Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Nonresident Father Involvement

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Racial and Ethnic Diversity in Nonresident Father Involvement

Article excerpt

This study is the first to examine racial and ethnic diversity in nonresident father involvement for multiple domains of father involvement. Data come from a sample of 5,377 adolescents with nonresident fathers in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). In addition to contact, we explore more intensive types of involvement and qualities of the father-child relationship that tap key dimensions of social capital found to be especially important in promoting child well-being. We find racial/ ethnic differences for many aspects of father involvement, some of which can be explained by structural differences, especially father's education and nonmarital childbearing. Our findings suggest that White youth with less educated fathers experience the greatest loss of social capital by living apart from their fathers.

Key Words: children, divorce, ethnicity, fathers, race.

Nearly one half of U.S. children will experience living without a biological father for some period during their childhood (Bianchi, 1990; Bumpass, 1984). The influence of nonresident fathers on offspring can be substantial, but it is highly variable (Amato & Gilbreth, 1999). Patterns of father's influence vary by race and ethnic diversity, which, in turn, are linked to socioeconomic status differences as well as family history characteristics (e.g., nonmarital birth, single-parent status). We have developed a conceptual framework that integrates these factors to evaluate the extent to which nonresident fathers affect offspring's social capital.

Research on nonresident parenting has been criticized for the lack of attention to how involvement by fathers varies by characteristics that represent the increasing diversity of families in the United States (Arditti, 1995). In particular, few studies examine the parenting behavior of nonresident fathers in ethnic minority groups. The few existing national studies are limited to Black-White comparisons regarding father visitation, although Hispanics occasionally are included as a third group. Findings are mixed, with inconsistent effects of race on visitation reported in the literature (Cooksey & Craig, 1998). Some studies report that Black fathers visit more frequently than non-Blacks (e.g., King, 1994; Mott, 1990; Seltzer, 1991), but others find no difference (e.g., Seltzer & Bianchi, 1988). Two studies found that Hispanic fathers were most likely never to visit their children (King; Seltzer & Bianchi, 1988).

The first aim of this study is to contribute to our understanding of nonresident father involvement by examining diversity among several racial/ethnic groups for a variety of domains of father involvement, documenting whether and where differences exist. We explore multiple ways that nonresident fathers are involved in the lives of their adolescent children-tapping critical dimensions of social capital resources that fathers can provide to children despite living apart from them-which in turn have implications for understanding racial/ ethnic differences in child well-being.

The second aim of this study is to ascertain whether racial and ethnic differences in both the amount and types of involvement are due mainly to socioeconomic and demographic differences that exist among the groups-differences in education and income and family history factors such as family structure, nonmarital births, and immigration. Aponte (1999) argues that much of what passes for cultural differences among families really stems from these structural factors, particularly socioeconomic status, but that prior studies have not had the appropriate data to demonstrate this empirically. Does the weight of the evidence support this view with regard to nonresident father involvement?

The third aim of this study is to determine whether racial/ethnic differences in nonresident father involvement vary by the father's level of education. This possibility is ignored in the literature, but research on men's family-related attitudes and behaviors suggests important interactions between race/ethnicity and the father's education (Cazenave & Leon, 1987; Lawson & Thompson, 1999). …

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