Methods: We conduct two sets of analyses with longitudinal data. First, we compare those whose mothers received some and no support, using propensity score matching (PSM) to make the groups comparable on observable factors. These analyses use data collected from Wisconsin court records in 1989-1992, merged with state records of employment/earnings and benefits in 2019, 27-30 years after the divorce or paternity petition (n=1,811). In our second analyses, we use data from a random-assignment evaluation in Wisconsin in the late 1990s in which mothers receiving TANF were randomly assigned to either receive all child support that was paid or to receive only some of the support during periods of welfare use. We merge information on the children in the experiment (n=nearly 8,000) with state records on employment/earnings and benefits in 2019, about 20 years later. Our statistical models use standard PSM techniques for the first study, and use standard experimental impact techniques for the second. In both cases we control for clustering, accounting for mothers who had multiple children.
Results: We find consistent, statistically significant, and substantively important increases in adult earnings associated with child support receipt, with estimates ranging from over $700/year to over $6000/year, depending on the study and the sample. We find fewer statistically significant results for employment or benefit use, and the results, when significant, are substantively small (around $70/year of SNAP benefits).
Conclusions/Implications: The two studies have complementary strengths in that the first study is of a broader set of child support-eligible families but uses a method that makes groups comparable only on observable factors, and the second is of a narrower set of families (those receiving TANF benefits), but because it compares groups randomly assigned, provides that the two groups are consistent on unobservable factors as well. The similar findings across studies increase our confidence in the results. The results suggest that the income provided by child support not only contributes to children’s current resources, but also to higher earnings when they are adults. As a result, child support may disrupt patterns of intergenerational disadvantage, reducing the economic vulnerability of children living with single mothers and then improving those children’s earnings as adults. The findings provide critical new information to policy-makers reviewing child and family policy.