Fathers' Incarceration and Child Development

Amanda B. Geller, Columbia University
Carey E. Cooper, Princeton University
Ofira Schwartz-Soicher, Columbia University
Irwin Garfinkel, Columbia University
Ronald B. Mincy, Columbia University

High rates of incarceration among urban men, and high rates of fatherhood among men in prisons, have raised concerns about the effects of parental incarceration on children. We use a longitudinal survey of nearly 5,000 urban families to examine the effect of fathers’ incarceration on children’s socioemotional and cognitive development. Controlling for a rich set of potential confounders, and using lagged measures of child development and individual fixed effects, we find a significant effect of fathers’ recent incarceration on children’s externalizing behavior and attention problems. Placebo tests confirm that these relationships are unlikely to be due to unobserved heterogeneity between families. We anticipate that the effects are mediated by mental health difficulties among mothers left behind, and suggest that strengthened support for families left behind, coupled with a reduction in the use of incarceration where appropriate, may reduce the collateral harm to children of incarcerated fathers.

  See paper

Presented in Session 148: Criminal Justice System Issues for Children and Youth