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.
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Further details on the disposition data are available from the authors upon request.
Missing data on individual survey items is modeled using a series of dummy variables.
As noted earlier, fathers are not asked about incarceration at year 5, although they are asked about criminal charges and convictions. The father-based report in Table 1 therefore notes any disposition reports of incarceration; indirect reports of incarceration; or, in cases where the fathers report conviction, reports of incarceration by their partners. We consider these reports as part of the fathers’ measure under the assumption that their self-reported conviction suggests willingness to report antisocial activity. These reports therefore reduce any bias created by the error in the survey questionnaire.
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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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Geller, A., Cooper, C.E., Garfinkel, I. et al. Beyond Absenteeism: Father Incarceration and Child Development. Demography 49, 49–76 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-011-0081-9
- Child well-being
- Family instability
- Child development