Exploring the Role of Fathers' Birth Presence in Mothers' Mental Health Outcomes
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
To address these questions, we draw on data from Waves 1 and 2 of the Paternity Establishment Study (PES), a longitudinal birth cohort study of Texas mothers who gave birth outside of marriage in January 2013. Collected 3 months after the birth, Wave 1 includes information on fathers’ birth attendance, while Wave 2 provides an updated look at the status of the parental relationship, father involvement, and maternal and child wellbeing 15 months after the birth. Our final sample consists of approximately 580 mothers who completed both waves. First, we provide a descriptive portrait of the association between fathers’ birth presence and several indicators of mothers’ mental health 15 months after the birth, including maternal depression and parenting stress. Next, we model the relationship between fathers’ birth presence and each indicator of mothers’ mental health, given a vector of sociodemographic controls. In subsequent models, we incorporate an array of potential mediating variables, including father involvement, father support, and parental relationship quality. Results suggest that fathers’ birth absence is significantly associated with increased maternal depression and parenting stress at 15 months. This association, however, is largely explained by the extent to which fathers are involved, supportive, and in a quality relationship with the mother over this time period. Rather than implying a solution in higher rates of birth attendance, our results highlight the importance of fathers’ birth absence as a signal of elevated risk—especially in view of its observability and usefulness as a point of intervention for the policy and medical communities.