Abstract: Parents or Government: Who Makes Decisions about Child Support Arrangements in Colombia, the United States and the United Kingdom? (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Parents or Government: Who Makes Decisions about Child Support Arrangements in Colombia, the United States and the United Kingdom?

Friday, January 17, 2020
Independence BR G, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Laura Cuesta, PhD, Assistant Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Angela Guarin, MSW, Postdoctoral Researcher, Universidad de los Andes, Colombia
Christine Skinner, PhD, Professor, University of York, United Kingdom
Background/Purpose: An increasing number of children worldwide are spending some of their childhood living with a single-parent, usually their mother. Because poverty is a rather common experience among single-mother families, countries have different mechanisms to improve their economic well-being. Child support from a nonresident father is one key policy. Yet, the majority of single-mother families do not receive this transfer. Some nations with well-established enforcement policies are showing a decline in the proportion of child support arrangements facilitated by the formal system, so some of these countries are turning to encouraging informal arrangements. However, very little is known about contemporary families choosing formal or informal child support arrangements, especially in developing countries. Understanding the characteristics of these populations is important to improve the effectiveness of child support systems (CSS).

To address this research gap, we examine the prevalence and correlates of child support arrangements in Colombia, the United States (U.S.) and the United Kingdom (U.K) around the year 2014. We use the 2013 Colombian Longitudinal Survey, the 2014 U.S. Current Population Survey—Child Support Supplement, and the 2013-2014 U.K. Family Resources Survey, to answer the following questions: (1) what is the prevalence of private and institutional arrangements in each country?; (2) what are the similarities and differences in the characteristics of families choosing different child support arrangements within each country; and (3) how do the countries compare in the likelihood of private and institutional arrangements, once socioeconomic characteristics are held constant?

Data/Methods: We use descriptive statistics to examine the extent to which single-mother families have a child support arrangement and whether this arrangement is only private or is institutional. We then estimate a series of multivariate models. We first regress a measure of whether there is any arrangement on individual and family characteristics using country-specific samples, followed by a regression of the type of arrangement. This model will show the correlates of child support arrangements within each country. In order to test the moderating effect of country of residence, we then use a pooled sample in which the key independent variable is a categorical measure of country of residence.

Results/Implications: Preliminary results indicate that decisions about child support arrangements are made by the government in the U.S. (90%), and by parents in Colombia (76%) and the U.K. (62%). Multivariate analyses show that single mothers who are divorced or separated are more likely to have an arrangement than never married mothers in all countries. Single mothers in the U.S. are more likely to have any arrangement than single mothers in Colombia and the UK. This study suggests that CSS with similar features can lead to different outcomes. Because divorced and separated mothers have a higher probability of having an arrangement than never married mothers, the CSS of these countries may not be yet responding to changes in union formation (rise in cohabitation) and fertility (increase in nonmarital births). Understanding the ways in which each system is creating a different set of opportunities for single mothers should be explored in future research.