Academic journal article Fathering

Involvement with Children and Low-Income Fathers' Psychological Well-Being

Academic journal article Fathering

Involvement with Children and Low-Income Fathers' Psychological Well-Being

Article excerpt

Low income men are at risk for depressive symptoms and reduced father involvement. Using the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (n = 2,703), we examined reciprocal associations between father involvement and depressive symptoms, and the moderating effect of relationship quality, for resident and nonresident fathers. Higher father involvement was associated with lower depressive symptoms two years later across the full sample of fathers. However, non-residence functioned as a risk; higher nonresident father involvement with toddlers was associated with greater depressive symptoms two years later. Greater resident father involvement with toddlers was associated with fewer depressive symptoms two years later in low quality couple relationships. Across the full sample, the association between depressive symptoms and lower involvement was weak.

Keywords: father involvement; depressive symptoms; low income; generativity; nonresident

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The benefits of father involvement for children are widely acknowledged; involved fathers enhance academic success and protect children from behavioral maladjustment with benefits that extend far beyond the childhood years (Lamb, 2010). Numerous studies document the deleterious consequences of maternal depressive symptoms for maternal involvement (e. g., Lovejoy, Graczyk, O'Hare, & Neuman, 2000), but there are mixed findings in the literature on fathers' depressive symptoms and involvement (Cabrera, Hofferth, & Chae, 2011; Eggebeen & Knoester, 2001; Knoester, Petts, & Eggebeen, 2007; Sotomayor-Peterson, Wilhelm, & Card, 2009). Partly due to systematic underrepresentation of low income fathers in family research (Coley, 2001), previous work primarily focused on resident fathers (for exceptions see Knoester et al., 2007; Lyons-Ruth, Wolfe, Lyubchik & Steingard, 2002; Paulson, Dauber, & Leiferman, 2011) despite the fact that nonresident fathers are at increased risk for depressive symptoms (Anderson, Kohler, & Letiecq, 2005) and low father involvement (Cheadle et al., 2010). In addition, most research documenting associations between father involvement and depressive symptoms have examined depressive symptoms as a predictor of father involvement, neglecting to test the potential mental health benefits of father involvement. This is an oversight given that involved, resident fathers experience increases in wellbeing (Eggebeen & Knoester, 2001; Schindler, 2010).

To our knowledge, only two previous studies have employed complex modeling strategies to test reciprocal associations between father involvement and depressive symptoms. Schindler (2010) and Knoester et al. (2007) used semidifference models to examine within-person change in psychological wellbeing and depressive symptoms while accounting for within-person change in father involvement. In a sample of resident fathers, Schindler (2010) found that increases in father engagement during middle childhood were associated with increases in wellbeing. In contrast, Knoester et al. (2007) found no association between changes in father involvement and changes in depressive symptoms from birth to age 1 after controlling for father residence in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study.

Theoretical frameworks highlight the importance of contextual factors to father involvement (e.g., Belsky, 1984) and supporting research indicates that resident status and relationship quality play key roles in father involvement (e.g., Carlson, Pilkauskas, McLanahan, & Brooks-Gunn, 2011; Fagan & Palkovitz, 2007, 2011) as well as depressive symptoms (Paulson et al., 2011). To our knowledge, no study has explored whether resident status and relationship quality may function as sources of stress or support, exacerbating the deleterious consequences of depressive symptoms, or enhancing the potential mental health benefits of father involvement. We examined reciprocal associations between father involvement and depressive symptoms among primarily low-income, resident and nonresident fathers when children were one, three, and five years of age. …

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