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

Anne Case, I-Fen Lin, Sara McLanahan

NBER Working Paper No. 8056
Issued in December 2000
NBER Program(s):Children

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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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w8056

Published: Case, Anne, I-Fen Lin and Sara McLanahan. “Explaining Trends in Child Support: Economic, Demographic, and Policy Effects.” Demography 40, 1 (2003): 171-189.

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