The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Does Father Involvement Decline after Mothers’ New-Partner Fertility or Repartnering? Evidence from a Sample of Wisconsin Welfare Participants

Sunday, January 20, 2013: 8:45 AM
Marina 5 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Emily Warren, MSW, Student, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Purpose:Increasing numbers of children are living apart from their fathers, and some research shows detrimental effects on child well-being if fathers are uninvolved (Amato & Gilbreth, 1999).  Previous research has found that father involvement with nonresident children declines when these fathers repartner or have new biological children (Manning & Smock, 1999; Seltzer, 1991). Much less is known about whether father involvement with nonresident children also declines when the custodial mother is the one who experiences these family transitions. Using two measures of involvement, we examined whether a custodial mother’s new-partner fertility or repartnering is associated with a decline in involvement by the nonresident biological father.

Method:Using a sample from the Survey of Wisconsin Works Families, a panel study of mothers participating in Wisconsin’s TANF program, we compared changes in involvement between the first and third waves for fathers of children whose mothers had and had not experienced new-partner fertility or repartnering (total N=709). The interview waves were conducted in 1999 and 2004. One-third of mothers in the sample experienced new-partner fertility between waves and one-fourth of mothers were repartnered. We measured involvement by the mother’s report of how involved the nonresident father is in regular decisions about the child’s upbringing. We measured contact by the mother’s report of frequency of contact between the nonresident father and child in the previous month. We used logistic regression to examine the likelihood of a nonresident father being involved and having contact with his child after the child’s mother experienced new-partner fertility or had repartnered. Finally, we employed a fixed-effects model to analyze changes in contact between the child and nonresident father before and after the mother’s new partner fertility and repartnering. Models control for child, parent, and relationship characteristics, including regularity of child support receipt.

Results:Findings from the logit and fixed-effects models are consistent. Involvement in decision-making declined between waves for both fathers of children whose mother experienced new-partner fertility (p=0.01) and for those whose child’s mother had repartnered (p=0.10). Contact declined for nonresident fathers whose child’s mother had repartnered (p=0.01) but not for fathers of children whose mother had experienced new-partner fertility. In addition, regular child support payments from the nonresident father was associated with an increase in both contact (p=0.01) and involvement (p=0.00).

Implications: Our findings make a contribution to what is known about how a mother’s family transitions may impact involvement among nonresident fathers of economically disadvantaged children.  These results also suggest that impacts on involvement may vary by transition type, as well as by how involvement is measured. This research contributes to our understanding of one of the causes of declines in nonresident father involvement, a decline that has important consequences for children affected by these changes. Moreover, policies aimed at families in this sample, such as healthy marriage programs, need to focus on ways to encourage positive relationships between a mother, her new partner, and the nonresident father as a means of supporting ongoing nonresident father involvement.