Abstract: "I'm Not Supporting His Kids”: Noncustodial Fathers' Contributions When Mothers Have Children with New Partners (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

12943 "I'm Not Supporting His Kids”: Noncustodial Fathers' Contributions When Mothers Have Children with New Partners

Sunday, January 17, 2010: 11:15 AM
Pacific Concourse G (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Daniel R. Meyer, PhD , University of Wisconsin-Madison, Professor of Social Work, Madison, WI
Maria Cancian, PhD , University of Wisconsin-Madison, Professor of Social Work and Public Affairs, Madison, WI
Background: Many noncustodial parents provide informal and formal child support to their children, but informal arrangements may break down over time, especially as parents have new relationships. Little is known about trends in informal support, nor how informal support changes when parents have children with new partners. We hypothesize that informal contributions will decline over time, especially when mothers have children with new partners. In addition, fathers whose ex-partners have new children may change the types of support they provide, away from general support (money toward rent) and toward child-specific support (gifts, clothes).

Methods: Our sample includes 494 mothers from the longitudinal Survey of Wisconsin Works Families, a telephone/in-person survey of a stratified random sample of welfare mothers conducted in 1999, 2000, and 2004. Response rates are over 80%; weights account for differential nonresponse. The survey provides information on father's informal contributions, on mother's re-partnering and fertility, and rich demographic information; administrative records provide child support and both parents' earnings. We begin with a simple cross-tabulation between informal support in 2004 and mother's new-partner fertility (NPF) between 1999-2004. However, a negative relationship could be the result of observed or unobserved variables that are correlated with NPF and informal support. Our strategy is to control for observed differences and use methods that control for unobserved differences in alternative ways to try to estimate the “true” effect of NPF. Observed variables include formal child support, fathers' new partnerships, and mothers' and fathers' age, race, education, earnings, etc.). We use lagged dependent variable, change, fixed-effect, and difference-in-difference models, and will include models with propensity-score matching. Seemingly unrelated regression models explore whether NPF is related to some types of informal support and not others.

Preliminary Results: Fewer mothers report informal support in 2004 (49%) than in 1999 (61%). The most common types of informal support are gifts (50%-43% in 1999-2004) and clothes (45%-38%). About half the mothers have had children by multiple fathers in 1999; 29% of mothers had NPF between 1999-2004. The cross-tab shows that fathers are less likely to provide informal support in 2004 if the mother has had NPF between 1999-2004. This relationship holds controlling for observed variables; it also holds in lagged dependent-variable, change, and fixed-effect models, but not in difference-in-difference models. We find that NPF is associated with declines in providing clothes, allowances, gifts, food, and rent, as well as general cash support. Overall, our findings provide substantial support for our hypotheses.

Implications: We find evidence of declines in informal support, especially when there is NPF. This is of particular concern given the prevalence of NPF and the economic vulnerability of these families. Policy alternatives include attempts to encourage informal support (perhaps giving credits in the formal system), sorting through the thorny issues of how formal child support should adapt to NPF (Meyer, Cancian & Cook, SSR, 2005), or acknowledging that societal support for single-parent families is necessary given the reality that many fathers with limited resources need to support multiple families.