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Welfare Fraud: Cohabitation and the Need Hypothesis

NCJ Number
Canadian Journal of Criminology Volume: 34 Issue: 2 Dated: (April 1992) Pages: 181-200
E Sabatini; K Menzies; F Evers
Date Published
20 pages
The dominant account of welfare fraud is that economic need from welfare assistance levels below the poverty line leads to fraud. This article tests a version of the need hypothesis that greater hardship leads to a higher incidence of cohabitation fraud.
Economic need is operationalized in terms of number of children, shelter costs, and debts and is based on data obtained from a sample of 64 female welfare recipients caught cohabitating between 1986 and 1989 in the area of Ontario, Canada together with a sample of 64 noncohabitating welfare mothers. The authors conclude that the need hypothesis provides a poor account of welfare fraud. When sole support mothers who are cohabitating are compared with other single mothers on welfare, they do not exhibit greater needs. More children, higher debts, and higher shelter costs do not predict welfare fraud, although these needs are what women who commit fraud offer as reasons. While needs may mitigate moral blame, they do not provide a good causal explanation. It is suggested that economic need should be understood in the context of a feminist analysis of women's subordination by men in the existing marriage structure. Some elements of male suppression are lacking for single mothers, and cohabitation fraud may be a way that women without hope are able to preserve some autonomy and resist male domination in the home. 57 references, 5 notes, and 2 tables (Author abstract modified)


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