Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, December 1, 2011

Research examines child support, complex families

Maria Cancian

La Follette School professor Maria Cancian looks at child support and complex families in Fast Focus, an Institute for Research on Poverty publication.

Her article, co-authored by La Follette School faculty affiliate Daniel R. Meyer and IRP researcher Steven T. Cook, documents the incidence and evolution of family complexity from the perspective of children.

The authors follow a cohort of firstborn children whose mothers were not married at the time of their birth. They consider changes in family structure during the first 10 years of the child's life, full and half-siblings who are coresidential or who live in another household. They find that 60 percent of firstborn children of unmarried mothers have at least one half-sibling by age 10.

Complex family structures are more likely for children of parents who are younger or who have low earnings and for those in larger urban areas, the authors find. Children who have half-siblings on their mother's side are more likely to have half-siblings on their father's side, and vice versa, contributing to very complex family structures—and potential child support arrangements—for some children.

The September 2011 Fast Focus article, "Stepparents and half-siblings: Family complexity from a child's perspective," summarizes findings published in the journal Demography in 2011.

A former IRP director, Cancian is a professor of public affairs and social work. She is associate dean for social sciences in the College of Letters & Science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.