Redefining Relationships: Explaining the Countervailing Consequences of Paternal Incarceration for Parenting.

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Turney, Kristin.
Wildeman, Christopher.
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In response to dramatic increases in imprisonment, a burgeoning literature considers the consequences of incarceration for family life, almost always documenting negative consequences. But the effects of incarceration may be more complicated and nuanced and, in this paper, we consider the countervailing consequences of paternal incarceration for a host of family relationships, including fathers' parenting, mothers' parenting, and the relationship between parents. Using longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study and a rigorous research design, we find recent paternal incarceration sharply diminishes parenting behaviors among residential fathers but not among nonresidential fathers. Virtually all of the association between incarceration and parenting among residential fathers can be explained by changes in fathers' relationships with their children's mothers. The consequences for mothers' parenting, however, are inconsistent and weak. Furthermore, our findings show recent paternal incarceration sharply increases the probability a mother will repartner, potentially offsetting some losses in the involvement of the biological father while simultaneously leading to greater family complexity. Taken together, the collateral consequences of paternal incarceration for family life are complex and countervailing. (Author abstract)

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