Family Structure and Fathers' Well-Being: Trajectories of Mental and Physical Health

Sarah O. Meadows, Princeton University

A vast literature has assessed the relationship between marital status and health, but very little has tracked changes in health trajectories following family structure transitions, especially among unmarried fathers. Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study this paper examines trajectories of paternal mental and physical health, specifically focusing on transitions into and out of residential relationships with the child’s biological mother during the first five years after a new birth (N = 4,331). Continuously married fathers are in better mental and physical health than unmarried fathers one year after birth, but the disparity does not increase over time, providing little support for the marital resource model during these years. Timing of family structure change likewise has little impact on the transition’s association with health trajectory slopes. The implications of these findings for the marital resource model, as well as selection and causation arguments, are also discussed.

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Presented in Session 121: Family and Health over the Life Course