Almost one-third of all children and 70% of African American children in the U.S. are born to parents who are not married. At the time of children's births, almost all unmarried fathers have contact with their infants, but this connection drops over time. This study presents a study of 55 unmarried low-income African American couples in the early months after the birth of a child. The study considers the implications of the quality of parents' couple relationship, as well as of parents' demographics, personal resources, and family structure for understanding variation in fathers' involvement with their infants. The present study is one of the first to collect in-depth observational and parent-reported data from both unmarried mothers and fathers about how their couple relationships are faring and about the fathers' involvement with their infants. Neither mothers' nor fathers' age, education, or income were linked to father involvement. Fathers of sons and fathers of daughters had similar levels of involvement with their infants. And, although fathers who lived with their infants provided more financial support, they did not necessarily provide more hands-on care of their infants compared to fathers who lived separately. The quality of the parents' relationship as a couple was linked to the father's involvement. Fathers were more involved with their children when the parents had more supportive, satisfying, and less negative relationships, both according to parents' own perceptions and as rated by independent observers who watched videotapes of the parents talking to each other. There was some indication that the link between better functioning couple relationships and greater father involvement may have held only for families with infant girls. The findings linking the quality of couple relationships and father involvement extend the well-documented conclusion from the research on married families that better functioning couple relationships are linked to greater father involvement. The findings also suggest that parents' demographics, personal resources, and coresidence may not be as central to understanding unmarried fathers' involvement with their infants as has been assumed. (Author abstract)
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