Research and Welfare Reform

Lawrence M. Mead, Review of Policy Research 22:3 (May 2005).


Social science research had an important but limited effect on welfare reform, meaning recent enactments that imposed work requirements on family welfare. Policymakers sometimes ignored findings, but the features of research also limited its influence. Most academics did not accept the conservative goals of reform, many of their predictions proved to be incorrect, and research also lacked sufficient policy content to interest government. These features reflect the recent development of the social sciences. For research to have more influence, it must become more catholic about goals and more realistic, and it must offer more governmental content. Especially, inquiry should rely less on the statistical analysis of databases and more on field observation of how poor communities live and programs operate.

Wiley Online
New York University [pdf]