Poster Paper: Is Socioeconomic Status a Barrier to Nonresidential Father’s Involvement with Their Children? Evidence from Survey and Administrative Data

Saturday, November 4, 2017
Regency Ballroom (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Angela Maria Guarin Aristizabal, University of Wisconsin - Madison

Children’s living arrangements in the U.S. have become more complex and fluid, with an increasing number who live apart from their father. Yet some research suggests that nonresident father involvement would have beneficial effects. A variety of policies have been implemented to try to increase nonresident father involvement. These include joint legal custody (shared decision-making), policy encouragements for children to spend some overnights with both parents, and the development of parenting plans (negotiated documents outlining the level and timing of nonresident parent involvement).

Two trends complicate these efforts to encourage nonresident father involvement. First, many nonresident fathers have had children with more than one mother, so there is increased difficulty in managing multiple relationships. Second, there is new awareness of the deteriorating economic circumstances of low-educated men, especially men of color. The combination of needing to connect with children across multiple families and limited economic means could result in nonresident fathers having difficulty remaining involved in their children’s lives.

Understanding the determinants of nonresident fathers’ involvement, and especially the relationship between involvement and fathers’ economic status is important for improving child well-being. However, previous research has produced substantially mixed results, perhaps due in part to limitations of sample and measures. Using data from a longitudinal survey, a sample of fathers likely to have economic difficulty, and administrative records that improve the accuracy of economic status, this study revisits the role of fathers’ economic resources and father-child contact, controlling for whether the father has also had children with other mothers.

I examine data from two waves of the Survey of Wisconsin Works Families, a panel study of resident mothers receiving welfare and a nonresident father of one of the “focal children.” For this study, mothers’ responses are combined with administrative records from the child support system and the unemployment insurance system. With a sample of 849 residential mothers, I conduct logistic regressions and lagged dependent variable analysis to estimate whether fathers’ socioeconomic status is associated with the likelihood of in person contact between the nonresident father and his child.

Preliminary findings suggest that nonresident father’s low wages are a barrier to involvement. There is a consistent significant association between wages and having at least once/year contact. The models suggest that fathers with annual wages above the median have a higher probability of seeing their nonresidential child than fathers without formal earnings. In contrast, in the models predicting frequent father-child contact (once/week or more) wages are not statistically significant. Thus, I find that fathers’ wages open the door for contact, but the frequency of contact, after the initial contact, is better predicted by other factors such as the presence of a mother’s new partner and the level of conflict with the mother.

Findings will inform interventions aimed at increasing the support nonresidential fathers provide to their children, by illustrating the need for interventions that simultaneously work to enhance fathers’ economic resources and relationship with the resident mother.