Review of Economics of the Household

, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp 255–274 | Cite as

LEGISLATING LOVE: The Effect of Child Support and Welfare Policies on Father–child Contact

  • H. Elizabeth Peters
  • Laura M. Argys
  • Heather Wynder  Howard
  • J. S. Butler


Reducing non-marital childbearing and making nonresidential fathers take greater responsibility for their children were identified as goals of numerous policy changes since the 1980s. Child-support award rates for children born to unmarried parents have been quite low historically, leading lawmakers to focus on increasing both award and payment rates for this group. Nonmarital fathers are also much less likely to have contact with their children. Although evidence suggests that policy efforts increase child support awards and receipt, the link between child support policies, child support outcomes, and father-child contact has received less attention. This paper uses data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation on children born between 1985–1997 to investigate the relationship between child-support award and receipt and the amount of contact that fathers have with their non-residential children. Since it is likely that both of these behaviors are, in part, determined by unobservable characteristics of the father, we estimate an instrumental variables Tobit model. The model is identified by our assumption that child support policy variables can impact child support awards and payments, but father-child contact cannot be directly legislated. Our results suggest that there are unintended, but desirable effects of child support establishment and collection. Policies to collect child support not only increase financial resources to families, but through their impact on payments increase visitation and contact between these children and their fathers. The estimated impact of receiving child support on contact is more than 27 days per year.


child support father-child contact nonmarital fathers  IV Tobit 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Argys, Laura M., Elizabeth Peters, H., Donald Waldman,  2001“Can the Family Support Act Put Some Life Back into Deadbeat Dads? An Analysis of Child Support Guidelines Award Rates and Levels”Journal of Human Resources36226252Google Scholar
  2. Argys, Laura M., Elizabeth Peters, H. 2001“Interactions Between Unmarried Fathers and Their Children: The Role of Paternity Establishment and Child Support Policies”American Economic Review91125129Google Scholar
  3. Argys, Laura M., Elizabeth Peters, H. 2003“Can Adequate Child Support be Legislated? A Model of Responses to Child Suport Guidelines and Enforcement Efforts”.Economic Inquiry41463479Google Scholar
  4. Beller, Andrea H., Graham, John W. 1993Small Change: The Economics of Child Support.Yale University PressNew Haven, ConnGoogle Scholar
  5. Davidson, Russell, James, G.MacKinnon 1993Estimation and Inference in EconometricsOxford University PressNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  6. Freeman, Richard B., Jane Waldfogel,  2000“Dunning Delinquent Dads: The Effects of Child Support Enforcement Policy on Child Support Receipt by Never-married Women”Journal of Human Resources36207225Google Scholar
  7. Garfinkel, Irwin, Lenna Nepomnyaschy, and Ronald B. Mincy. (2002). “Child Support Enforcement and Father/Child Involvement in Fragile Families”, paper presented at the Annual Research Meeting of the Association for Public Policy and Management, Dallas, TX, November, 2002.Google Scholar
  8. Garfinkel, Irwin, Philip, K.Robins 1994“The Relationship between Child Support Enforcement Tools and Child Support Outcomes”Garfinkel, IrwinSara, S.McLanahanPhilip , K.Robins eds. Child Support and Child Well-beingUrban Institute PressWashington DC133171Google Scholar
  9. Grall, Timothy. (2002). “Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support, 1999”, Current Population Reports, P60–217, U.S. Bureau of the Census (–217.pdf).Google Scholar
  10. Greene, , William, H. 2000Econometric AnalysisPrentice-HallUpper Saddle River, New JerseyGoogle Scholar
  11. Heckman, James J., Robert J. Lalonde, and Jeffrey A. Smith. (1999).Handbook of Labor Economics, Volume 3 Edited by A. Ashenfelter and D. Card, Amsterdam: Elsevier Science BV: 1865--2097.Google Scholar
  12. Hansen, Lars Peter. (1982). “Large Sample Properties of Generalized Method of Moments Estimators”, Econometrica 1029–1054.Google Scholar
  13. Lucas, Robert E. (1981). “Econometric Policy Evaluation: A Critique”, in Studies in Business-Cycle Theory, edited by R.E. Lucas.Google Scholar
  14. National Center for Health Statistics. (1999). “Number and Percent of Births to Unmarrried Women, by Race: United States, 1940--97. (*1797.pdf)Google Scholar
  15. Peters , H.Elizabeth, Argys, Laura M., Maccoby, Eleanor E., Mnookin, Robert H. 1993“Enforcing Divorce Settlements: Evidence from Child Support Compliance and Award Modifications”Demography30719735Google Scholar
  16. Seltzer, Judith A., Sara, S. McLanahan, Thomas, L. Hanson 1998“Will Child Support Enforcement Increase Father–child Contact and Parental Conflict After Separation?”Irwin Garfinkel, Sara, S. McLanahanDaniel Meyer, Judith, A. Seltzer eds. Fathers Under Fire.Russell Sage Foundation.New York157190Google Scholar
  17. Sorensen, Elaine J. and Kate Pomper. (2002). “Nonresident Fathers’ Social Involvement with their Children: Does Child Support Enforcement Have an Impact?” paper presented at the Annual Research Meeting of the Association for Public Policy and Management, Dallas, TX, November, 2002 ( Scholar
  18. Weiss, Yoram, Robert, J. Willis. 1985“Children as Collective Goods in Divorce Settlements”Journal of Labor Economics322944Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. Elizabeth Peters
    • 1
  • Laura M. Argys
    • 2
  • Heather Wynder  Howard
    • 3
  • J. S. Butler
    • 4
  1. 1.Cornell UniversityUSA
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsUniversity of Colorado, DenverUSA
  3. 3.Cornell UniversityUSA
  4. 4.University of KentuckyUSA

Personalised recommendations