Demography

, Volume 49, Issue 1, pp 49–76 | Cite as

Beyond Absenteeism: Father Incarceration and Child Development

  • Amanda Geller
  • Carey E. Cooper
  • Irwin Garfinkel
  • Ofira Schwartz-Soicher
  • Ronald B. Mincy
Article

Abstract

High rates of incarceration among American men, coupled with high rates of fatherhood among men in prison, have motivated recent research on the effects of parental imprisonment on children’s development. We use data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to examine the relationship between paternal incarceration and developmental outcomes for approximately 3,000 urban children. We estimate cross-sectional and longitudinal regression models that control not only for fathers’ basic demographic characteristics and a rich set of potential confounders, but also for several measures of pre-incarceration child development and family fixed effects. We find significant increases in aggressive behaviors and some evidence of increased attention problems among children whose fathers are incarcerated. The estimated effects of paternal incarceration are stronger than those of other forms of father absence, suggesting that children with incarcerated fathers may require specialized support from caretakers, teachers, and social service providers. The estimated effects are stronger for children who lived with their fathers prior to incarceration but are also significant for children of nonresident fathers, suggesting that incarceration places children at risk through family hardships including and beyond parent-child separation.

Keywords

Incarceration Child well-being Family instability Child development 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This research was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. We thank them for their support but acknowledge that the findings and conclusions presented in this report are those of the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect 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 (NICHD), and the project described in this article was supported by Award Number R24HD058486 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver NICHD. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver NICHD or the National Institutes of Health. We are thankful for the suggestions of the Fragile Families Working Group and of the reviewers and Editor of Demography.

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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amanda Geller
    • 1
  • Carey E. Cooper
    • 2
  • Irwin Garfinkel
    • 3
  • Ofira Schwartz-Soicher
    • 4
  • Ronald B. Mincy
    • 4
  1. 1.Columbia Population Research CenterColumbia University Schools of Social Work and LawNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.School of Social and Family DynamicsArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  3. 3.Columbia Population Research CenterColumbia University School of Social WorkNew YorkUSA
  4. 4.Columbia University School of Social WorkNew YorkUSA

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