Abstract: Child Support Receipt Among Single-Mother Families in Seven High-Income Countries (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

All live presentations are in Eastern time zone.

Child Support Receipt Among Single-Mother Families in Seven High-Income Countries

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Mia Hakovirta, PhD, Academic Researcher, University of Turku, Finland
Merita Jokela, PhD, Senior Researcher, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland
Background/Purpose: In most high-income countries, the number of single mother households has increased and more children have become subject to child support policies. Child support (CS) is shown to be an important policy instrument for reducing economic insecurity and poverty among single-mother families, if received. However, a significant proportion of families with children eligible for child support do not receive it despite countries’ efforts to enforce child support payments. While prior research exists on factors related to child support receipt in the US, little research has been conducted on European countries and only a few studies have employed a cross-national comparative perspective on the subject.

This study examines the likelihood and amount of child support among single-mother families in seven high-income countries: Finland, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, UK and the US. Specific research questions of the paper are 1) What is the prevalence and amount of CS receipt in the countries studied? 2) How does the likelihood of receiving CS differ by individual-level characteristics of the single-mother households? and 3) Do these characteristics differ between countries?

Data/Methods: We use individual-level data from the Luxembourg Income Study for waves 2010-2016. The data covers 21,705 single mother families with children under 18 years old. Our dependent variable is child support receipt, a dummy variable of whether the family receives child support that is based on the disaggregated income information. We use descriptive statistics to analyze child support receipt in each country. To analyze the characteristics associated with the likelihood of child support receipt, we use logistic regression analysis separately for each country and then analyze the results across countries.

Results: The results show that the proportion of single-mother families receiving child support ranges from 27 per cent in Italy to 52 per cent in Finland. There are many similarities in the characteristics associated with child support receipt in various countries. The characteristics of mothers that are associated with child support receipt in the European countries are consistent with prior studies from the US. Multivariate analysis reveals that in all countries except for Germany and Finland, single-mothers who had been previously married were more likely to receive child support. Low income was associated with increased likelihood of receiving child support in Germany, Finland and Poland. We find that once characteristics are controlled, mothers in Finland are most likely to receive support; we therefore explore child support policy in Finland to understand policies that may be most effective in achieving support being paid.

Conclusions/Implications: This paper expands the scholarly understanding of the child support receipt and the potential roles of policy and cultural contexts in child support correlates. Such insight can serve as a basis for future research on comparative child support. In addition, the research has implications for policy development as the empirical results of the study might help develop child support policy, as we are able to learn from other countries’ policy experiences.