Family Complexity and Fathers' Financial Investment in Children: The Mediational Role of Accessibility
Extensive research has demonstrated the critical importance of father involvement for children’s well-being. A parallel but newer body of work indicates that family complexity arising from multiple-partner fertility (MPF) (parents with children from multiple relationships) is associated with differential child well-being outcomes. Despite this evidence, we have a limited understanding of the relation between MPF and fathers’ economic contributions to children and intervening factors that may mediate this association. Knowledge about the link between fathers’ MPF and financial support to children is important to social work policy and practice because men’s ability to make economic investments in offspring has significant implications for children’s poverty and successful development. This study is intended to improve our understanding in this area by evaluating the role of MPF in fathers’ financial contributions to children and the role that accessibility (the extent to which fathers have access to their children) mediates that relationship.
This study utilized data from the Chicago Youth Development Study (CYDS), a 17-year longitudinal study of minority men (N=300) living in inner-city Chicago communities that examined development, paternity, father involvement, parenting, and child functioning. The analytic sample included 165 CYDS respondents who reported being fathers, of whom 35% (n=58) had MPF relationships leading to more than one child across partnerships. The outcome variable is an 8-item scale measuring the financial contribution that fathers make to their children including paying for clothes, toys/books, and health insurance. Primary predictor variables include MPF and father accessibility to his children. Multilevel linear models examined the effects of father- and child-level predictors on fathers’ economic contributions to children adjusting for clustering of children within fathers. Additional analyses examined whether accessibility was a mediator of fathers’ financial investments in children. All models included key demographic control variables including poverty, marital status, father’s education, father’s employment, child’s age, child’s gender, and number of children.
Analyses indicated that fathers with children from multiple-partner relationships were less likely than fathers from single-partner relationships to provide financial responsibility to their children (p < .001). Findings from mediational analyses suggested that accessibility mediates the effect of multiple-partner fertility on father’s financial contributions. Following the criteria for testing mediation (Baron & Kenny, 1986), when accessibility was included in the model as an intervening variable, the main effect for MPF was reduced by 69% and the coefficient for multiple-partner fertility was reduced to nonsignficance (p = .279).
Identifying factors related to fathers’ economic contributions in complex families is critical to informing prevention and intervention policies aimed at promoting child well-being and reducing poverty and inequality. Findings from this study indicate that the negative relationship between multiple-partner fertility and fathers’ financial investment in children is fully mediated by fathers’ accessibility to his children. Implications of this study are valuable to social work practitioners and researchers as it provides insight into one of the mechanisms through which MPF affects fathers’ contributions and suggests the need to focus intervention efforts on addressing accessibility barriers between fathers and children born to mothers from different relationships.