Fathers and Low-Income Children’s Academic and Behavioral Outcomes: The Role of Social and Economic Policies

Are social and economic policies potential levers for increasing father involvement and reducing economic disparities in youth academic and behavioral outcomes?

Low-income children often fare worse academically and behaviorally than their more affluent peers. Research suggests that involvement by fathers may improve these outcomes, but father involvement has been overlooked as a possible strategy for reducing economic-based inequality in child outcomes. Although policies affecting wages, labor, criminal justice, and child support arrears could affect the amount of time and income fathers spend with and on their children, research and programming have focused on behavioral interventions for the children rather than on the policies that may shape father involvement. Miller and his colleagues will examine existing survey and qualitative interview data to provide new insights into whether, and in which contexts, father involvement reduces economic-based inequality in children’s academic and behavioral outcomes. The team will use several nationally representative datasets to test if father residence and involvement are associated with differences in children’s reading, verbal, and math scores; grade retention; and suspensions for children from low- and high-income families. They will also consider children’s mental health symptoms and delinquent behaviors. To examine if state-level policies are associated with father involvement across states and over time, the team will compile a database of state-level wage, labor, child support, and criminal justice policies and link these to the individual-level datasets. The team will analyze the interview data for fathering challenges related to low-wage work, child support debt, and incarceration to contextualize the quantitative findings.