Unwed Fathers' Ability to Pay Child Support: Evidence from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study

Marilyn Sinkewicz, Columbia University

Unwed fathers are the most rapidly growing group of non-resident fathers and the group about which the least is known. This paper uses data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS) to present new estimates of non-resident unwed fathers' capacity to pay child support. Prior research has relied heavily on assumptions about assortative mating and takes no account of previously unmeasured characteristics of unwed fathers which depress earnings capacity and increase alternative obligations. This paper deals more effectively with the perennial problems of limited and missing father data because FFCWS achieves exceptionally high response rates, includes previously unavailable data on life history events and obtains mothers' reports of fathers on crucial indicators. To estimate fathers' earnings capacity and fathers' prior and current obligations, we use a rich set of formerly unobserved variables, including incarceration, mental health, substance abuse and multiple partner fertility.

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Presented in Session 56: Public Policy and the Family