Does paying child support impoverish fathers in the United States, Finland, and the United Kingdom?

Under a Creative Commons license
open access


In the U.S., the amount of child support paid is higher than in Finland or the UK.

In all countries unpartnered fathers are the largest group of child support payers.

Paying support increases poverty more in the U.S. than in the other countries.

Child support lowers poverty more among mothers than it raises it among fathers.


The increased frequency of divorce, separation, and nonmarital childbearing over the past several decades has contributed to the rise of parents not living with their children in the same household. These nonresident parents are typically fathers, many of whom are obligated to share the economic responsibility for their children across households by paying child support. This study uses Luxemburg Income Study (LIS) datasets from the year 2013 to study the characteristics of fathers paying support and the relationship between child support and poverty among fathers (and mothers) in Finland, the UK, and the U.S.

Results show that characteristics of fathers paying support were generally similar across countries. The amounts paid were lowest in Finland and highest in the U.S., as expected. For the poverty effects, few child support payers fall into poverty because of the amount of child support they pay in any country, but the increase in poverty rates due to paying support is clearly higher in the U.S. than Finland or the UK. More single mothers are drawn out of poverty by the receipt of child support in Finland than in the other countries, partly because the government guarantees child support. Finally, child support is an anti-poverty policy in all countries: the decrease in poverty among single-mother families from receiving support is larger than the increase in poverty among fathers paying support.


Child support
Nonresident fathers
Single mothers
Comparative study