Parenting as a "Package Deal": Explaining trajectories of Child Involvement among Unmarried Fathers

Laura M. Tach, Harvard University
Kathryn Edin, University of Pennsylvania

Fatherhood has traditionally been viewed as part of a “package deal,” where a father’s relationship with his child is contingent upon his relationship with the mother. We evaluate the accuracy of this hypothesis using evidence from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a recent longitudinal survey of nonmarital births in large cities. We find that father involvement drops sharply after relationships between unmarried parents end. These declines are particularly dramatic when the father and mother enter subsequent relationships and have new biological and social children. These declines are less dramatic for African American fathers, suggesting that fatherhood outside the context of a conjugal relationship may be more strongly institutionalized in the black community. We discuss the implications of our results given the high levels of relationship instability and multi-partner fertility among unmarried parents.

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Presented in Session 27: Fathers in Families and Child Well-Being