Academic journal article Fathering

Regular Work, Underground Jobs, and Hustling: An Examination of Paternal Work and Father Involvement

Academic journal article Fathering

Regular Work, Underground Jobs, and Hustling: An Examination of Paternal Work and Father Involvement

Article excerpt

This paper analyzes data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to examine a sample of urban fathers, a majority of whom were unwed at the time of their child's birth. Integrating research on race/ethnicity, poverty, family, work, and crime, this study explores how fathers' participation in regular work, underground employment, and illicit hustles is related to engagement with their children; it also investigates how these relationships vary by race. The results show that the more time fathers spend in illegal hustling, the less engaged they are with their children. In contrast, time spent working in the formal economy has a positive effect on father engagement. Importantly, the effects of work on father engagement vary by race/ethnicity. The positive relationship between fathers' participation in regular work and engagement with children is even greater for African Americans than whites. In addition, underground work has a more positive association with father engagement for African American fathers than white fathers. Finally, hustling has a more negative effect on engagement among African American fathers than among Latino fathers.

Keywords: inner-city fathers, employment, race, informal economy, parenthood, poverty, fragile families, impulsivity, crime


Many researchers and policy analysts are concerned about low levels of father presence in children's lives, especially for children from less stable families and from Latino and African American households. Researchers consider children born outside of marriage to be living in "fragile families" and have shown that they are often at a disadvantage compared to children born to married parents (Aquilino, 1996; Bane & Ellwood, 1986). Existing research on fragile families explores the limited opportunities for successful marriage (Testa, Astone, Krogh, & Neckerman, 1989; Wilson, 1987), child support problems (Stier & Tienda, 1993), the spread of single-parent families (Furstenberg, 1995; Furstenberg & Cherlin, 1991; Jencks, 1992), and the need for multigenerational households to avoid poverty (Pattillo-McCoy, 1999). To the extent that research on fragile families examines fathers, it has emphasized the changing paternal role in families (Burton & Snyder, 1998; Lamb, 1998), effects of marriage on men's lives (Nock, 1998), and the gendered ways that fathers contribute to their children's lives (Amato, 1998). Yet, even with a general renewed interest in fatherhood (see, for example, Ishii-Kuntz,1994; Lamb, 2004; Marsiglio, 1993, 1995), few studies quantitatively examine the role of work in fathering behaviors among fragile families of varying racial/ethnic groups.

The neglect of the importance of types of employment among fathers in fragile families represents a gap in the literature. In the current age of welfare reform, many underemployed inner-city men go to extremes to generate income, reporting that they work in the regular service sector, underground, and through risky hustles (i. e., illicit employment used to supplement income, like drug sales) (Edin, Lein, & Nelson, 1998). Three decades of deindustrialization have diminished the employment opportunities for many nonwhite men and have contributed to a drastic decline in traditional mother-father families (Anderson, 1999; Kasarda, 1989; Levy, 1980; Wilson & Neckerman, 1986; Wilson, 1996). With an economically bifurcated labor market (Wilson, 1987, 1996), declining wages (Jencks, 1992; Pattillo-McCoy, 1999), high rates of joblessness (DeParle, 2004; Wilson, 1987, 1996), and a growing dependence on the underground economy (Sullivan, 1989; Wilson, 1996; Venkatesh, 2000), many urban men of color are in poor positions to be involved fathers who spend time with their children.

This paper addresses two questions. First, does participation in illicit hustles (i. e., selling drugs, pushing stolen goods) or underground jobs have a different association with father involvement than participation in regular employment? …

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