Unmarried Fathers' Involvement and Children's Behavioral Outcomes
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
In this paper, we use data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a longitudinal survey of nearly 5,000 births that occurred between 1998 and 2000. The survey over-samples unmarried parents, and, when weighted, is representative of births in cities with populations over 200,000. Our primary aims are 1) to describe levels of fathers’ involvement with children during the first nine years after a non-marital birth, and 2) to estimate the associations between fathers’ involvement and children’s externalizing and internalizing behavioral problems at ages three, five and nine. Throughout our analyses, we consider resident and non-resident fathers separately. We utilize multiple measures of fathers’ involvement, including time spent with children, engagement in developmentally-appropriate father-child activities, and shared responsibility and cooperation with mothers in raising their child.
Preliminary results suggest that, not surprisingly, resident fathers are much more involved with their children after a non-marital birth than are non-resident fathers. Results from random- and fixed-effects models provide some evidence that father involvement matters for children’s internalizing and externalizing behavior. The two measures that reflect fathers’ joint parenting with their children’s mother—coparenting and shared responsibility—show the strongest relationship to behavioral problems for both resident and non-resident fathers. By contrast, engagement in father-child activities is not associated with behavioral problems for resident or non-resident fathers. As we develop this paper further, we will conduct additional analyses, including comparing fathers who are stably resident or non-resident with those who change status over time, examining fathers’ reports of their own involvement (versus mothers’ reports), addressing issues of missing data, and comparing our results for unmarried fathers to a comparison group of fathers who were married at their child’s birth.
We believe this paper will provide important new information about a growing, yet still poorly understood, demographic group—unmarried fathers—and shed light on the extent to which their ongoing involvement with children contributes to children’s development. This work contributes to our understanding of how contemporary families carry out their fundamental responsibility to rear and socialize children amidst unprecedented levels of instability and complexity, and highlights differential paternal investment as a potentially important aspect of growing inequality.