Nonresident Fathers and the Economic Precarity of Their Children

AuthorLenna Nepomnyaschy,Margaret Thomas,Alex Haralampoudis,Huiying Jin
Published date01 July 2022
Date01 July 2022
Subject MatterSupport from Nonresident Fathers
78 ANNALS, AAPSS, 702, July 2022
DOI: 10.1177/00027162221119348
Fathers and the
Precarity of
Their Children
This study examines the relationship between nonresi-
dent fathers and their children’s economic precarity.
We use a racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically
diverse sample of children in large U.S. cities and con-
sider a comprehensive set of measures of the involve-
ment of nonresident fathers in their lives. We evaluate
both voluntary and involuntary (court-ordered child
support) involvement of fathers, and we look at mate-
rial hardship and income-to-poverty ratio as measures
of children’s economic precarity. We find that only high
levels of formal child support have a protective effect
on children’s economic well-being, while fathers’ volun-
tary involvement (experienced by 70 percent of chil-
dren) has a more consistent protective effect. Overall,
policies to reduce children’s economic precarity need
to focus on improving nonresident fathers’ ability to be
involved with and contribute to their children, as well
as on direct assistance to custodial mother families.
Keywords: nonresident fathers; father involvement;
child support; economic precarity; poverty;
material hardship
One-quarter of all children in the United
States today live apart from one of their
biological parents, most often their father,
which is the highest rate among 130 countries
across the world (Kramer 2019). Additionally,
because of the dynamic nature of family processes,
Lenna Nepomnyaschy is an Associate Professor at
Rutgers School of Social Work. Her work examines the
effects of poverty and inequality on child well-being,
with particular focus on the role of low-income fathers
and how social and economic policies promote or
inhibit fathers’ ability to be involved with their children.
Margaret Thomas is an Assistant Professor of social
welfare at the University of California, Los Angeles
Luskin School of Public Affairs. Her scholarship centers
on material hardship and poverty, examining their con-
sequences for the health and well-being of children and
families in the United States and policies that shape
those experiences of deprivation.
over half of U.S. children will spend some part of childhood in this type of living
arrangement (McLanahan and Jencks 2015). Children in single-parent, female-
headed households are four times more likely to experience poverty than their
peers living in two-parent households (U.S. Census Bureau 2021). These chil-
dren are also much more likely to encounter other forms of economic deprivation
including food insecurity, housing instability, evictions, homelessness, and insuf-
ficient medical care. Nonresident fathers’ financial and social involvement may
reduce economic precarity in children’s households by increasing economic
resources, reducing maternal stress, enhancing mothers’ ability to work, and
improving relationships (McLanahan and Sandefur 1994; Magnuson and
Votruba-Drzal 2009). However, prior empirical evidence of the effect of non-
resident father involvement on economic precarity is quite mixed, likely due to
differences in measures of economic well-being and nonresident fathers’ involve-
ment, sample composition, and country of analysis. In this study, we address
some of these inconsistencies. We use panel data on a racially and ethnically
diverse sample of families to examine the associations of a comprehensive set of
measures of nonresident father involvement with two measures of the economic
well-being of 5- to 15-year-old children living with their biological mothers1 in
the United States over a 10-year period.
Economic precarity refers to experiences of economic insecurity and instability
that are marked by low levels of economic resources and deprivation. In the cur-
rent study, we focus on household income poverty and experiences of material
hardship. As documented above and throughout the other articles in this volume,
children in single-parent, female-headed families in the United States, and in
other countries, are at the greatest risk of experiencing these forms of economic
precarity compared to children in all other family forms.
Nonresident father involvement
Nonresident father involvement, a multifaceted construct encompassing pro-
vision of economic resources and quantity and quality of interactions with
Alex Haralampoudis is a PhD candidate at Rutgers School of Social Work. Her research focuses
broadly on the impact of social policies on families living in poverty, with a particular interest
in tax policy. Her work is supported by a Presidential Fellowship from the Graduate School
New Brunswick.
Huiying Jin is a PhD candidate at Rutgers University. Her research focuses broadly on the
well-being of children living in poverty, with a particular interest in work-life programs. Her
interests include mothers’ nonstandard work schedules, childcare costs, nonresident fathers’
involvement, and poverty alleviation programs.
NOTE: We would like to thank Francesca Baroni and Emily Dalton, MSW students at Rutgers
University, for their research assistance on this article.

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