FOR RELEASE: Jan. 24, 1997
Contact: Susan Lang
Office: (607) 255-3613
Compuserve: Larry Bernard 72650,565
ITHACA, N.Y. -- Children who benefit from child support payments seem to
fare better than those who obtain the same amount of money from welfare,
according to a Cornell University study. And when child support stems from
an agreement between parents rather than a court-ordered one, the children
do even better.
"We now have evidence that money from child support may have a direct
positive effect on children's cognitive development and educational
attainment," said Elizabeth Peters, Cornell professor of consumer economics
How far children go in school also is influenced by other factors, such as
family income, education of parents, family structure and composition and
residential location, according to an earlier study by Peters.
"Some of these findings have important implications for policy," said
Peters, an expert on the economic dimensions of marriage, divorce, child
custody and child support who makes a concerted effort to bridge the gap
between research and family policy. "Since we now know, for example, that
fathers' child support payments have benefits beyond their economic value,
we should consider this when developing policy."
Peters suggests that policies such as the new welfare reform bill should
encourage equitable child support guidelines and cooperative child support
Peters recently reported her findings on the effects of different sources
of income for children in October at the policy seminar, Supporting
Children in An Era of Welfare Reform, which was part of the Human Ecology
Policy Perspective Series in Albany, N.Y., and at the Conference on
Fathers' Involvement in Washington, D. C., which she organized. Her paper,
"The Role of Family Income and Sources of Income in Adolescent
Achievement," is to be published in the book Growing up Poor, edited by
Greg Duncan and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and due to be published by Russel Sage
this year. Peters also has published some of her findings in an issue
brief published by the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center at Cornell.
Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, Peters has
explored mothers' dependence on welfare and its relationship to child
support. Peters also is a principal investigator with the Family & Child
Well-Being Research Network funded by the National Institute of Child
Health and Human Development, a network of scholars who are applying
research findings on children to public policy.
One reason for the link between child support and children's success could
be that when fathers pay child support, they are more likely to be active
in the children's lives. "In fact, there is a direct correlation between
paternal contact with children and the contribution of child support,"
Peters said. And when child support is paid, parents may get along better,
which can positively influence the child and his/her development.
"If there is a causal link between child support and child well-being, then
we know that our policies that promote child support may have greater
benefits for children. Therefore, if we reduce reliance on welfare and
increase reliance on child support, children will gain, even if total
income does not increase," Peters said.
Federal policy relating to child support guidelines, paternity
establishment and state AFDC guarantee levels all have the potential to
impact child well-being. Guidelines, for example, may make it easier for
parents to reach child support agreements and create a sense of fairness.
"We know, for example, that the probability of cooperative awards is much
higher for women living in states with such guidelines," Peters pointed
Furthermore, when womens' welfare payments are reduced dollar-for-dollar
when child support is received, mothers are less inclined to try to locate
absent fathers or establish paternity. When paternity is established but
child support is court-ordered, it's less likely to be paid and less likely
to help the child.
"We need to determine what kinds of policy can promote cooperative
agreements between parents," Peters said. Her current challenge is a focus
on how policy affects how agreements between parents are made. Do
mediation programs help? Enforced visitations? "We must think about child
support as an ongoing relationship between both parents and between the
parent-child," she said. "We can't just focus on the collection of money."