The Deadbeat Dad Myth


A bunch of low-income dads don’t pay their monthly child support, and that makes them losers.


Actually, they may be paying more than their support in the form of in-kind goods for their kids, according to a study in the Journal of Marriage and Family.


Researchers looked at 367 low-income dads in Philadelphia, Austin, and Charleston. None had child custody. Researchers looked at what courts mandated they paid, how much they paid in formal child support, and how much they paid in in-kind payments, such as clothing shoes, gifts, school supplies, and baby products.


Dads giving their kids in-kind support gave about $60 a month worth of stuff, while dads paying formal child support paid $38 a month; researchers say that dads see giving tangible things as a chance to bond with their children more than handing over cash payments. According to researchers, “These dads are purchasing a relationship with their children,” Edin says. “They want their kids to look down at their feet and say, ‘My dad cares about me because he bought me these shoes.’”

Other interesting findings: the men who were most disadvantaged tended to give higher portions of their support in in-kind payments, fathers without visitation gave in-kind support of about $48 while dads with visitation gave about $84 worth of in-kind support, and younger children got the most in-kind support.

The Takeaway

Obviously, childcare is more than a dollar amount, and this study reflects that reality. Most of these men would be considered ‘deadbeats’ in both government statistics and scientific literature, but the idea that they aren’t trying to support their children isn’t fair. Perhaps it’s time for us to re-think what good parenting looks like when the parents aren’t together.


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