Fathers’ Incarceration, Family Instability, and Child Wellbeing

Amanda B Geller, Columbia University
Irwin Garfinkel, Columbia University

The widespread use of incarceration since the 1970s has placed a substantial portion of the United States population in prisons and jails; by 2004 nearly 1,500,000 individuals were incarcerated. Most of these prisoners are parents, creating serious implications for child wellbeing. We use the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing study to examine the effects of fathers’ incarceration when their children are three years old, and find that families where a father has been incarcerated face significantly more instability. Their children face more material hardship, are less likely to live with both parents, move more frequently, and display more mental health problems than their counterparts, though they are indistinguishable on physical health and cognitive measures. Moreover, children whose fathers have been incarcerated experience more hardship and instability than those whose fathers were absent for other reasons. Developmental differences between these groups are insignificant, but may increase as effects of disadvantage accumulate.

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Presented in Poster Session 4