Not Just Maternalism: Marriage and Fatherhood in American Welfare Policy
Abstract

Abstract:

The United States' 1996 welfare reforms are often interpreted as a historical break in transitioning from supporting motherhood to commodifiying women's labor. However, this cannot account for welfare reform's emphasis upon heterosexual marriage and fatherhood promotion. The paper traces continuities and shifts in over a century of familial regulation through American welfare policy, specifying the place of marriage promotion within welfare policy. Up until 1996, families were key sites of intervention through which the American welfare state was erected, especially through single women as mothers—not wives. However, as of the 1960s, concern with African American men's "failed" familial commitments turned policymakers toward concern over marriage promotion for women and men. While marriage "disincentives" for aid recipients were lifted in the 1960s, the 1996 reforms structured a new form of nuclear family governance actively promoting marriage rooted in, but distinct from, the previous. Given the historical absence of welfare policies available to poor men, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families' (TANF) marriage promotion policies have positioned poor women as nodes connecting the state to poor men, simultaneously structuring poor women as breadwinners, mothers, and wives. Recent welfare reform has also started to target poor men directly, especially in fatherhood and marriage promotion initiatives. The article highlights how, in addition to workfare policies, marriage promotion is a neoliberal policy shifting risk to the shoulders of the poor, aiming to produce "strong families" for the purposes of social security.