Academic journal article Fathering

High-Risk Subsequent Births among Co-Residential Couples: The Role of Fathers, Mothers, and Couples

Academic journal article Fathering

High-Risk Subsequent Births among Co-Residential Couples: The Role of Fathers, Mothers, and Couples

Article excerpt

This study examines predictors of a cumulative measure of high-risk births, rather than single risks separately, as in prior research. Using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort survey, we incorporate data from fathers and mothers to assess characteristics associated with births subsequent to a focal child's birth within high-risk circumstances. Components of a high-risk birth include: high-parity, very closely-spaced, or births to unmarried couples, unhappy couples, or couples in high-conflict relationships. Both fathers' and mothers' pregnancy intentions affect whether couples have a subsequent high-risk birth. The odds of a high-risk subsequent birth, relative to no birth and to a low-risk birth, are more than twice as high if only the father intended the birth of the previous child rather than if the child was intended by both the mother and father. High-risk subsequent births are much more likely among couples where the prior child was high risk and where family income was low, and lower where both father and mother had lived with both biological parents. Findings highlight the importance of father data in fertility research.

Keywords: fertility, pregnancy intentions, relationship quality, nonmarital childbearing

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Numerous studies have examined specific components of risky births, focusing on nonmarital births or births within poor quality or high-conflict relationships, for example. However, cumulative or omnibus measures of risk factors more accurately reflect the intercorrelation of risk factors than do measures that assess risk factors separately. For example, people do not just have a nonmarital birth; they also have a birth in a marriage or relationship that is either happy or unhappy, and it is either a first-born or later-born child. Research finds that each of these factors predicts a number of negative outcomes. By extension, being born into more than one of these birth circumstances simultaneously (i.e., born to unmarried parents in a high-conflict relationship) would have particularly adverse consequences for child development, family stability, public dependency, and the well-being of fathers and mothers (Forehand, Biggar, & Kotchick, 1998; Logan, Moore, Manlove, Mincieli, & Cottingham, 2007; Moore, Vandivere, & Redd, 2003; Shaw, Winslow, Owens, & Hood, 1997; Simmons, Burgeson, Carlton-Ford, & Blyth, 1987). Child development research has regularly found that children experiencing multiple risks are less likely to develop well (Garmezy & Rutter, 1983; Rutter, 1985). Yet, little research has examined cumulative negative birth circumstances. Therefore, in this paper, we aggregate birth characteristics to create a measure of cumulative birth risks. We posit that nonmarital, closely-spaced, high-parity births in poor quality or high-conflict relationships are of substantially greater concern for children, adults, and for taxpayers than the occurrence of any one of these alone. Accordingly, studying the predictors of cumulative birth risk has both scientific and policy relevance.

Previous research has also tended to focus on first births. While first births represent an important life transition (LaRossa & Sinha, 2006), subsequent births also represent an important component of family building. This study investigates father, mother, and couple-level predictors of the cumulative risk status of subsequent births. Specifically, we use data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort (ECLS-B) to develop and analyze an innovative measure of couple's cumulative birth risk to assess what factors are associated with whether a recent cohort of parents has subsequent high-risk births, with a particular focus on father factors. Using this dataset, and studying factors associated with the cumulative risk status specifically of "subsequent" births (i.e., births following that of the "focal" child who was the ECLS-B's primary interest), has three advantages. …

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