Liminal Men: Incarceration and Family Instability
Incarceration, now a rite of passage for many economically disadvantaged minority men involving an immediate and involuntary removal from families, places these marginal men in a liminal state where they are simultaneously members of families and isolated from families. Despite a burgeoning literature documenting the collateral consequences of incarceration for family life, as well as evidence that the deleterious effects of incarceration for maternal and child wellbeing stem from resultant family instability, much less is known about the direct link between incarceration and family instability. I consider this association with data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a longitudinal survey uniquely positioned to understand the consequences of incarceration for family life. Results show that paternal incarceration is associated with relatively immediate relationship dissolution among couples in both marital and non-marital romantic partnerships when their child is born. But incarceration is inconsequential for couples that survive this initial period. The association between paternal incarceration and dissolution is not explained by post-incarceration changes in relationship quality, economic wellbeing, or physical and mental health, suggesting the liminality accompanying confinement is directly responsible for the deleterious consequences. Taken together, these findings document the consequences of liminality, link the literature on the collateral consequences of mass incarceration with the literature on demographic changes in family life, and have important implications for the transmission of inequality across generations.
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