Public Attitudes to Child Maintenance


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Professor Stephen McKay, University of Lincoln. Child Maintenance - International Perspectives and Policy Challenges. An ESRC International Research Seminar Series. First principles: comparative legal frameworks and public attitudes. Seminar 2. Attitudinal norms about child maintenance. 28 March 2014. Nuffield Foundation, London.

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Public Attitudes to Child Maintenance

  1. 1. Measuring the child support policies the public prefers: how best to do it and why it matters Stephen McKay University of Lincoln (initial period at University of Birmingham) Work in progress
  2. 2. Acknowledgements UK research team US Research Ira Mark Ellman [Arizona State University] Caroline Bryson [Bryson Purdon Social Research] Sanford Braver [Arizona State University] Stephen McKay [University of Lincoln] Rob MacCoun [University of California, Berkeley] Joanna Miles [University of Cambridge] The Nuffield Foundation has funded this project but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation
  3. 3. Child support system – structures • Classic choice: % NRP income or income-shares approaches – % NRP income ignores income of PWC – Examples: Wisconsin, UK CSA 2003, 2012 • PWC income is considered in income shares models – Examples: Arizona, original CSA 1993 system – The specific effect can be small (or non-existent) depending on the formula and income situations, often income-shares uses declining %s of income • Also, choices about %s, treatment of shared care, other children, etc …
  4. 4. % NRP income or income-shares – what does the public think? • General attitude surveys agree public believes mum’s income should matter – America, Australia, GB – see Caroline’s presentation. • Don’t really explain in what way(s) it should matter
  5. 5. Aim • To arrive at a $ amount for the appropriate level of child support in a given set of circumstances • May be analysed, comparing circumstances to baseline, within demographic groups, compared with more general attitudes
  6. 6. Broader aims • Whether people would in fact have any systematic idea about this • Whether their case judgments would be consistent with their views about principles. • Could help inform policy if responses consistent
  7. 7. US research (Ellman, Braver & MacCoun, 2009) • Based on good samples of citizens • Initial study: Respondents were citizens called to serve on the jury panel in Pima County (Tucson), Arizona • High response rates, representative cross-sections of the population (… eligible for jury service in that county) • Answered on general attitudes, as well as setting child support amounts • Self-completion approach, N=863 in original study, rising to several thousand across this and later studies
  8. 8. As asked in the US We want to know the amount of child support, if any, that you think Dad should be required to pay Mom every month, all things considered. What will change from story to story is how much Mom earns, and how much Dad earns. There is no right or wrong answer; just tell us what you think is right. Try to imagine yourself as the judge in each of the following cases. Picture yourself sitting on the bench in a courtroom needing to decide about what should be done about ordering child support in the case and trying to decide correctly. To do so, you might try putting yourself in the shoes of Mom or of Dad or both, or imagine a loved one in that position.
  9. 9. Income combinations used • Questions asked about 9 income combinations • (L/M/H for mother and father)
  10. 10. Key results in US studies • Support goes up with Dad’s income, beyond any anti-poverty role • Mum’s income matters • Support rises faster with Dad’s income when Mum’s income is lower – Hints at a larger principle = Reduce disparities?
  11. 11. UK Study aims • What does the British public think the State should require of non-resident parents with respect to child maintenance? • Should required amounts be affected by changes in income (mothers and fathers) and a wide range of family circumstances? • Timely evidence in light of recent changes to UK Child Support – more personal agreements. • Comparison with past research in the US
  12. 12. Research questions • How much do the public think non-resident parents should be required to pay, and how far do they adjust their views based on parents’ incomes? • Are there important differences in opinions between different population sub-groups? • Do current statutory provisions on child maintenance, including the calculation formula, align with the views of the British public?
  13. 13. Methodology • Fielded questions on 2012 British Social Attitudes Survey (BSA) • BSA is an annual cross-sectional survey, tracking public attitudes since 1983 • 3,000+ respondents: random probability sampling • Face-to-face, plus self-completion supplement
  14. 14. The questions • Series of vignettes (each person asked two) • Baseline vignette for all respondents (11/12ths sample) • “I want you to imagine a family in which there is one child, an 8 year old boy. His parents were married for 10 years, but are now divorced. He lives mainly with his mother, but sees his father twice a week after school, and usually stays with his father overnight once at the weekend.” • How much should the law require him to pay?
  15. 15. Then, by 9 income combinations (low, medium and high for each parent) • Amounts set to be at a minimum level, median level, and around top 10%-20% • Low: PWC on benefits and low rent; NRP on minimum wage • Median: average level of net income • Top 20%: relating to lone parents, and male FT employees • Also rounded to suitable numbers and disparities • And presented as being per month, after tax: By income, I mean their entire income after tax, including any wages, tax credits, state benefits and any other money coming into the household.’
  16. 16. Then, by 9 income combinations (low, medium and high for each parent) NRP income PWC income £900 £1,500 £2,200 £1,000 £50 .. .. £2,000 £300 .. .. £3,000 £300 .. .. Each question will ask you how much child maintenance you think (the law should require/it is fair to expect) the father to pay the mother each month, all things considered. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers - we just want you to decide. Methodology: randomly, 4 different ways of asking for the amounts. Starting with high as well as low income groups.
  17. 17. First respondent
  18. 18. Some are less generous, overall
  19. 19. Some, more so
  20. 20. Then, asked about a change in one circumstance – e.g. shared care 50/50 NRP income PWC income £900 £1,500 £2,200 £1,000 £0 .. .. £2,000 £150 .. .. £3,000 £200 .. .. Are able to look at past set of answers. May enter the same figures … common for some scenarios.
  21. 21. The vignettes look at: • Contact – – No overnights – 50:50 care – No contact (no reason given) – No contact (mother has encouraged father to see child, but he hasn’t, for no good reason) – No contact (father tried to see child, but mother refused, for no good reason) • Prior relationship status – – Lived together for 10 years, not married – One night stand Repartnering – Mother has new partner on a low income (£1k per month) Mother has a new partner on a high income (£3k per month) Mother has a new partner and is no longer working herself Father has a new partner (not working) and child
  22. 22. Further questions • 10 ‘Likerts’ (agree/disagree questions with 5- point scales) in self-completion – to capture public opinion in terms of the underlying principles of child support (eg parental obligation; role of state; basic needs; distribution of income)
  23. 23. Today • Results from the project • Taking in turn: baseline amounts; overview of attitudes and their role; overview of how contact makes a difference (or not) • Covering relevant results from US studies where they match the British methods • More to follow …