Abstract: Child Support in Extended-Family Households: An International Perspective (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Child Support in Extended-Family Households: An International Perspective

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Angela Guarin, PhD, Postdoctoral Researcher, Universidad de los Andes, Colombia
Merita Jokela, PhD, Senior Researcher, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland
Molly Costanzo, PhD, Research Scientist, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Background/Purpose: Extended family households—those that include children, parents, and other related adults—are increasingly common in both the U.S. and Latin America, particularly in single parent families. In Latin America, over 70% of single mothers live in extended-family households. Despite this prevalence, very little is known about how family policies, particularly child support, interact with these complex households, and the extent to which the presence of other related adults in the household is associated with the noncustodial father’s financial contributions to his children. If fathers feel they can count on the support that a single mother is receiving from other household members, they may decide to reduce the financial support they provide to their children, impacting the custodial mother’s economic well-being and raising economic justice concerns. To address these research gaps, we examine single mothers in the U.S., Guatemala, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. We answer the following questions: (1)what is the prevalence of single parents living in extended-family households?; (2)does the likelihood or amount of child support differ by the presence of extended relatives in the household? (3)is the magnitude of the decline in child support receipt associated with a country’s prevalence of extended families?

Data/Method: We use the Luxembourg Income Study wave 2016, containing information on a total of 22,418 single mothers split across all the six countries (ranging from approximately 800-10,000 within each country). We use descriptive statistics to present the proportion in each country living in extended-family households, to examine the characteristics of single mothers in extended-family households, and to document child support receipt in these households. We then conduct a series of multivariate models to test whether the presence of extended relatives is related to the likelihood and amount of child support receipt.

Results: Results indicate that (1) the prevalence of single mother households living with other relatives ranged from a minimum of 13% in the U.S. to 29% in Guatemala. (2) Descriptive findings show that single mothers living with other relatives are less likely to receive any child support in all countries except Peru; however, there is no consistent pattern for the amounts received. (3) After controlling for other characteristics, mothers living in extended-family households are still less likely to receive child support in Chile and the United States, countries where extended families are less prevalent; in contrast, this association is not statistically significant in countries where extended families are most prevalent.

Conclusions/Implications: Results demonstrate the potential for extended-family members to influence fathers’ preferences in providing child support, especially for single-mother households that are already financially disadvantaged. A better understanding of these households and their financial resources can inform social work practice, as economic stability is an important social justice issue, particularly for marginalized households. We discuss implications of our findings for child support policy, child well-being, and for understanding more complex families in several countries.