Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Variation in the Consequences of Nonresident Father Involvement for Children's Well-Being

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Variation in the Consequences of Nonresident Father Involvement for Children's Well-Being

Article excerpt

Given current rates of divorce and nonmarital childbearing, nonresident paternal parenting is becoming increasingly common. Recent research efforts show a parallel trend toward an increasing focus on nonresident father involvement. In particular, researchers have been interested in both the antecedents of nonresident father involvement (e.g., Furstenberg, Nord, Peterson, & Zill, 1983; Seltzer, 1991) and its consequences for children (e.g., Furstenberg, Morgan, & Allison, 1987; King, 1993, 1994).

Early research and concern over the relationship between nonresident fathers and their children was often predicated on the assumption that father involvement would have positive benefits for children, but supporting evidence has been limited. The majority of studies based on large national surveys have found little association between father visitation and child well-being (Baydar & Brooks-Gunn, 1991; Furstenberg et al., 1987; King, 1993, 1994; Zill, 1988). Stronger effects of father involvement have been found for the payment of child support. Although not significant for all measures of well-being (Baydar & Brooks-Gunn, 1991; Furstenberg et al., 1987; King, 1993, 1994; McLanahan, Seltzer, Hanson, & Thomson, 1991), there is some evidence that the payment of child support has beneficial effects for children in the domains of educational achievement (Graham, Beller, & Hernandez, 1991; King, 1993, 1994; Knox & Bane, 1991) and behavioral adjustment (Furstenberg et al., 1987; McLanahan et al., 1991).

Although several studies have examined the question of whether nonresident father involvement has positive benefits for children, the majority of these studies have failed to examine the possible interactive effects of father involvement. For example, most of the studies use all-white samples, and the few that do have data for minorities do not examine whether the effects of father involvement differ for whites and blacks (or other minorities).

As Arditti (1994) pointed out, there has been a lack of attention to the diversity of circumstances encountered by families in which there is a non-resident father. Determining how important social stratifiers such as race and class influence nonresident parenting has been virtually ignored in the literature. This neglect has important consequences because it may be that father involvement is beneficial only under certain circumstances or for certain groups of children.

Only two studies to date have considered this issue. Furstenberg et al. (1987) examined whether the effect of father contact or the payment of child support varied with the child's sex, current marital status of the mother, or the mother's income. They reported few interactive effects and found no conditions that amplified or reduced the importance of nonresident father involvement for child well-being. Other important variations, however, such as by race or by whether the child was born within marriage, were not explored.

A recent study by Amato and Rezac (1994) explored several other potentially important moderating factors for the effect of nonresident parental contact on children's behavior problems. They also reported few interactive effects. However, when they examined variations by parental conflict, an interesting finding emerged. They found that, among boys from divorced families, contact with the nonresident parent decreased behavior problems when parental conflict was low but increased behavior problems when conflict was high. However, this relationship did not hold for girls or for boys born outside of marriage. Although this study considered a wide variety of moderating factors such as race and gender, it focused on only one type of child outcome and was limited to examining the effect of contact.

In this article I explore whether the effect of father involvement varies by the child's race, mother's education, or whether the child was born outside of marriage. …

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