Child support from a nonresident father plays an important role in reducing poverty among resident-mother families and improving children’s schooling completion and academic achievement. Less is known about the extent to which this transfer is associated with food insecurity, a social problem that affected 32% of single-mother families in the United States in 2016. Child support may protect children from food insecurity by providing additional resources that can increase children’s access to food and by impacting mothers’ choices of food expenditures and parenting styles. Yet, prior research in this area is surprisingly small and limited in its ability to examine the role of different aspects of nonresident parents’ monetary transfers. We extend this literature by estimating the associations between receipt, amount, and regularity of child support and child food insecurity in early and middle childhood.
We use data from the PSID core study (1984-2003) and the 1997 Child Development Supplement (CDS). The PSID is uniquely positioned to examine the association between child support and child food insecurity at different stages of childhood. Data from the PSID core study include monthly child support income from ages 0 to 17, detailed data on other family income (e.g., earnings, public transfers), the USDA’s child food insecurity measures in 1999, 2001, 2003, 2015, and 2017, and parent- and family-level variables. The 1997 CDS has detailed information on children’s living arrangements and the USDA’s child food insecurity measure in 1997. Our baseline sample includes 841 children who lived in a custodial-mother family for at least one year of their childhood. We conduct a series of descriptive and multivariate analyses to examine the associations between child support and child’s food insecurity in early and middle childhood. Multivariate analyses include OLS, residualized change, and fixed effects models.
We find evidence of a negative, statistically significant association between regularity of child support and child food insecurity at age 6. Specifically, an additional year of regular support (10 or more months) is associated with 0.18 standard deviations lower level of child food insecurity at age 6, net of the average amount of child support received, individual and family characteristics at birth, and child food insecurity status at age 4. This finding is robust to alternative models and measures of child food insecurity. Our findings also suggest that a 10% increase in the average annual amount of support received in middle childhood is associated with 0.26 standard deviations lower level of child food insecurity at age 12.
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS
The possibility that child support regularity is associated with lower levels of child food insecurity, in addition to, and over and above, the average amount of child support received has implications for social welfare policy and practice. Because a significant proportion of nonresident fathers have unstable employment and earnings, improving these fathers access to well-paid, steady jobs is important to increase their ability to provide for themselves and to make regular monetary contributions to their children.