A Framework for Studying Minority Youths' Transitions to Fatherhood: The Case of Puerto Rican Adolescents

Article excerpt

While men bear half of the biological responsibility for conception, until the late 1970s, they had been largely ignored in the discourse on pregnancy and child care. In the last three decades, however, studies of fatherhood have experienced an explosive growth (for comprehensive reviews of the literature, see Lamb, 1976, 1981, 1987, 1997). Lamb (1997) summarized his reading of the past two decades of the fatherhood literature in terms of three themes which merit special attention: "recognition that fathers play complex, multidimensional roles, that many patterns of influence are indirect, and that social constructions of fatherhood vary across historical epochs and subcultural contexts" (p. 1).

This last theme of historical and cultural variations in the social constructions of fatherhood echoes the messages of cultural ecologists (Ogbu, 1981; Slaughter-Defoe, Nakagawa, Takanishi, & Johnson, 1990) and Bronfenbrenner's (1979) human ecology model in emphasizing the importance of the social ecology of fatherhood. Lamb notes that while researchers have finally recognized that fathers have different roles in different cultural or subcultural contexts and that many communities hold different views of what constitutes normative fatherhood (see also Hochschild, 1995), these subcultural variations in the social construction of fatherhood have been less frequently and less comprehensively studied than other fathering topics (see Lamb, 1987; Sullivan, 1993). Since then a number of new research initiatives have collected data about or from low-income minority fathers.

The Fragile Families Study (McLanahan, Garfinkel, Reichman, & Teitler, 2001) is the largest research project that has focused on unwed couples and their parenting behavior, where the sample was recruited at hospitals at the time of birth. McLanahan and her colleagues (2001) found that the Hispanic subgroup in their sample had the highest percentage of unmarried couples living together, compared to Blacks and Whites. Their results indicated that, according to the mothers' reports collected at the time of birth, a large majority of them expected the fathers of their babies to be involved financially (82%) and otherwise (87%) in the baby's life. The authors note that many fragile unions do not last, some progress into marriage, but others dissolve. Thus, the mothers' expectations reported at birth may not be fulfilled. Coley (2001), in her review of the literature on father involvement, notes that while half the nonresidential fathers have contact with the baby during the first year of its life, contact is much less frequent for school-aged children and adolescents.

Another equally important finding of the Fragile Families Study was that the income and education of the average father in this study were very low. With current child support laws, fathers were olden forced to pay a substantial amount of their earnings to the mother and baby, earnings which they either did not have, or had only to a very limited extent. This situation can lead to conflict in the parents' relationship (Miller, Garfinkel, & McLanahan, 1997) and, consequently, lower father participation in the care of the child (DeLuccie, 1995; Marsiglio & Cohan, 1997). The Fragile Family Study authors, therefore, argue that services should be directed toward strengthening new fathers' earning power by providing education and job training.

This recommendation is echoed by Landale and Oropesa (2001) who studied the determinants of father involvement, obtained from the mothers of a representative sample of Puerto Rican children born on the mainland (more will be said about this study later).

Adolescent Fathers

Prospective longitudinal studies which have studied the transition to fatherhood using data from nationally representative samples of adolescent men have represented the typical profile of the adolescent father as a depressed young man with a truncated education, limited earning capacity, and more likely to have come from a family which received public assistance. …