Establishment of Legal Paternity for Children of Unmarried American Women
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The establishment of a legal father for children of unmarried parents reflects both high paternity confidence and male willingness to commit to paternal investment. Whether an unmarried man voluntarily acknowledges paternity after a child is born has important consequences for both the mother and child. This paper brings to bear a life history perspective on paternity establishment, noting that men face trade-offs between mating and parental effort and that women will adjust their investment in children based on expected male investment. I predict that paternity establishment will be more likely when the mother has high socioeconomic status, when maternal health is good, and when the child is male, low parity, or a singleton (versus multiple) birth. I further predict that establishment of paternity will be associated with increased maternal investment in offspring, resulting in healthier babies with higher birthweights who are more likely to be breastfed. These predictions are tested using data on 5.4 million births in the United States from 2009 through 2013. Overall the results are consistent with the hypothesis that the trade-offs men face between reproductive and parental investment influence whether men voluntarily acknowledge paternity when a child is born.
KeywordsPaternity establishment Paternal investment Birth certificates Pregnancy outcomes Life history theory
I thank Kathrine Starkweather, Mary Shenk, and several anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript, and Joanna Scheib for information about women using donor insemination. This research was supported in part by NIH U54-GM104938-01A1 (Judith James: Lead PI).
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