WASHINGTON (AP) _ Contrary to the image some people have of women on welfare, a new survey found more than half the mothers in a supplemental food program were married and 54 percent had graduated from high school.

The Census Bureau report released Monday reviewed mothers in the Special Supplemental Food Program for Woman, Infants and Children, which is intended to bolster the health of pregnant or breast-feeding women and of children under 5.

The study looked at the 2.4 million mothers ages 15 to 44 in the program in the summer of 1993. They comprise almost 7 percent of the nation's 36 million mothers.

``I suspect that it will say something that some people didn't know before,'' said Leslie Wolfe, president of the liberal Center for Women Policy Studies. ``The mothers who benefit from WIC really aren't much different from women who don't get WIC support.''

Advocates for the poor say a skewed portrait of welfare recipients has emerged from the debate to overhaul the nation's welfare system. Welfare mothers are stereotypically held to be teen-age, unmarried, high school dropouts.

But while Kristi Hamrich of the conservative Family Research Council agreed the study ``goes against a lot of portrayals'' of welfare recipients, she said it still pointed to some significant differences between those who rely on welfare and those who don't.

Fifty-four percent of mothers in WIC had at least high school diplomas. Comparatively, 84 percent of mothers not in WIC had at least high school diplomas.

About 55 percent of the mothers in WIC were married, although only 46 percent of the total lived with their husbands. Unwed mothers accounted for the rest. In contrast, 75 percent of mothers not in WIC were married, and only 11 percent had never wed.

While the number of WIC mothers who were married may surprise some, Family Research Council analyst Gracie Hsu emphasized that only 46 percent lived with their husbands.

``A good number of the WIC participants are unmarried moms,'' she said.

WIC mothers tended to be younger, 26 on average. Nonparticipants, on average, were 34.

About one in 16 mothers of childbearing age was enrolled in the program, compared with one in 10 black mothers. One Hispanic mother in eight ages 15 to 44 participated, and half of them were foreign-born.

Mothers on WIC were less likely to work. About one-quarter in the program said they had had a job in the month before they were questioned, compared with two-thirds of other mothers.