Deterring 'Irresponsible' Reproduction Through Welfare Reform

Author granted license

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date





Cornell University Press




This essay looks back at the rhetoric of irresponsible reproduction as it figured in the congressional debates of the 1990s about welfare reform, leading to passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA). In such debates, proposals to combat rates of nonmarital births and welfare dependency advocated doing so by altering the incentives concerning welfare. The essay examines assumptions about the relationship between the incentive effects of governmental programs and human motivation, agency, and victimization. It contends that the procreation stories told in such public policy discourse are simplistic, reductive, and inadequate, and suggests how feminist conceptions of responsibility and irresponsibility would enrich a public conversation about reproduction and responsibility. The essay notes the prominence in post-PRWORA rhetoric about welfare reform of the idea that governmental efforts to promote responsible fatherhood should be the next phase of implementing the reforms begun by PRWORA.

This document is currently not available here.

Find on SSRN Link to Publisher Site (BU Community Subscription)