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Coparenting and nonresident fathers’ involvement with young children after a nonmarital birth

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Abstract

We use data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to investigate the association between coparenting quality and nonresident fathers’ involvement with children over the first five years after a nonmarital birth. We find that about one year after a nonmarital birth, 48% of fathers are living away from their child, rising to 56% and then to 63% at three and five years, respectively. Using structural equation models to estimate cross-lagged effects, we find that positive coparenting is a strong predictor of nonresident fathers’ future involvement, whereas fathers’ involvement is only a weak (but significant) predictor of future coparenting quality. The positive effect of coparenting quality on fathers’ involvement is robust across several techniques designed to address unobserved heterogeneity and across different strategies for handling missing data. We conclude that parents’ ability to work together in rearing their common child across households helps keep nonresident fathers connected to their children and that programs aimed at improving parents’ ability to communicate may have benefits for children irrespective of whether the parents’ romantic relationship remains intact.

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This research is funded in part by a grant to Marcia Carlson from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch (#K01HD042776). We thank Anna Aizer, Anne Case, Sheldon Danziger, several conference discussants, and participants in the Fragile Families Working Group at Princeton and Columbia Universities for very helpful suggestions. The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study is funded by the NICHD (#R01HD36916) and a consortium of private foundations.

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Carlson, M.J., McLanahan, S.S. & Brooks-Gunn, J. Coparenting and nonresident fathers’ involvement with young children after a nonmarital birth. Demography 45, 461–488 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1353/dem.0.0007

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Keywords

  • Father Involvement
  • Nonresident Father
  • Nonmarital Birth
  • Child Support Enforcement
  • Heckman Model