The overall aim of this project is to investigate the factors associated with men becoming unwed fathers and the nature and consequences of unmarried fathers'involvement with children. This is an important topic, given the large and growing number of men who will have at least one child outside of marriage and the large fraction of children and mothers who will be exposed to their fathering behavior. Yet, our knowledge about nonmarital fathering and how it affects partners, children, and the fathers themselves remains limited, in part because men are often under-represented in national surveys. Fathers represent an important resource for children, ideally investing the time, money and emotion that promote healthy child development and socialization, but unwed fathers often have individual and contextual characteristics that deter and complicate their potential for positive involvement in family life;these include low human capital, high rates of social-behavioral problems, and a high likelihood of living away from their child, as well as three important but little explored factors related to nonmarital fathering fathers'ongoing relationships with mothers (whether romantic and/or co-parenting), the fact that unmarried men (and women) often have children by multiple partners (so-called `multi-partnered fertility'), and the fact that a non-trivial number of unwed fathers have been or will be incarcerated. Using three national datasets (the National Survey of Family Growth, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, and the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study), this research will provide new information about the trajectories and consequences of recent and contemporary nonmarital fathering. The study includes three specific aims: 1) To evaluate the antecedents of nonmarital fatherhood and the effects of becoming an unwed father on the male life course;2) To analyze the nature and dynamics of unwed fathers'involvement in families as partners and parents, especially as linked to relationships with mothers, multi-partnered fertility, and paternal incarceration;and 3) To examine the consequences of unmarried fathers'involvement for the wellbeing of children and of fathers themselves, including whether the benefits are moderated by fathers'characteristics or context. Using a life course perspective and drawing on family systems theory, this project will evaluate key stages and turning points in men becoming and then being unmarried fathers, including factors that both enhance and deter positive parenting over time. The study will explore race/ethnic differences in unwed fathering and consider key analytic challenges related to social selection and missing data. Overall, this study will provide new information about the process, content, and consequences of nonmarital fathering for children and families and may shed light on the development of sound policies and programs to strengthen families. PUBLIC HELATH

Public Health Relevance

This study will provide new information about the factors associated with men becoming unwed fathers and the nature and consequences of unmarried fathers'involvement with children. Given the rising fraction of births that occur outside of marriage and the negative consequences of father absence for children, this study will provide information to aid the development of sound policies and programs to keep fathers connected to children and to strengthen families across diverse contexts.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Study Section
Social Sciences and Population Studies Study Section (SSPS)
Program Officer
King, Rosalind B
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University of Wisconsin Madison
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Ellerbe, Calvina Z; Jones, Jerrett B; Carlson, Marcia J (2018) Race/Ethnic Differences in Nonresident Fathers' Involvement after a Nonmarital Birth. Soc Sci Q 99:1158-1182
Carlson, Marcia J; VanOrman, Alicia G; Turner, Kimberly J (2017) Fathers' Investments of Money and Time Across Residential Contexts. J Marriage Fam 79:10-23
Carlson, Marcia J; VanOrman, Alicia G (2017) Trajectories of relationship supportiveness after childbirth: Does marriage matter? Soc Sci Res 66:102-117
Högnäs, Robin S; Thomas, Jason R (2016) Birds of a Feather Have Babies Together?: Family Structure Homogamy and Union Stability among Cohabiting Parents. J Fam Issues 37:29-52
Goldberg, Julia S; Carlson, Marcia J (2015) Patterns and predictors of coparenting after unmarried parents part. J Fam Psychol 29:416-26
Thomas, Jason R; Högnäs, Robin S (2015) The Effect of Parental Divorce on the Health of Adult Children. Longit Life Course Stud 6:279-302
Cooper, Carey E; Beck, Audrey N; Högnäs, Robin S et al. (2015) Mothers' Partnership Instability and Coparenting among Fragile Families. Soc Sci Q 96:1103-1116
Goldberg, Julia S (2015) Coparenting and Nonresident Fathers' Monetary Contributions to Their Children. J Marriage Fam 77:612-627
Goldberg, Julia S; Carlson, Marcia J (2014) Parents' Relationship Quality and Children's Behavior in Stable Married and Cohabiting Families. J Marriage Fam 76:762-777
Thomson, Elizabeth; Lappegård, Trude; Carlson, Marcia et al. (2014) Childbearing across partnerships in Australia, the United States, Norway, and Sweden. Demography 51:485-508

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