Abstract: The Antipoverty Effectiveness of Child Support in Chile and Colombia: A Longitudinal Analysis (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

The Antipoverty Effectiveness of Child Support in Chile and Colombia: A Longitudinal Analysis

Thursday, January 13, 2022
Independence BR F, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Laura Cuesta, PhD, Assistant Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Sarah Reynolds, PhD, Researcher, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
Background and Purpose: Custodial-mother families (i.e., families in which a child lives with their biological mother and not biological father) are likely to experience poverty and material hardship in a wide range of countries. Child support, a monetary transfer from the biological father to the mother to assist with the cost of raising children, is associated with lower poverty rates among custodial-mother families in the Americas, Australia, and several European countries. However, this literature is generally based on cross-sectional samples, which provide evidence on a family’s poverty status at one point in time but do not offer direct information on the transitions into and out of poverty. Understanding both the extent to which poverty is a transitory or permanent experience for custodial-mother families and the role of child support in keeping these families out of poverty is key to prevent the lasting consequences of poverty, particularly among children. Our study contributes to this literature by examining if child support is a protective factor against future poverty in Chile and Colombia. These countries have some key similarities (e.g., a high proportion of custodial-parent families) and differences (e.g., level of economic development and differences in how child support systems operate) that make them notable for comparison; our results will provide policy insights to different countries.

Methods: Our first objective is to examine persistence of and transitions into and out of poverty among custodial-mother families across three survey rounds over a 6-7-year period. Second, we use logistic regression with longitudinal data to determine if child support receipt is a protective factor against future poverty, controlling for the additional mechanisms that the custodial mother may be using for economic support: custodial-mother employment, extended family support, and government transfers. We use data from 3540 custodial mothers from the Chilean Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey (ELPI) and 730 custodial mothers from the Colombian Longitudinal Survey (ELCA) who are observed in multiple survey rounds. We consider both absolute and relative measures of poverty.

Results: Our initial findings from Chile indicate that 64% of custodial mothers were poor at some point, 38% experienced multiple periods of poverty, and 13% were in poverty all three survey rounds. Of all custodial mothers, 32% experienced a transition into poverty while 31% experienced a transition out of poverty. Results from our logistic models suggest that child support would be a helpful policy tool to prevent future poverty among custodial-mother families. Those receiving child support were 5-8 percentage points less likely to experience future poverty, net of other strategies that the custodial mother may use to avoid economic hardship altogether.

Conclusions and Policy Implications. Over one fourth of Chilean custodial mothers never receive child support and around 40% do not receive it at a given point in time; around half of custodial mothers in Colombia do not receive child support. Increasing receipt rates would be a necessary step to capitalize the long-term benefits of child support transfers in the economic well-being of these mothers and their children.