Child support receipt in Korea and the United States
Due to the increasing number of single-mother families and concern about economic vulnerability among these families, many countries have sought to improve child support receipt among ...
Child support receipt in Korea and the United States
Due to the increasing number of single-mother families and concern about economic vulnerability among these families, many countries have sought to improve child support receipt among single mothers. A significant body of research has examined the correlates of child support receipt within a given nation (mostly the United States). Fewer studies have employed a cross-national comparative perspective to understand how cultural and policy contexts influence: (a) levels of child support receipt and (b) the effects of child support enforcement systems and individual-level characteristics on child support receipt. Further, the comparative studies that have been conducted on this topic have focused primarily on European and English-speaking countries; little research has been conducted on how policy and cultural contexts affect child support receipt in East Asian countries. The current study addresses this gap by comparing the levels and correlates of child support receipt in Korea and the United States.
This study makes two significant contributions. First, from a comparative perspective, the project offers insight into whether and how different cultures and policy contexts affect the levels and correlates of child support receipt differently. For example, we examine the extent to which cultural and policy contexts affect two relationships: (a) how the economic needs of single-mother families influence child support receipt, and (b) how the interaction of the welfare and child support systems affect child support receipt among welfare recipients. Second, the research examines child support receipt in Korea, which was the first East-Asian country to establish a public child support agency. Because the influence of Confucian cultures remains strong in this region, comparing Korea and the United States contributes to general theory on child support by examining the applicability of current theory in the context of Confucian cultures.
Data and methods:
To examine whether the levels and correlates of child support receipt differ in Korea and the United States, we utilized a sample of approximately 6,500 custodial single-mother families drawn from: (a) the 2012 and 2015 Korean Survey of Single-Parents, and (b) the 2012 and 2014 U.S. Current Population Survey—Child Support Supplement, two national-level data sources representative of single-mother families residing in Korea and the United States, respectively. Both data sets include demographic and socioeconomic status information about custodial mothers, as well as information about their welfare and child support receipt. We used tobit models to analyze the data, but also provide logit results to examine the robustness of the results to methodological decisions. Several methods were used to control for measured and unmeasured heterogeneity. We discuss the limitations of the analysis for causal inference as well as the implications of the limitations for the estimates.
Results and implications (results not final; still working):
The results suggest that culture and policy environments have a determining influence on child support receipt among single-mother families, not only directly, but also by affecting the ways in which custodial parents’ characteristics differently shape support receipt. First, United States residence is associated with higher child support receipt than Korean residence (with and without controlling for individual-level variables), perhaps due to differences in cultural expectations and the strength of child support enforcement between the two countries.
Second, in Korea, the positive relationship between economic need and child support receipt, and the negative relationship between welfare participation and child support receipt are notable, while both of these associations are relatively weak and statistically insignificant in the United States. The interactions between the child support system and the welfare system in Korea and in the United States have both similarities and differences. In both countries, welfare recipients may not have a direct economic incentive to receive child support, although the specific reasons are different. The Korean welfare system operates under the minimum-income guarantee system, and no child support received is disregarded in the determination of welfare eligibility and benefit levels, although all child support paid is passed through to families receiving welfare. In contrast, in most of the United States, most child support received on behalf of welfare recipients is not passed through to families. However, in the United States, but not in Korea, receiving child support enforcement service is a requirement for receiving welfare; this difference may result in the relationship between current welfare receipt and child support receipt being less negative in the United States than in Korea. From the U.S. perspective, Korea’s system can be seen as an experiment to assess the effects of a non-pass-through child support policy with no requirement for child support enforcement service among welfare recipients.
We discuss the implications of the study findings for both the development of policies that are more responsive to cultural and policy contexts and the challenges inherent in developing such policies.