- The Washington Times - Monday, June 13, 2005

Simply enforcing child-support laws could make men think twice before fathering a child out of wedlock.

An extensive study released yesterday by the University of Washington found that states that pursued delinquent fathers had 20 percent fewer unmarried births than states that were more lenient.

It’s simply a matter of ?raising the cost of fatherhood? for men unwilling to marry the mother of their child, the analysis stated.

?The better the enforcement of child support, the more the cost of childbearing shifts from unmarried women to their partner,? said lead author Robert Plotnick. ?This may make men more reluctant to become unwed fathers.?

With the prospect of certain child-support payments looming, the study found, the father would be ?more likely to marry before the birth.?

Mr. Plotnick, a professor at the University of Washington, and research teams at Columbia and Princeton universities compared the stringency of each state’s child-support enforcement with its number of out-of-wedlock births.

They found that public policy designed to stave off rising birthrates among unwed mothers left fathers out of the equation.

?Decisions about sexual intercourse and marriage involve two people. But research and policy debates have largely failed to recognize men’s role in childbearing and how government policies may influence their behavior,? said co-author Irwin Garfinkel of Columbia.

The rates of U.S. births among unmarried women has risen to 33 percent, compared with 8 percent in 1965. In an effort to stem that increase, federal and state lawmakers have lowered welfare benefits and imposed work requirements on unmarried mothers.

Researchers say better enforcement of child support is a key ?overlooked? element.

Most states have done a mediocre job in collecting from absent fathers. As of 2002, New Jersey has the best record in the nation, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia.

New Jersey managed to collect 81 percent of overall child support payments. Thirteen states collected 61 percent to 80 percent; 31 states, including Maryland and Virginia, collected 41 percent to 60 percent; and five collected 21 percent to 40 percent of the payments. The District collected less than 20 percent.

The analysis also tracked state-by-state patterns in paternity testing and behavioral characteristics among mothers of various ethnic and religious backgrounds.

The research showed that if states had at least six child-support laws in place, the national rate of out-of-wedlock births would fall by 17 percent.

A little enforcement also could make a difference.

If every state in the nation enforced its child-support laws on par with the state ranked fifth on the list of toughest enforcers, the number of unwed births would drop 20 percent.

?Any program that reduced out-of-wedlock childbearing by 17 to 20 percent would be viewed as a major success,? Mr. Plotnick said.


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