The Effects of the Incarceration of Fathers on the Health and Wellbeing of Mothers and Children
Pruitt Walker, Sheri
Hellerstein, Judith K
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The male incarceration rate has risen dramatically in the last several decades. Over half of incarcerated men are fathers of minor children. My dissertation focuses specifically on families and addresses various aspects of how mothers and children have been affected by the incarceration of fathers. This research uses data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWB), a national sample of mostly unwed parents and their children, to estimate the causal effect of the incarceration of fathers on various outcomes for mothers and children. However, since the female partners and children of incarcerated men differ along observable characteristics from other mothers and children in the FFCWB, they are also likely to differ in terms of unobservables, and thus ordinary least squares estimation is unlikely to provide an unbiased estimate of this causal effect. Instead, I employ propensity score matching methods to estimate this effects, exploiting the rich data availability in FFCWB. The first chapter introduces these topics and provides a brief discussion. The second chapter discusses the impact of a father's incarceration on the public assistance participation of mothers as measured by welfare and food stamp program participation. A large body of research has examined consequences of incarceration on incarcerated men, while little has analyzed the effect on women who share children with incarcerated men. My research aims to fill this gap. I find robust evidence that, among women with incarcerated partners, a partner's incarceration increases the probability that mothers receive both welfare and food stamp benefits. The third chapter considers the effect of father's incarceration on the health of mothers and the development of children. The outcome variables I analyze are mothers' physical health and mental health as measured by depression and anxiety, as well as child's cognitive development and social behavior. My findings indicate that, among children with incarcerated fathers, paternal incarceration adversely affects cognitive development and increases aggressive behavior in children at age five. I also find that, among mothers with incarcerated partners, having a partner that is recently incarcerated adversely affect mothers' mental health as measured by depression, but positively affects mothers' physical health.