discussion papers for these projects.
The following projects represent $275,000 in newly funded research that are part of our second round of work utilizing PSID data to investigate food insecurity among U.S. residents.
Christopher Barrett, Cornell University (PI). Food insecurity and resilience in the United States: Indicators, dynamics, and predictive accuracy. The project will examine the correspondence of standard food security measures, household-level correlates and their comparison to established correlates, and how past food security status predicts future wellbeing outcomes, including food security status, children’s educational attainment, and household income per capita.
Mackenzie Brewer, Baylor University (PI). The impact of wealth and debt on the incidence and duration of household food insecurity. The project will establish the extent to which financial assets and debt obligations promote resilience or increase vulnerablity to food insecurity. Researchers will also consider how financial coping strategies unfold across survey waves to affect food insecurity. The project will also assess household characteristics that promote or hinder food insecurity.
Hope Corman, Rider University (PI, Dhaval Dave, Bentley University (co-I), Nancy Reichman, Rutgers University (co-I). Effects of welfare reform on food insecurity across generations. This study will estimate the effects of the 1996 welfare reform legislation on food insecurity of the next generation of households and explore potential moderating effects of the SNAP Program. The legislation led to dramatic caseload declines and increases in employment of low-skilled women but led to extreme material hardships for some families.
Megan Curran, Columbia University (PI), Robert Hartley, Columbia University (co-I). Food security and policy effects by family size: How does quality of well-being depend on quantity of children? This project will investigate the intersection of family size, food insecurity, and the efficacy of food assistance programs and cash transfers for families with children. Households with children experience food insecurity at a rate 55% higher than childless ones. This study will explore how the food security status of families change when families change in size.
Cindy Leung, University of Michigan (PI). Long-term impacts of college students’ food insecurity on future socioeconomic status, wealth, and food insecurity. This research will investigate gaps in knowledge about long-term impacts of food insecurity by following more than 2,500 college students to examine how college food insecurity affects educational attainment, employment, income, wealth accumulation, future food insecurity, and SNAP participation in early adulthood.
Daniel Millimet and Ian McDonough, Southern Methodist University (co-PIs). Examination of intra- and intergenerational food security mobility in the presence of measurement error. This project will address measurement error in the PSID and investigate food insecurity persistence within households and across generations, and patterns of generational food security among different races. Researchers will also analyze the causal effects of SNAP participation and minimum wage laws on food security mobility.
These 2018 projects have been added as discussion papers.
Angela R. Fertig, University of Minnesota (PI). The long-term health consequences of childhood food insecurity.
Sarah Hamersma, Syracuse University (PI), Matthew Kim, University of St Thomas (co-I). Does early food insecurity impede the educational access needed to become food secure?
Pamela Surkan, Johns Hopkins University (PI), Laura Pryor, INSERM & Sorbonne Universities (co-I). Food insecurity and mental health in families with children: Can access to SNAP break the vicious cycle?
Christopher Wimer (PI), Robert Paul Hartley (co-I), Jaehyun Nam (co-I), Columbia University. Intergenerational transmission of food insecurity and the role of food assistance pPrograms in moderating the transmission of food insecurity across generations.
Julia A Wolfson (PI), Noura Insolera (co-I), University of Michigan. The influence of nutrition assistance program participation, parental nutritional knowledge, and family foodways on food security and child well-being.American Journal of Preventative Medicine.
We examine intra- and intergenerational food security dynamics in the United States using longitudinal data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) while accounting for measurement error. To proceed, we apply recently developed methods on the partial identification of transition matrices. We show that accounting for measurement error is crucial as even modest errors can dwarf the information contained in the data. Nonetheless, we find that much can be learned under fairly weak assumptions; the strongest and most informative being that measurement errors are serially uncorrelated. While the evidence of both intragenerational and intergenerational is consistent with significant mobility, we also find food security status to be persistent for at least some households in the tails of the distribution. Finally, we document some heterogeneities in the dynamics across households differentiated by race and education.
