Countervailing Consequences of Paternal Incarceration for Parenting Quality
To date, research on the linkages between paternal incarceration and family life has taken two forms. On the one hand, quantitative research tends to consider effects on child wellbeing and generally concludes paternal incarceration harms children. Qualitative research, on the other hand, tends to consider how incarceration alters relationships between partners and suggests a nuanced combination of positive, negative, and null effects. In this paper, we attempt to rectify these seemingly disparate findings by considering the countervailing consequences of paternal incarceration for both fathers’ and mothers’ parenting. Using longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study and an exceptionally rigorous research design, we find that recent paternal incarceration sharply diminishes the quality of biological fathers’ parenting, especially for residential fathers. Furthermore, virtually all of this association can be explained by changes in fathers’ relationships with their children’s mothers. Effects on mothers’ parenting, however, are more inconsistent, as recent paternal incarceration is not consistently associated with any measure of maternal parenting across all modeling strategies. Our findings also show that recent paternal incarceration sharply increases the probability a mother will repartner, potentially offsetting some losses in the involvement of the biological father. Taken together, the collateral consequences of paternal incarceration for family life are complex and countervailing.
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