Panel Paper: Nonresident Fathers and Childhood Hunger: Evidence From Longitudinal Data

Saturday, November 9, 2013 : 8:00 AM
Boardroom (Ritz Carlton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Lenna Nepomnyaschy1, Daniel Miller2, Steven Garasky3 and Neha Nanda3, (1)Rutgers University, (2)Boston University, (3)IMPAQ International
Food insecurity among children is associated with poor outcomes on various indicators of physical and mental health. In 2011, more than one in ten children in the U.S. lived in households that reported low food security among children, and 1.1 percent lived in households that reported very low food security among children. Children living with a single-mother are at three times the risk for food insecurity than those living with two married parents (18.9% vs. 6.3%).  Today, more than one-quarter of all U.S. children currently live with only one parent (most often their mother), while the other parent lives elsewhere , and more than half will spend some time growing up outside of a two-parent family .

Children in single-parent families have less access to material resources and parental time as a result of only one parent being in the household. Thus, it is particularly important to examine whether the material and social involvement of nonresident biological fathers can ameliorate these disadvantages and potentially improve the circumstances of their children. Nonresident fathers can be involved with their children in a number of ways, including making financial contributions, providing in-kind support, and spending time with them.

In this study, we explore the relationship between different types of father involvement and child food insecurity using two population-based, panel datasets which are nationally-representative of children in early and middle childhood: The Early Childhood Longitudinal Studies –Birth and Kindergarten cohorts. These datasets contain the Child Food Security Scale of the full USDA Food Security Module, providing the opportunity to assess different indicators of food security, including very low food security, a relatively rare outcome, which is difficult to analyze in most other data. We estimate parallel analyses in both datasets using comparable, though slightly different measures of involvement, control for a rich set of family characteristics, including maternal health and mental health, and perform supplementary analyses to test for potential selection bias and reverse causality.

Briefly, we find that the provision of in-kind support is related to lower child food insecurity among both early (ECLS-B) and middle (ECLS-K) childhood youth, and reduced very low child food security among early childhood youth (ECLS-B). These results were generally robust to different model specifications and to the inclusion of numerous controls. Evidence from the ECLS-K (middle childhood youth) further suggests that inconsistent cash support as compared to no support may be related to increased child food insecurity, while consistent provision of cash support is related to decreased food insecurity.  There is no relationship between father-child contact and child food insecurity among either group of children. Overall, the results of this study add to the evidence that the involvement and contributions of nonresident fathers outside of the provision of formal child support positively impact children and must be considered in policy discussions related to child support, child poverty and child well-being.