The image of the deadbeat dad that skips child support payments, shuns his children and leaves a desperate single mom to fend for herself still looms large in society.
However, a recent study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family provides even more evidence that the stereotype of a deadbeat father doesn’t really match up with reality.
The study, “How Much In-Kind Support Do Low-Income Nonresident Fathers Provide? A Mixed-Method Analysis,” is authored by Kathryn Edin, Timothy J. Nelson, and Jennifer B. Kane. Previous research has largely focused on cash payments made through the courts (formal payments) or given directly to the mother (informal support). This study differs by examining non-cash goods (in-kind support) provided by fathers.
The researchers conducted repeated, semistructured interviews with nearly 400 low-income noncustodial fathers in three cities and discovered that in-kind support made up nearly a quarter of the total support provided – nearly $60 per month. “In-kind” support could include baby products, clothing, food, or any other non-monetary contribution. Even the “deadbeats” who gave no cash support at all provided $63 per child each month in in-kind support.
“The most disadvantaged dads end up looking like they’re completely distanced from their kids but they’re actually giving quite a lot,” Edin said in a statement. “I was really surprised by how much these disadvantaged guys, these truly marginally employed men, are putting all of this thought and what little resources they have into showing their children that they care.”
This isn’t the first time Edin and Nelson, her husband, have studied the contributions of low-income non-custodial fathers. In 2013, they authored, “Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City,” which dispelled many myths regarding so-called deadbeat fathers.
In researching the book, Edin and Nelson interviewed 110 mostly unmarried dads in New Jersey and Philadelphia and found that many tried compensating for their lack of financial support by forming deeper emotional ties to their children.
That circles back to their most recent study. Further analysis revealed that the logic for the fathers they interviewed to provide in-kind support is relational rather than financial – meaning that providing in-kind support helped them foster a relationship with their children.
As was noted on the National Parents Organization blog, the child support system is inherently flawed because by only recognizing financial contributions, it weakens the relationship between fathers and children.
Edin and her colleagues’ research is emphasizing that the value dads bring goes much further than a simple dollar amount.
“We need to respect what these guys are doing, linking love and provision in a way that’s meaningful to the child,” Edin said. “The child support system weakens the child-father bond by separating the act of love from the act of providing.”