Food insecurity, a condition of limited access to nutritious food, is a critical issue for college students’ health and well-being. In this report, we present results from our project that examines the long-term effects of college students’ food insecurity on future socioeconomic status, wealth, and food insecurity using nationally representative data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. Our study population included 1,574 individuals who were enrolled in college between 1999-2003, aged 16-29 years old during college enrollment, and remained in the sample through 2015-17. We examined the associations of interest using a combination of linear, logistic, multinomial logistic, and fixed-effects regression models, adjusting for sociodemographic characteristics measured concurrent with college enrollment or during childhood. In the sample, the prevalence of food insecurity during college was 14.9%. College food insecurity was associated with lower odds of college completion and lower likelihood of obtaining a Bachelor’s degree or a graduate or professional degree. These associations were more pronounced among first-generation college students. College food insecurity was also associated with lower mean labor wage income and lower wealth accumulation (including home equity) across subsequent survey waves between 2005-2019. Finally, college food insecurity was associated with a higher prevalence of food insecurity in the later adult years (measured in 2015-17). Results suggest that college food insecurity has long-term implications for socioeconomic outcomes in adulthood. Future research should focus on the role of programs and policies that can break the cycle of chronic food insecurity and poverty over the life course.
In the United States, almost one in seven households with children have limited access to food. The problem of food insecurity is closely tied to a household’s financial circumstances. Yet, prior research has paid insufficient attention to the financial risk factors beyond poverty that impact food insecurity. Lack of liquid financial assets may compromise a household’s ability to smooth consumption during income shortfalls, while debt obligations, such as debt from credit cards or medical bills, may deplete financial resources and constrain food budgets. Using longitudinal data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) and mixed effects growth curve models, I estimate associations of household debt and liquid assets with food insecurity among households with children. Additionally, I disaggregate household debt by amount and type of debt incurred, including debt from housing, student loans, credit cards, medical bills, and other sources of unsecured debt. Results indicate significant heterogeneity in wealth and debt profiles based on food security status. Further, debt from unpaid medical bills, other sources of unsecured debt, and student loans increase the odds of household food insecurity net of income and other household characteristics. I also find that lack of liquid assets is an important determinant of food insecurity, independent of household income and debt. Considering the full spectrum of household finances, including lack of financial assets and specific debt obligations, is essential for identifying at-risk households and alleviating the problem of food insecurity.
We investigate the intersection of family size, food security, and the efficacy of public benefits, especially with respect to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Food security literature pays scant attention to the role of number of children in a household – an important dimension for understanding family resource and food assistance adequacy in the context of child well-being. We exploit longitudinal food security data within the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to explore how food security status and family resources change when families change in size, particularly with the addition of children. Gundersen et al. (2018) flagged large families as a group for consideration in any future SNAP reform, which motivates the need for evidence on the dynamics of family size, program benefits, and child food security. We focus on the subsample of SNAP recipients to address the question of how well program benefits meet the needs of families of varying sizes, as defined by a geographically price-adjusted Thrifty Food Plan, as well as how an additional family member, or child, affects the probability of being food insecure and how family size intersects with the likelihood of being extramarginal (no food spending beyond SNAP assistance), the size of the average food resource gap between spending and needs, and the adequacy of SNAP benefits in meeting food needs. Our findings provide key insight on the responsiveness of food assistance programs to changes in family composition and needs. Importantly, this study supports future research and policy design with respect to child well-being in larger families.
This paper introduces a new measure, the probability of food security (PFS), to study food security dynamics in the United States. PFS represents the estimated probability that a household's food expenditures equal or exceed the minimum cost of a healthful diet, as reflected in the United States Department of Agriculture's Thrifty Food Plan monthly cost estimates. PFS matches the official food security prevalence measure in a given period but enables richer study of the dynamics and severity of food insecurity. Applied to 2001-17 data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, we find that roughly half of households that become newly food insecure resume food security within two years. But the positive association of persistence with prior food insecurity means that half to two-thirds of food insecure households at any given time remain food insecure at least two years later. PFS varies dramatically with income and demographic characteristics, such that inter-group prevalence and severity measures differ by one or two orders of magnitude. Households headed by non-White women with low educational attainment disproportionately suffer persistent, chronic food insecurity, while White-headed households without a college degree account for most of the business cycle-associated variation in national food insecurity.
