Population Research and Policy Review 18: 237–260, 1999.
© 1999 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
The determinants of paternity establishment and child support
award rates among unmarried women
& IRWIN GARFINKEL
Columbia University, New York, USA
Abstract. This paper examines the relationships between several child support policies, pa-
ternity establishment, and child support award rates among never-married women. We use
several state policies and practices in place throughout the 1980s to examine their effective-
ness at increasing paternity establishment rates and at increasing the proportion of unmarried
women who have child support awards. We also examine the direct relationship between
paternity establishment rates and child support award rates. We estimate these relationships
using a variety of speciﬁcations, using cross-state variation in child support enforcement to
identify the effects of policies. To date, child support remains largely the province of state
family law, and, although policies have changed dramatically in response to two decades of
federal mandates, state laws and practices still vary.
Keywords: Child support policies, Paternity, Poverty
Public enforcement of private child support obligations has become an
important national concern. Due to increases in divorce and nonmarital child-
bearing, more than half of the current generation of children will live apart
from one of their biological parents before reaching age 18 (Bumpass 1984).
Eighty ﬁve percent of these children will live with their mothers (Meyer &
Garasky 1993). Virtually all will be economically insecure. Half will be poor,
and most of the rest will live just above the poverty line, having suffered on
average a 50 percent decline in their standard of living (Garﬁnkel & McLa-
nahan 1986). The future of these children depends in large part on the quality
of the nation’s child support system.
To date, however, public enforcement of private child support has been
weak. Currently, only 60 percent of eligible women have child support awards
and only 40 percent receive some payment from the nonresident father. In
addition, while estimates indicate that nonresident fathers could have paid
between $48 and $53 billion in child support in 1989, actual payments
amounted to only $12 billion (Miller et al. 1995; Sorenson 1993). Stronger