The four papers in this symposium address these gaps in knowledge and contribute important new information about the circumstances and well-being of children living in single parent families. Broadly, these papers examine fathers' investments in children in unique yet highly complementary ways, using four different datasets, focusing on children of diverse ages and backgrounds, and employing advanced statistical methods.
First, we describe the different ways that fathers invest in their children and how these types of contributions have changed over the last decade. These analyses use pooled national data from 1994-2006 from the Current Population Survey-Child Support Supplement, the most reliable source of information on children in single-parent families. Next, using two very different datasets, we examine how these types of nonresident fathers' investments change over time as custodial mothers begin to re-partner. Much has been learned about changes in fathers' investments as they go on to new start new families, but little is known about how mothers' new partners affect fathers' investments. One of these papers, uses national data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, to estimate the effect of mothers' re-partnering on changes in fathers' formal contributions and time spent with children, while the other uses rich administrative and survey data from Wisconsin to estimate this effect on changes in fathers' informal contributions. Finally, we examine how these different types of fathers' investments affect one dimension of child well-being: health. This paper uses the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to estimate the effect of all types of fathers' investments on the risk of obesity in 5-year old children.
Because little is known from prior research about these phenomena, each paper first thoroughly describes the circumstances of families and the role of each type of father investment in children's lives. The papers then go beyond description and attempt to make causal inferences using sophisticated modeling techniques, taking advantage of the longitudinal nature of the datasets. The analyses include rich sets of covariates and employ fixed effects, lagged effects, and difference in difference models to address potential threats to internal validity, such as selection bias and reverse causality.
Over half of children in the US will spend some time in a single parent family. Understanding the different ways in which nonresident fathers invest in their children and how those investments impact their children is imperative. This knowledge should inform policymaking and direct practice with clients to ameliorate the disadvantages that these children face.