U.S. Census Bureau Studies Economic Well-Being of Children and Their Absent Fathers

Divorce and Its’ Effect on Children

Divorce, separation, and other family law problems can wreak havoc on the family unit. Just by virtue of the event taking place – the separation of a set of parents, the children of the relationship can be expected to go through moderate changes at the very least. Unfortunately, in many cases, children endure much worse than moderate changes. They not only experience emotional upheaval but more tangible changes in their lives such as a different living arrangement and different, usually less, parental interaction than when their parents were together. The result of these changes often means that there is a lower income to support the children, thus lowering the standard of living for children whose parents are divorced or living apart.

U.S. Census Bureau Study Focusing on Economic Well-Being of Children and Their Absent Fathers

Difficulty in Studying Absent Fathers

                In the early 1990’s, the U.S. Census Bureau released a study , that has since become widely-read, on the economic well-being of children who have experienced a divorce or separation of their parents.  As the paper describes, there are not many studies on this topic available because of the difficulty in acquiring data on absent fathers. One explanation for this difficulty is that many men, after they divorce or separate, if they are the non-custodial parent, change residences – much more often than women, or the custodial parent in the relationship, do.

Studying the Post-Separation Income of Fathers

This U.S. Census Bureau Study examined the post-separation income of fathers and the relative well-being of absent fathers and their children. The researchers interviewed the children and parents selected for a period of 32 months in four month intervals. Families from across the United States were studied, with children being restricted to those under the age of 15 and present in the household of one of their parents.

Changes in the Economic Well-Being of the Household after the Departure of the Father

The study found very troubling changes in the economic well-being of the children’s household after the departure of the father.  Directly after the disruption in the family, .statistics show that the income level drops by 37% and the percentage of households living in poverty doubles.

The study also shows differences between the families where they were able to track and follow up with fathers after they left the family versus families where they were unable to follow up with the father.  Children with fathers who were able to be tracked and re-interviewed lived at income levels that are 20 to 40% higher than those of children whose fathers are unable to be tracked.  Also, the percentage of children living in poverty is more than twice as high for fathers who can’t be tracked after the family disruption than fathers who can be.  This suggests that families with lower incomes before a divorce or separation are more likely to have an absent father after.

Also, as expected, fathers who are unable to be tracked are less likely to pay child support after they leave the family household. Even for fathers who do pay child support, the study shows that they are living farther above the poverty line and enjoying a more comfortable economic well-being than their children.

Would this Study Look the Same Today?

Of course, since this study has not been recreated, there is no way to know what the economic well-being of children of divorced or separated homes and their absent fathers look like.  Unfortunately, the percentage of children experiencing a family disruption such as a divorce or separation of their parents is higher now than in the early 1990s and is rising.  In 1990, 24% of all households with children were single parent households.  In 2008, the percentage increased to 29.5%.

With this many relationships ending in divorce or separation, it is of the utmost importance to consider the children of the relationship first when the family disruption occurs.