Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Effect of Low-Income Unmarried Fathers' Presence at Birth on Involvement

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Effect of Low-Income Unmarried Fathers' Presence at Birth on Involvement

Article excerpt

The period of time at and around the birth of a child represents a window of opportunity within which young, low-income, unmarried fathers are most likely involved with their children and may be most optimally engaged in services designed to support father involvement over time (Garfinkel & McLanahan, 2003; Mincy & Dupree, 2001; Ooms & Wilson, 2004, Reichman, Teitler, Garfinkel, & McLanahan, 2001). The experience of the birth of a child includes emotional, legal, and ritual experiences that could uniquely influence father-child bonding and a young man's new role and identity as a father. A more focused examination of the impact of fathers' participation in the birth experience could inform the development and placement of father-support services within the context of perinatal health care services. Unfortunately, research designed to examine father involvement in this unique experience-in particular, research focused on young, low-income, African American unmarried families-is limited. In this article we describe a study designed to estimate the effect of fathers' attendance at the birth of a child on father involvement over the first 2 years postpartum based on a study of young, low-income, African American mothers. We hypothesized that fathers who are present at the birth of their children are more likely to be involved with that child over time. We begin by briefly reviewing the literature on fathers' participation in the birth experience as well as literature on father involvement in unmarried families more broadly.

Father Presence at Birth

The early 1980s marked the first time when large numbers of hospitals allowed fathers to be present in the labor-and-delivery room. The participation of fathers in the birth of a child likewise received some attention in the research literature related to the importance of early contact and parent-infant bonding. Evidence for an association between early father-infant contact and later quality of paternal behavior was inconsistent; often derived without addressing potential selection bias; and generally focused on married, middle-class samples (Palkovitz, 1985). The exclusion of unmarried, low-income fathers in this research is problematic because this group has come to represent a large segment of fathers in the United States today, and these fathers face unique challenges in maintaining relationships with their children (Coley & Chase-Lansdale, 1999; Gee & Rhodes, 2003; Greene & Moore, 2000; Seltzer, 1991). For example, low-income unmarried fathers are less able to pay child support or otherwise make financial contributions to their families, factors that have also been linked to other forms of unmarried father involvement (Nelson, 2004), and coresidence has been strongly linked to involvement (Tach, Mincy, & Edin, 2010).

For some subgroups of fathers, including African American fathers, the number of children born outside of marriage is relatively higher as compared to the general population in the United States (Martin et al., 2006). Scholars have described dimensions of historical, social, cultural, and family life that may be uniquely important to consider for low-income, unmarried, African American families. For example, strong mother-father bonds may play a greater role in father involvement in married families as compared to families in which marriage is less normative and multiple caregivers, oftentimes grandparents, play stronger roles (Mott, 1990; Roopnarine & Hossain, 2013). Unfortunately, relatively little longitudinal research has focused on low-income, unmarried, African American families (Roopnarine & Hossain, 2013).

Likewise, the existing research suggests that differences in father involvement across racial and ethnic groups may be nuanced and not easily described by general patterns. For example, Tamis-LeMonda, Kahana-Kalman, and Yoshikawa (2009) found differences in rates of fathers' prenatal involvement across different racial and ethnic groups and that the relative differences between different groups varied depending on the specific type of involvement observed (e. …

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