Volume 29 - Article 46 | Pages 1299–1330 Editor's Choice Author has provided data and code for replicating results

Nonresident Fathers and Formal Child Support: Evidence from the CPS, NSFG, and SIPP

By J. Bart Stykes, Wendy Manning, Susan L. Brown

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Date received:08 Feb 2013
Date published:13 Dec 2013
Word count:5893
Keywords:child support, methods, nonresident fathers, survey measurement
Additional files:readme.29-46 (text file, 838 Byte)
 demographic-research.29-46 (zip file, 1 MB)


Background: Since the beginning of the 1980s, researchers have been raising concerns that surveys underestimated nonresident fatherhood due to sampling and questionnaire effects. Consequently, federal data collection efforts focused resources on reports from custodial mothers rather than from nonresident fathers. Recent data from three national sources provide researchers with an opportunity to estimate the prevalence of nonresident fathers.

Objective: Our goals were to provide estimates of contemporary nonresident fatherhood and of formal child support payments in the U.S., and to examine the consistency of these estimates across surveys.

Methods: We presented descriptive results for the proportion of men (aged 15-44) who reported having a nonresident child, and the proportion of nonresident fathers who reported having provided some formal support in the last year, using three nationally representative surveys: the Current Population Survey (CPS), the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), and the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG).

Results: The NSFG produced higher estimates of nonresident fatherhood, whereas both the CPS and the SIPP produced lower estimates of nonresident fatherhood. The findings on the composition of the nonresident father population by race/ethnicity and educational attainment also differed across the surveys. The results further demonstrated that the nonresident fathers identified in the NSFG were less likely to have been providing formal support, and that the racial/ethnic and educational differences found in the provision of formal support varied across the surveys.

Conclusions: Three nationally representative U.S. surveys produced substantively different estimates of the nonresident father population, and of the extent to which these fathers were providing formal child support. Ultimately, this study illustrates that we lack robust estimates of nonresident fatherhood in the U.S.

Author's Affiliation

J. Bart Stykes - Sam Houston State University, United States of America [Email]
Wendy Manning - Bowling Green State University, United States of America [Email]
Susan L. Brown - Bowling Green State University, United States of America [Email]

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