Families in the United States now have, on average, more money, fewer children, and more freedom than ever before. Yet, they do not seem to be faring very well. Studies show, for example, low levels of child support from absent fathers; high levels of poverty among single mothers and children; and harsh economic penalties for mothers -- and perhaps fathers -- who devote time and energy to family life. As the nation debates how to promote and sustain strong families, it is essential to develop a comprehensive understanding of how families function -- including the many economic dimensions of family life.
Established in 1998, the Network on the Family and the Economy was composed of economists, sociologists, and psychologists. The network explored issues such as marriage/divorce, family violence, and family members' use of time and income. Its goal was to create an integrated framework for assessing the impact of public policies on adults, children, and families.
Three questions motivated the network. First, how do different types and levels of family income affect outcomes for children and adults. Second, how does the organization of family and work time affect outcomes for children and adults? What are the pathways through which income and time affect children and parents? And, third, how do specific public policies, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) affect the distribution of time and income within families?
While there is a growing literature about the effects of income on children's poverty and development, many questions remain. It is not clear, for instance, how much income matters and whether there are important threshold or timing effects. In addition, greater knowledge is needed about how income is distributed within the household. To what extent do intra-household income allocations depend on outside opportunities to earn extra income, on social and cultural norms, and on public policies (e.g., tax and welfare rules)? Finally, how does income map into consumption and investment in human and nonhuman capital? These questions were addressed through a series of theoretical and empirical projects.
The second area of research focused on how the organization of family and work time affects outcomes for children and adults. Despite much public debate over the "time bind" prompted by the work of Arlie Hochschild and John Robinson, relatively little systematic information existed as to how time is allocated by individuals and families. A close look at the way individuals and families organize time requires time-use data, but the United States lags behind other countries in collecting data on time-use. The network piloted small-scale data collection efforts on adult and children's time use and is working with federal agencies, especially the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to plan the collection of time use data.
Finally, the network focused on the formation, stability, and quality of relationships in families and how these influence the allocation of time and money. Through theoretical and empirical studies, the network explored how married and unmarried parents negotiate their relationships with one another, their children, and public agencies, with an emphasis on child outcomes. Particular attention was paid to how domestic violence and threats of withdrawal from the household affect family dynamics.