Child support enforcement

Just in time for Father’s Day, the Washington Post today has a story on a study that found that states with more successful child support enforcement programs had lower overall rates of out-of-wedlock births.

This is interesting, because theory doesn’t predict which direction child support laws should affect non-marital births.  Strong child support enforcement should make it less desirable for men to father children whom they will be forced to support, regardless of their relationship with the child’s mother, but at the same time should make it more desirable for unmarried women to have children, because they’re less likely to bear all the cost themselves.  If I remember correctly, Charles Murray attacked child support laws in Losing Ground, because he thought they overall promoted nonmarital childbearing.

I haven’t read anything more about this study than what was in the newspaper, but the researchers are fairly well-respected types.  If the finding hold up, this suggests, first, that the negative incentives for men are greater than the positive incentives for women and second, that the men have a significant degree of influence on the decision.  The latter implication surprises me.

5 Responses to “Child support enforcement”

  1. The Zero Boss Says:

    We ran this story on Blogging Baby early last week. Frankly, I’ll be shocked if this holds up. “I better wrap my John Thomas because I don’t want to pay out child support” just doesn’t seem like a thought that would pass through the mind of the average horny American male.

  2. jen Says:

    I’ve known several men thru the years who made decisions on this basis. It was mostly in the form of “My girlfriend’s talking about wanting a baby so I’m going to stop sleeping with her, because if she gets pregnant my life is over.” Interestingly, in every case these guys had close friends or brothers who had ended up dads against their will, and they saw up close and personal the impact it had. The guys in question were in their 20s and were in long-term dating situations. I assumed from their reactions that if they had fathered a child they would stick around — not sure how unusual that is.
    So there you go! Four guys out of 125 million! ;-)

  3. dave s Says:

    Jen’s comment rings true for me. I think you have a sort of ‘tipping effect’ here – if somebody you know, or even a friend of a friend, has really had his/her life made unpleasant by an unplanned pregnancy you may take it seriously. If you know two people, or three, you really notice. And child support enforcement means that ‘average horny American male’ DOES know someone whose life has gotten worse.
    There’ve been some really heartbreaking stories recently in the Washington Post about guys who have killed their pregnant girlfriends to avoid child support, either intentionally or by stomping their bellies to make them abort – I realize that’s after the fact, with the baby looming, but killing someone is a lot more extreme than putting on a condom. And who knows, maybe hearing stories about other young women getting killed this way may put the fear of pregnancy into some otherwise carefree fifteen-year-old girls, too.

  4. jen Says:

    Interesting! I wonder how many men in these states are pro-choice?

  5. dave s Says:

    Jen, these stories were in Virginia and Maryland, which have (at least so far) permissive abortion laws. These were guys who had started pregnancies which their girlfriends intended to take to term (except one, who had agreed that he could stomp on her to get rid of it, but she died unintentionally).
    Availability of the operation was not the problem.

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