Academic journal article Demographic Research

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

Academic journal article Demographic Research

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

Article excerpt



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.


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.


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).


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.


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.

1. Introduction

Given the growing number of children who are living apart from their fathers, it is essential that social scientists accurately measure the prevalence of nonresident fatherhood. Research has shown that nonresident fathers can have positive influences on the well-being of their children (Amato and Gilbreth 1999; Carlson 2006). As two out of five children in the United States do not live with their biological father (Kreider and Ellis 2011), this has become an increasingly critical issue.

The quality of the data collected on nonresident fathers in the 1980s and 1990s has been extensively scrutinized by a number of prominent scholars, who concluded that household surveys underestimated the presence of nonresident fathers (Cherlin, Griffith, and McCarthy 1983; Garfinkel, McLanahan, and Hanson 1998; Seltzer and Brandeth 1994; Sorenson 1997). Marsiglio et al.'s (2000) review of research on fatherhood in the 1990s noted that the household surveys conducted during the decade produced low estimates of nonresident fatherhood, largely because nonresident fathers were more likely to have been institutionalized, and often simply were not included in the household surveys. Others also suggested that men were less likely to have reported having nonresident children than women, who readily reported having a child whose father was living elsewhere (Garfinkel, McLanahan, and Hanson 1998; Sorenson 1998). Although some researchers have called for the collection of data from both custodial mothers and nonresident fathers (Smock and Manning 1997), many family scholars have suggested that limited resources should be focused on collecting reports of child support from custodial mothers rather than from nonresident fathers (Sorenson 1998). Indeed, from 1987 through the 1990s, no survey of the entire non-institutionalized U.S. population asked questions that would have identified nonresident fathers (Sorenson 1998).

However, new federal data collected at both the household and individual levels provide us with an opportunity to reassess the quality of the data on nonresident fathers. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.