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The impact of child support on child health


The broad goals of child support policy are to keep children in single-parent families out of poverty and to make sure that their material needs are met. One potentially important, but relatively understudied, set of measures of child well-being are health outcomes. A fixed-effects analysis of data from the Child and Young Adult file of the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth shows that, conditional upon receipt of some amount of child support, higher payment levels are associated with significantly greater odds of having private health insurance coverage and significantly lower odds of poor or declining health status. These effects persist even after controlling for other factors that are likely to be correlated with child support payments, including total family income and paternal visitation patterns.

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  1. Data collected in 1991 and 1993 are not used because not all health and child support questions were asked in these years. Data from years after 2004 are not used because of the non-representative nature of the very small number of births (to mothers in their 40s with unusually high incomes) in those years.

  2. Throughout the paper, in keeping with most of the literature, I refer to custodial parents or child support recipients (legally, obligees) as mothers and non-resident parents or child support payers (legally, obligors) as fathers. In 2005, 85 % of custodial parents were mothers and 90 % of child support recipients were mothers (U.S. Census Bureau 2007).

  3. For example, Weiss and Willis (1985) argue that more contact will lead to better monitoring of the mother’s expenditures by the father, which will lead to more child support payments. On the other hand, DelBoca and Ribero (2001) present in model in which the father essentially buys contact time from the mother in a world with imperfectly enforceable child support and custody rules.

  4. Estimates for a smaller sample of only children whose fathers were absent in the current interview period produce similar results.

  5. Unlike adult BMI, child BMI is not evaluated on a fixed scale, but rather against the percentile distribution for the child’s age and gender. I have used BMI growth charts produced by the National Center for Health Statistics in 2000 and adopted the definition of the 85th percentile on that chart as the cutoff for overweight and the 10th percentile as the cutoff for underweight.

  6. The variable with the most invalid skips is the parent-reported child health status index. However, there are not any significant differences in observables between children/parents with and without missing values.

  7. When this is broken down, most of the children not at normal body weight are overweight or obese.


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Correspondence to Reagan A. Baughman.

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Baughman, R.A. The impact of child support on child health. Rev Econ Household 15, 69–91 (2017).

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  • Child support
  • Health
  • Health insurance
  • Family structure

JEL Classification

  • I12
  • J12
  • H31