This chapter summarizes economic theory and evidence regarding the impact of welfare, child support enforcement, and labor markets on the lack of father involvement in circumstances such as divorce, legal separation, or nonmarital births. The discussion reviews trends in family structure and explains how public policy can enhance child well-being by promoting family structures that facilitate father involvement in children's lives. All economic theories about family structure are based on the assumption that individuals make the decision to marry or divorce by weighing the benefits of each option. When applied to welfare policy, economic theory suggests that the income criteria of current welfare policies discourage women from marrying because they fear that their husband's income would disqualify them from receiving welfare payments. Greater restrictions would be expected to decrease the benefits of single parenthood and increase the likelihood of marriage and family involvement. Although studies have found some evidence that welfare restrictions are linked to decreases in nonmarital births, support for the theory is weak because of sampling problems and unknown confounding variables. An economic model of the impact of child support enforcement predicts that increased enforcement will decrease the divorce rate among families who utilize welfare assistance, and either increase or decrease divorce for other couples, depending on individual perceptions of the balance between loss of income from the payment of child support and gains from the receipt of support. Findings from two studies indicate that higher child support obligations are related to decreases in nonmarital births. Empirical research supports the labor market theory that increases in job opportunities for men increases marriage, while increases in job opportunities for women could increase or decrease marriage rates, depending on the supply of marriageable men, education, and race. 53 references.
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