Food insecurity, defined as a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food, is a substantial threat to public health in the United States. In 2017, nearly 12% of households reported being food insecure, affecting over 40 million persons. Numerous studies have documented that food insecurity is associated with substantive negative health outcomes among children and families, and leads to excessive health care expenditures. In this paper we compare the levels, trends, and determinants of food insecurity in the University of Michigan’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) to those from the official source of food security statistics in the U.S.—the Food Security Supplement of the Current Population Survey—from 1999-2017. The PSID, which was begun in 1968, is the leading longitudinal household survey on work, welfare, family structure, consumption, health, and wealth. The survey added measures of food security in the 1999-2003 waves, and again in the 2015-2017 waves. This offers the first opportunity to answer key pressing scientific and policy issues such as the persistence of food insecurity within and across generations, and how changes in food security affect and are affected by the level and change in consumption, wealth, and broader measures of health. This paper aims to describe how well levels and trends in food insecurity in the PSID align with the CPS, and the sources of why they might differ. In addition, we examine the robustness of key model predictors of food insecurity—income, race, education, disability status, marital status—across the surveys. We find that, although the estimated food insecurity rates in the PSID are lower than those in the CPS, the trends over time in the two datasets are similar. Food insecurity rates in the PSID and CPS converge from the 1998-2002 period to the 2014-16 period when food insecurity rates closely match those in the CPS. Our findings, taken as a whole, lend credence to the use of the PSID for food insecurity research.
Exposure to stressful life experiences during childhood, such as food insecurity, can have negative consequences for attainment later in life. The developmental timing of stressful events and how they influence outcomes over the life course is a critical area of research. Indeed, a more comprehensive understanding of the latter life consequences of childhood food insecurity could guide policy-makers in designing more effective social policies to reduce the severity of the poor life outcomes. This project uses data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to estimate the young adult impacts (as late as age 25) of food insecurity experienced in discrete childhood stages – middle childhood (ages 5-10), early adolescence (ages 11-14), and middle adolescence (ages 15-18). It aims to identify which childhood stage-specific effects of food insecurity are most important to five young adult outcomes in two main areas – risky sexual behaviors and criminal justice involvement. Results provide consistent evidence that the mean food security scores in middle childhood are associated with the criminal justice involvement outcome. The results are less consistent with the sexual risk taking outcomes. Middle childhood food insecurity is associated with the number of sexual partners in young adulthood, while early adolescent food insecurity is associated with the number of children in young adulthood. Results indicate that male respondents appear to be more sensitive to food insecurity than females.
In this report we present results from our study of the effect of SNAP and WIC participation during childhood on food insecurity risk in young adulthood. We also examined the effect of parental nutritional knowledge and childhood food involvement on food insecurity in young adulthood. We used data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics Original Childhood Development Supplement. Our balanced panel (n=1,305) was comprised of individuals who were 0-12 years old in 1997, had data on SNAP and income from their year of birth through 2015, food insecurity data in 2015/2017, and had moved out of their parents’ home and started their own household prior to 2015. We estimated logistic models using sample, cluster and strata weights to generate nationally representative results. We find a small, but non-statistically significant effect of SNAP and WIC participation during childhood on odds of being food insecure during young adulthood. When examining change in food security from 1999-2015, we find that participation in SNAP during ages 0-5 years (OR 2.36, 95% CI: 0.99, 5.61), and during ages 12-18 years (OR 2.68, 95% CI: 1.09, 6.57) is associated with a higher odds of being more secure in 2015 than in 1999 compared to low income children who were eligible for, but did not participate in SNAP. Participation in both SNAP and WIC during ages 0-5 predicts higher odds (OR: 4.47, 95% CI: 2.04, 9.78) of being more secure in young adulthood than in childhood compared to low income children who were eligible for, but did not participate in SNAP or WIC. Finally, we saw a statistically significant protective effect of high parental nutritional knowledge (in 1999) and child time spent preparing food (during ages 5-12) on food insecurity risk in 2015-2017. SNAP and WIC, as well as parental nutritional knowledge and childhood food involvement appear to have some protective effect on food insecurity in young adulthood. Future research should further investigate the effects of nutrition education, nutrition assistance program participation, and involvement in food preparation on food insecurity over the short- and long-term.
The persistence of disadvantage across generations is a central concern for social policy in the United States. While an extensive literature has focused on income mobility, much less is known about the mechanisms for mobility out of material hardship. This study uses the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to provide the first point estimates of the intergenerational transmission of food insecurity. Childhood food insecurity is associated with about 20 percentage points higher probability of food insecurity as an adult (or around 10 percentage points higher conditional on family earnings and wealth during childhood).