, Volume 45, Issue 2, pp 461–488

Coparenting and nonresident fathers’ involvement with young children after a nonmarital birth

  • Marcia J. Carlson
  • Sara S. McLanahan
  • Jeanne Brooks-Gunn

DOI: 10.1353/dem.0.0007

Cite this article as:
Carlson, M.J., McLanahan, S.S. & Brooks-Gunn, J. Demography (2008) 45: 461. doi:10.1353/dem.0.0007


We use data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to investigate the association between coparenting quality and nonresident fathers’ involvement with children over the first five years after a nonmarital birth. We find that about one year after a nonmarital birth, 48% of fathers are living away from their child, rising to 56% and then to 63% at three and five years, respectively. Using structural equation models to estimate cross-lagged effects, we find that positive coparenting is a strong predictor of nonresident fathers’ future involvement, whereas fathers’ involvement is only a weak (but significant) predictor of future coparenting quality. The positive effect of coparenting quality on fathers’ involvement is robust across several techniques designed to address unobserved heterogeneity and across different strategies for handling missing data. We conclude that parents’ ability to work together in rearing their common child across households helps keep nonresident fathers connected to their children and that programs aimed at improving parents’ ability to communicate may have benefits for children irrespective of whether the parents’ romantic relationship remains intact.

Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marcia J. Carlson
    • 1
  • Sara S. McLanahan
    • 2
  • Jeanne Brooks-Gunn
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Social WorkColumbia UniversityNew York
  2. 2.Department of Sociology, School of Public Affairs and Center for Research on Child WellbeingPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA
  3. 3.Teachers College, College of Physicians and Surgeons, and National Center for Children and FamiliesColumbia UniversityColumbiaUSA