As someone who spent 3 years studying family dynamics in grad school, I was pretty interested in the NYT piece that ran last week on class divides in single vs married households. The article generated a lot of buzz, and if you haven’t read it, I would recommend it.
People seemed to either love or hate this article, and it’s stirred up a whole lot of discussion online. One of the more interesting points that got brought up though, was a discussion about why the focus was on single moms as opposed to deadbeat dads.
This led to some quoting of an interesting statistic regarding custodial parents and child support. When I first read this statistic, it was from Amanda Marcotte over at Slate who put it this way:
…. in a substantial number of cases, the men just quit their families. That’s why only 41 percent of custodial parents receive child support.
Now, I’ve perused internet comment boards enough to know that there are a LOT of men out there griping about how much they pay in child support. I was a little shocked to read that apparently 59% don’t give anything. I clicked on the closest link she had provided…..which took me over to the NYT Economix blog and an item by Nancy Folbre. There was the stat again, except with a few more qualifiers:
In 2009, the latest year for which data are available, only about 41 percent of custodial parents (predominantly women) received the child support they were owed. Some biological dads were deadbeats.
So that frames it a little differently. It’s still a little unclear from that statement, but it started to occur to me that this probably meant only 41% were up to date on their support payments…not that only 41% of non-custodial parents were paying.
I clicked on the link provided by Folbre, and got to the Census Bureau website, which put it all this way:
In 2009, 41.2 percent of custodial parents received the full amount of child support owed them, down from 46.8 percent in 2007, according to a report released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. The proportion of these parents who were owed child support payments and who received any amount at all — either full or partial — declined from 76.3 percent to 70.8 percent over the period.
Now that’s still a lot of deadbeats, but it is a slightly different picture from the one we originally started with. When I clicked on the link from the Census Bureau snapshot to the report it originally came from, I noticed something else interesting….only about half of all custodial parents have court ordered support, and the non-payment stats above appear to reflect only what is happening in the court ordered cases. The non court ordered cases are certainly hazy….30% of custodial parents said they never went to court because they knew the other person couldn’t pay….but it is interesting that the quoted stats only apply to half of the custodial parent cases.
Overall, I must say I kind of enjoyed attempting tracking the evolution of a stat (in reverse). It’s not often you get to actually see how things evolve from the primary source to several steps out….and it was an interesting mental exercise. Thanks for taking the journey with me.