Panel Paper: Nonresident Father Involvement and Their Children’s Food Insecurity over the Life Course

Friday, November 3, 2017
Stetson BC (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Laura Cuesta and Sarah Gold, Rutgers University

We examine the association between nonresident father involvement and their children’s food insecurity over the life course, using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics—PSID that include detailed information on history of child support payments, father-child contact, and food insecurity spells.

Custodial-mother families (i.e., families in which the children’s father is alive but not living with the children and their mother) are more likely than two-parent families to be poor. Nonresident father involvement, whether represented by monetary transfers or social and physical contact with their children, is a critical resource for custodial-mother families. Nonresident fathers’ monetary transfers, also known as child support, play an important role in reducing income poverty among custodial-mother families and are positively associated with children’s school completion and academic achievement. Less is known about the extent to which nonresident fathers’ involvement is associated with child food insecurity, a social problem that affected 30.3% of single-mother households in the United States in 2015. Nonresident father involvement may impact their children’s food insecurity by providing additional resources that can increase children’s access to food and by impacting mother’s choices of household expenditures.

The literature on the association between nonresident fathers’ involvement and their children’s food insecurity is small and results from these studies are mixed, generally showing no consistent association between child support or father-child contact and child food insecurity. These studies are limited by the measurement of key constructs and the focus on food insecurity experiences in early and middle childhood. Our study addresses these limitations and extends this literature by answering the question of whether nonresident father involvement is protective of the incidence of food insecurity of their children over the life course and whether this relationship persists into emerging adulthood (18 to 29 years old).

We use data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics—PSID core study (1986-2017) and Child Development Supplement—CDS (1997, 2002, and 2007) for 977 children aged 0 to 12 who were living in a custodial-mother family in 1997. We measure nonresident fathers’ involvement both in terms of money and time. The PSID-CDS data enables a more nuanced examination of child support variations over a given year, rather than relying on an average monthly measure of support, and child support variations throughout childhood, rather than relying on payments at a single stage of childhood. Food insecurity is measured at three time periods, allowing us to examine the association between nonresident father involvement and food insecurity at different stages of childhood. Our preliminary descriptive analyses suggest that nonresident fathers’ involvement may be protective of the incidence of food insecurity of their children during early, middle, and late childhood. These results will be further tested with OLS, probit, and fixed-effects models, expanding our current knowledge of nonresident fathers’ roles in their children’s well-being over the life course.

Findings from this study can assist policymakers in better targeting food and nutrition assistance programs, child support policies, and social policies aiming at improving the human capital and earnings capacity of nonresident fathers.