University of Wisconsin–Madison
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Changes in the Incidence of Complex Families and the Implications for Child Support Orders

We reexamine Wisconsin administrative records to update our previous estimates of the evolution of family complexity for first-born children of single mothers in 1997, 2002 and 2007. We find very high levels of complexity: by the time a focal child is five, approximately half have at least one half-sibling. Although these levels are high in every cohort, we do find small declines in family complexity across cohorts; the proportion of children with half-siblings at age five falls by about 3 percentage points between the 1997 and 2002 birth cohorts, and by another 3 points between the 2002 and 2007 cohorts. We consider factors that may be related to this decline, and show that decreases in the proportion of births in our sample to teenagers and to African Americans (groups with traditionally high levels of family complexity) account for some, but not all, of the decline in overall complexity. Finally, we show that focal children whose fathers have children with other women are more likely to have child support orders, but these orders are, on average lower. Research implications are presented.


Child Support, Child Support Policy Research, Complicated Families & Multiple-Partner Fertility, Family & Partnering, Multiple-Partner Fertility, Orders & Payments, WI Administrative Data Core


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