Money, Time, or Something In-Between? The Meaning of Informal Support for Father-Child Relationships
Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 10:35 AM
Merrick I (Hyatt Regency Miami)
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
It is estimated that the child support program now serves about one-quarter of all children and half of poor children in the U.S., following major increases in divorce and non-marital childbearing (OCSE, 2013). Several large-scale data sets now include multiple measures of non-resident fathers’ economic and emotional contributions to children in response to these changes in family structure as well as federal efforts to include fathers in research studies. Although more survey data is now available about non-resident fathers’ relationships with children, the associations among different measures of fathers’ time and monetary contributions have received less empirical attention. Moreover, the implications of these contributions for fathers’ and children’s perceptions of their own relationship remains understudied. The analysis uses unique data from matched father-child dyads in the 9 –Year Fragile Families Study (N = 860) to address two primary research questions: First, what are the relationships among five standard survey measures of fathering (i.e., contact, daily involvement in activities, formal child support, informal child support, and in-kind support)? Second, which constructs are most closely associated with father’s and children’s perceptions of closeness in their relationships? Using factor analysis, we find three distinct fathering constructs related to: 1) paternal engagement; 2) in-kind/informal child support; and 3) formal child support. Additional analysis shows that the in-kind/informal support construct is more closely related to the paternal engagement construct than is formal child support, likely because non-resident fathers provide in-kind and informal support while they are spending time with children. Both father involvement and in-kind support are also much stronger predictors of child and father-reported closeness than is formal child support in multivariate regression models. These findings are consistent with previous qualitative research that suggests the provision of in-kind and direct support is often viewed as a more important symbol of paternal engagement in low-income communities than is the payment formal child support. The paper concludes by considering the implications of these results for child support policy and survey measurement.