Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Family Structure, Father Involvement, and Adolescent Behavioral Outcomes

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Family Structure, Father Involvement, and Adolescent Behavioral Outcomes

Article excerpt

Research has shown that living away from one's biological father is associated with a greater risk of adverse child and adolescent outcomes; yet, the role of the father-child relationship in understanding this association has not been directly investigated. This study uses data on biological fathers' relationships with their children from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (N = 2,733) to assess whether father involvement mediates the relationship between family structure (i.e., father absence) and four measures of adolescent behavior. Differences in father involvement are shown to account for a sizeable fraction of the variance in outcomes by family structure. Father involvement does not affect hoys and girls differently but is more beneficial when the father lives with the adolescent.

Key Words: adolescence, child outcomes, family structure, father involvement.

Extensive research has shown that living apart from one's biological father is associated with a greater risk of adverse outcomes for children and adolescents, regardless of race, education, or mothers' remarriage (Amato, 2000; Cherlin, 1999; McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994). Although differences by family structure have been observed across various domains of child and adolescent development, the strongest effects have been found for behavioral problems (Dawson, 1991; McLanahan, 1997). Compared to children living with two married biological parents, children living apart from their fathers are, on average, more likely to be suspended or expelled from school (Dawson), more likely to engage in delinquent activities (Dornbusch et al., 1985; Teachman, Day, Paasch, Carver, & Call, 1998), more likely to experience depression and anxiety (Hetherington & Clingempeel, 1992; Thomson, Hanson, & McLanahan, 1994), and more likely to report externalizing and internalizing behavioral problems (Carlson & Corcoran, 2001; Hanson, McLanahan, & Thomson, 1997).

Clearly, some of the difference between children who live with versus who live apart from their fathers can be attributed to the characteristics of the parents who divorce (or never marry), but social selection does not account for all the differences in child well-being by family type (Cherlin, 1999; Sigle-Rushton & McLanahan, 2004). Thus, scholars have endeavored to understand the mechanisms by which father absence affects children, with a particular focus on the loss of economic resources and parental time. With respect to the latter, more attention has been paid to the mother-child relationship than to the father-child relationship (Cooksey & Fondell, 1996), even though fathers are more likely than mothers to live away from and to become disconnected from their children (Furstenberg, Morgan, & Allison, 1987). Growing evidence suggests that fathers' high-quality involvement is beneficial to children's well-being and development (Lamb, 2004), even when provided by a nonresident father (Amato & Gilbreth, 1999), so the father-child relationship represents a promising-but unexplored-mechanism for understanding how differences in family structure may lead to differences in child outcomes.

This article seeks to extend previous literature by using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to examine whether biological fathers' involvement mediates the negative association between father absence and healthy adolescent development. I begin by examining bivariate differences in father involvement (and mother involvement) in different family structures, as well as mean differences in adolescents' behavior. Next, I present estimates from multivariate models to assess the effects of father involvement on adolescents' behavioral problems and to determine whether father involvement mediates the effects of family structure on adolescent behavior. Finally, I evaluate whether the effects of father involvement differ by the adolescent's gender and/or the father's residential location. …

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