A growing body of research assesses the relationship between fatherhood and desistance. Qualitative studies typically find fatherhood reduces offending, especially substance use; yet, quantitative studies have produced mixed findings. Guided by life-course theory, this study hypothesizes that fatherhood affects certain kinds of offending and fatherhood’s effects on offending are most pronounced among fathers who reside with their child. To test our hypotheses, NLSY97 data are employed along with fixed-effects regression analyses to estimate the relationship between fatherhood and offending, while controlling for time-varying and time-stable competing factors. Periods of fatherhood are associated with reductions in licit and illicit substance use but not other kinds of offending, and these effects are considerably stronger in periods in which fathers resided in the same household as their child. By contrast, residential fatherhood is associated with reductions in property offending and arrest. These results confirm the findings of qualitative research in that fatherhood, particularly residential fatherhood, reduces substance use but has weaker effects on other kinds of deviance.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
We note that there are other ways to measure fathers’ involvement with and attachment to their children. Here we focus on residential fatherhood status. We encourage future researchers to explore these alternative measures.
We use weighted analyses to adjust for the minority oversample, where appropriate (see Winship & Radbill, 1994).
The number of respondents omitted from the fixed-effects regressions, due to of a lack of within individual variation, ranges from a low of 662 for alcohol use to a high of 3382 for hard drug use.
Table 2 displays the racial/ethnic composition of the sample to demonstrate the diversity of the sample. This variable, however, cannot be included in the fixed-effects regression models because one’s race/ethnicity does not change over time.
Table 2 reports highest grade completed, instead of in-school status, because relatively few respondents reported being in school in round 13. By contrast, the multivariate models use in-school status as a predictor.
Allison, P. D. (2005). Fixed effects regression methods for longitudinal data using SAS. Cary: SAS Institute Inc..
Blokland, A. A. J., & Nieuwbeerta, P. (2006). The effect of life circumstances on longitudinal trajectories of offending. Criminology, 43(4), 1203–1240.
Center for Human Resource Research. (2003). NLSY97 user's guide: A guide to the rounds 1–5 data National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Derzon, J. H. (2010). The correspondence of family features with problem, aggressive, criminal, and violent behavior: A meta-analysis. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 6(3), 263–292.
Edin, K., Nelson, T. J., & Paranal, R. (2001). Fatherood and incarceration as potential turning points in the criminal careers of unskilled men. Chicago: Northwestern University, Institute for Policy Research.
Eggebeen, D. J., & Knoester, C. (2001). Does fatherhood matter for men? Journal of Marriage and Family, 63, 381–393.
Farrington, D. P., & West, D. J. (1995). Effects of marriage, separation and children on offending by adult males. In Z. Blau & J. Hagan (Eds.), Current perspectives on aging and the life cycle. Greenwich: JAI Press.
Fleisher, M. S., & Krienert, J. L. (2004). Life-course events, social networks, and the emergence of violence among female gang members. Journal of Community Psychology, 32(5), 607–622.
Ganem, N. M., & Agnew, R. (2007). Parenthood and adult criminal offending: The importance of relationship quality. Journal of Criminal Justice, 35, 630–643.
Giordano, P. C. (2010). Legacies of crime: A follow-up of the children of highly delinquent girls and boys. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Giordano, P. C., Seffrin, P., Manning, W. D., & Longmore, M. A. (2011). Parenthood and crime: The role of wantedness, relationships with partners, and ses. Journal of Criminal Justice, 39, 405–416.
Golub, A., Johnson, B. D., & Dunlap, E. (2005). Subcultural evolution and illicit drug use. Addiction Research and Theory, 13(3), 217–229.
Gottfredson, M. R., & Hirschi, T. (1983). Age and the explanation of crime. American Journal of Sociology, 89(3), 552–584.
Gottfredson, M. R., & Hirschi, T. (1990). A general theory of crime. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Graham, J., & Bowling, B. (1995). Young people and crime. London: Research and Planning Unit, Home Office.
Horney, J., Osgood, D. W., & Marshall, I. H. (1995). Criminal careers in the short-term: Intra-individual variability in crime and its relation to local life circumstances. American Sociological Review, 60, 655–673.
Hughes, M. (1998). Turning points in the lives of young inner-city men forgoing destructive criminal behaviors: A qualitative study. Social Work Research, 22(3), 143–151.
Kreager, D. A., Matsueda, R. L., & Erosheva, E. A. (2010). Motherhood and criminal desistance in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Criminology, 48(1), 221–258.
Landers, M., Mitchell, O., & Coates, E. (2015). Teenage fatherhood as a potential turning point in the lives of delinquent youth. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24(6), 1685–1696.
Laub, J. H., Nagin, D. S., & Sampson, R. J. (1998). Trajectories of change in criminal offending: good marriages and the desistance process. American Sociological Review, 63(2), 225–238.
