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Understanding Child Support Trends: Economic, Demographic, and Political Contributions

Listed author(s):
  • Anne Case
  • I-Fen Lin
  • Sara McLanahan

We use data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) to examine trends in child support payments over the past thirty years and to assess five different explanations for these trends: inflation, the shift to unilateral divorce, changes in marital status composition, changes in men's and women's earnings, and ineffective child support laws. We find that during the 1970s and early 1980s, three factors high inflation, increase in non-marital childbearing, and shifts to unilateral divorse--exerted downward pressure on child support payments. Throughout this time period, child support policies were weak, and average real payments declined sharply. Our findings indicate that two child support policies legislative guidelines for awards and universal wage withholding--are important for insuring child support payments. Finally, our analyses suggest that further gains in child support payments will rest with our ability to collect child support for children born to unwed parents. These children are the fastest growing group of children in the US, and they are the least likely to receive child support. To date, child support policies have been ineffective in assuring child support for never married mothers.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 8056.

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Date of creation: Dec 2000
Publication status: published as Case, Anne, I-Fen Lin and Sara McLanahan. “Explaining Trends in Child Support: Economic, Demographic, and Policy Effects.” Demography 40, 1 (2003): 171-189.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8056
Note: CH
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  1. Peters, H Elizabeth, 1986. "Marriage and Divorce: Informational Constraints and Private Contracting," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(3), pages 437-454, June.
  2. Richard B. Freeman & Jane Waldfogel, 1998. "Dunning Delinquent Dads: The Effects of Child Support Enforcement on Child Support Receipt by Never Married Women," NBER Working Papers 6664, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Thomas Hanson & Irwin Garfinkel & Sara Mclanahan & Cynthia Miller, 1996. "Trends in child support outcomes," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 33(4), pages 483-496, November.
  4. Irwin Garfinkel & Sara Mclanahan & Daniel Meyer & Judith Seltzer, 1998. "Fathers under Fire: The Revolution in Child Support Enforcement in the USA (This CASEpaper is a summary of the book by the same title and authors, published by the Russel Sage Foundation, 1998)," CASE Papers case14, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, LSE.
  5. I. Garfinkel & P. K. Robins, "undated". "The relationship between child support enforcement tools and child support outcomes," Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers 1004-93, University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty.
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