Panel Paper: The Role of Fathers in Reducing Income-Based Inequalities in Children’s Behavioral Outcomes

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

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Lenna Nepomnyaschy1, Daniel Miller2, Maureen Waller3 and Sarah Gold1, (1)Rutgers University, (2)Boston University, (3)Cornell University

Children in low-income families have substantially worse behavioral outcomes than their more affluent peers, and these outcomes are important predictors of their success in later life.

When fathers are positively involved – by being present, providing material support, engaging in high quality interactions, and parenting cooperatively with mothers – children have better outcomes. Theoretical and empirical studies identify fathers as an integral contributor to child well-being, and a growing body of research shows involvement by low-income fathers can also have beneficial impacts for children. Our study investigates the extent to which positive involvement by nonresident fathers reduces inequality in behavioral outcomes between children in lower- and higher-income families.

We use four waves of data (including the most recent data collected when children are age 15) from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FF), a population-based cohort study of nearly 5,000 children born between 1998 and 2000 in large US cities. Baseline interviews were conducted at birth and families were followed-up when children were 1, 3, 5, 9, and 15-years old. Given our interest in nonresident fathers, the analytic sample is limited to children who live with their mothers and have a living nonresident father, resulting in a sample of approximately 1500 children at each wave (depending on outcome and father involvement measure). The Fragile Families Study is uniquely suited for these analyses because of the richness of child well-being and father involvement measures, the availability of mother, father, and child-reported data, and repeated measures of all variables of interest, which allow us to follow families over time.

Child outcomes are based on mothers’ reports of externalizing and internalizing behaviors when children are 3, 5, 9, and 15, and child self-reports of their own internalizing, externalizing, and delinquent behaviors at ages 9 and 15. We examine several domains of father involvement measured at each wave based on multiple reports (from mothers, fathers, and children): fathers’ provision of formal, informal, and in-kind child support, fathers’ time spent with children, engagement in activities, responsibility for children’s daily activities, degree of cooperative parenting, and child’s closeness to father.

We first pool cross-sections from four waves of the data (3, 5, 9, and 15-year) and estimate differences in child outcomes by income group (high, middle, and low), including a full set of covariates. Next, we include the different measures of father involvement to assess whether controlling for ‘levels’ of involvement reduces differences in outcomes between higher and lower-income families. Finally, we include interaction effects between father involvement indicators and income group to assess whether differences in the ‘effects’ of father involvement across income groups reduce these gaps in behavioral outcomes. We also estimate models with lagged measures of the dependent variable and individual fixed effects to address unobserved heterogeneity between children of more and less involved fathers.

Results from this work will identify which domains of nonresident father involvement are most salient for reducing income-based gaps in child behavior outcomes and at what stage of childhood (early, middle, or later) involvement matter most.