Parental Debt and Child Well-Being: What Type of Debt Matters for Child Outcomes?

Aug 2022 | Lenna Nepomnyaschy, Allison Dwyer Emory, Kasey J. Eickmeyer, Maureen R. Waller, & Daniel P. Miller


Wealth inequality in the United States has increased tremendously over the last several decades and has potentially serious repercussions for disparities in child well- being. Household debt, a key component of wealth, may also play a role in such disparities. In this study, we explore the associations of parents’ unsecured debt with children’s socioemotional well- being. Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, we compare the associations of mothers’ unsecured household debt, fathers’ unsecured household debt, and fathers’ child support arrears with socioemotional outcomes among nine-  and fifteen- year- old children who have a nonresident father. We find robust evidence that nonresident fathers’ child support arrears, but not other types of parental household debt, are associated with worse outcomes and that these associations become stronger as children age.



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