, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 25–47 | Cite as

Paternal Incarceration and Support for Children in Fragile Families

  • Amanda GellerEmail author
  • Irwin Garfinkel
  • Bruce Western


High U.S. incarceration rates have motivated recent research on the negative effects of imprisonment on later employment, earnings, and family relationships. Because most men in jail and prison are fathers, a large number of children may be placed at considerable risk by policies of incarceration. This article examines one dimension of the economic risk faced by children of incarcerated fathers: the reduction in the financial support that they receive. We use a population-based sample of urban children to examine the effects of incarceration on this support. Both cross-sectional and longitudinal regressions indicate that formerly incarcerated men are less likely to contribute to their families, and those who do contribute provide significantly less. The negative effects of incarceration on fathers’ financial support are due not only to the low earnings of formerly incarcerated men but also to their increased likelihood to live apart from their children. Men contribute far less through child support (formal or informal) than they do when they share their earnings within their household, suggesting that the destabilizing effects of incarceration on family relationships place children at significant economic disadvantage.


Incarceration Fatherhood Child support 



This research was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The authors thank the Foundation for its support, but acknowledge that the findings and conclusions in presented in this article are those of the authors alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Foundation. The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study was supported by Grant R01HD36916 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The contents of the article are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The authors are grateful for the constructive feedback of Herbert Smith and Mark Kleiman, participants in the Fragile Families Working Group, and two anonymous referees.


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Schools of Social Work and LawColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.School of Social WorkColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Department of SociologyHarvard UniversityBostonUSA

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