Acton Institute Powerblog

Let’s bring back the stigma of being a ‘Deadbeat Dad’

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“Deadbeat Dads”—absent fathers who don’t provide financial support for their children—are one of the most significant factors contributing to child poverty in America. So why do some single women have children outside of marriage when they know they will receive little to no support from the child’s father?

A 2014 study from the University of Georgia and Boston College attempts to answer that question. The authors created an economic model to simulate a scenario in which every absent father was forced to pay child support. As the researchers note, “Looking at the data through the lens of this ‘perfect enforcement’ scenario caused the picture to change.”

“In the world we look at from 1979-1993, men can avoid paying child support. They can be deadbeat dads, and women know this is possible. Women know there’s a probability that they will get some kind of support and a possibility that they won’t,” said Meghan Skira, assistant professor of economics at UGA and research co-author. “Under perfect enforcement, there’s a big disincentive for men to have children outside of marriage because they now have a financial obligation they can’t avoid.”

When men are less willing to father children outside of marriage, the overall number of children born to unwed mothers declines, she said.

As the study notes, even if women prefer to have children within marriage, when faced with a shortage of high wage spouses it may be optimal to have children with low wage men outside of marriage. The effect is that some men then have incentives to have children and not support them.

Men who have the ability to provide financial support for their children but refuse to do so should be among the most shamed groups in America. Yet there isn’t much stigma attached to being a “deadbeat dad”—and in some communities there is no disgrace at all to being an absent father.

Refusing to provide support for your own children is loathsome and dishonorable. While there needs to be stronger legal repercussions and penalties for despicable men (and women) who refuse to support their own children, we simply can’t make significant progress toward ending child poverty until we reattach the opprobrium due a deadbeat parent.

It’s time we as a society start acting like we truly care about children. We can’t wait for the government to solve the problem. We must start the process of change by confronting the men we know who are shirking their responsibilities and sending them a strong message: If they want respect due a man then they must act like a man and take responsibility for their children.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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