Laub, J. H., & Sampson, R. J. (2003). Shared beginnings, divergent lives: Delinquent boys to age 70. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Legal Action Center. (2004). After prison: Roadblocks to reentry. New York: Legal Action Center.
Martinez, G., Daniels, K., & Chandra, A. (2012). Fertility of men and women aged 15–44 years in the United States: National Survey of Family Growth, 2006–2010. Hyattsville: National Center for Health Statistics.
Maruna, S. (2001). Making good: How ex-convicts reform and rebuild their lives. Worcester: American Psychological Association.
Matsueda, R. L., & Heimer, K. (1997). A symbolic interactionist theory of role-transitions, role-commitments, and delinquency. In T. P. Thornberry (Ed.), Developmental theories of crime and delinquency (pp. 163–213). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Monsbakken, C. W., Lyngstad, T. H., & Skardhamar, T. (2013). Crime and the transition to parenthood: The role of sex and relationship context. British Journal of Criminology, 53, 129–148.
Moore, W., Pedlow, S., Krishnamurty, P., & Wolter, K. (2000). National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 (NLSY97): Technical sampling report. Washington, D.C.: National Opinion Research Center.
Moore, J. W., & Hagedorn, J. (2001). Female gangs: A focus on research: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Washington, DC.
Murray, J., & Farrington, D. P. (2005). Parental imprisonment: effects on boys’ antisocial behaviour and delinquency through the life-course. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46(12), 1269–1278.
Na, C. (2016). The consequences of fatherhood transition among disadvantaged male offenders: Does timing matter? Journal of Developmental and Life Course Criminology, 2, 182–208.
Nagin, D. S., & Paternoster, R. (1991). On the relationship of past to future participation in delinquency. Criminology, 29(2), 163–189.
Paternoster, R., & Bushway, S. (2009). Desistance and the 'feared self': Toward an identity theory of criminal desistance. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 99(4), 1103–1156.
Rabe-Hesketh, S., & Skrondal, A. (2008). Multilevel and longitudinal models using Stata (2nd ed.). College Station: Stata Press.
Rand, A. (1987). Transitional life events and desistance from delinquency and crime. In M. E. Wolfgang, T. P. Thornberry, & R. M. Figlio (Eds.), From boy to man, from delinquency to crime (pp. 134–162). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Richman, W. L., Kiesler, S., Weisband, S., & Drasgow, F. (1999). A meta-analytic study of social desirability distortion in computer-administered questionnaires, traditional questionnaires, and interviews. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84(5), 754.
Sampson, R. J., & Laub, J. H. (1993). Crime in the making: Pathways and turning points through life. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Savolainen, J. (2009). Work, family and criminal desistance: Adult social bonds in a Nordic welfare state. British Journal of Criminology, 49, 285–304.
Sedgh, G., Finer, L. B., Bankole, A., Eilers, M. A., & Singh, S. (2015). Adolescent pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates across countries: Levels and recent trends. Journal of Adolescent Health, 56(2), 223–230.
Singer, J. D., & Willett, J. B. (2003). Applied longitudinal data analysis: Modeling change and event occurrence. New York: Oxford Press.
Skardhamar, T., & Lyngstad, T. H. (2009). Family formation, fatherhood and crime: An invitationo to a broader perspective on crime and family transitions (Vol. Discussion papers no. 579): Statistics Norway, Research Department.
Theobald, D., Farrington, D. P., & Piquero, A. R. (2015). Does the birth of a first child reduce the father's offending? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 48(1), 3–23.
Thornberry, T. P., Wei, E. H., Stouthamer-Loeber, M., & van Dyke, J. (2000). Teenage fatherhood and delinquent behavior. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Uggen, C., & Kruttschnitt, C. (1998). Crime in the breaking: Gender differences in desistance. Law & Society Review, 32(2), 339–366.
Uggen, C., & Wakefield, S. (2008). What have we learned from longitudinal studies of work and crime? In A. Liberman (Ed.), The long view of crime: A synthesis of longitudinal Research (pp. 191–219). New York: Springer.
Wakefield, S., & Uggen, C. (2004). Having a kid changes everything? The effects of parenthood on subsequent crime. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, San Francisco, CA.
Western, B., & McClanahan, S. (2000). Fathers behind bars: The impact of incarceration on family formation. Princeton: Princeton University.
Winship, C., & Radbill, L. (1994). Sampling weights and regression analysis. Sociological Methods & Research, 23(2), 230–257.
Zoutewelle-Terovan, M., van der Geest, V., Liefbroer, A., & Bijleveld, C. (2012). Criminality and family formation: Effects of marriage and parenthood on criminal behaviour for men and women. Crime and Delinquency, 60(8), 1209–1234.
About this article
Cite this article
Mitchell, O., Landers, M. & Morales, M. The Contingent Effects of Fatherhood on Offending. Am J Crim Just 43, 603–626 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-017-9418-2
- Life-course criminology
- Substance use