Posted February 9, 2009

For young fathers, consistency starts at the beginning

According to a professor in the School of Social Administration, men who support their pregnant partners are more likely to stay in the picture after their child is born

If a young father is there for the mother during the pregnancy, the chances are good that he will be there for the child during the early childhood years.

That’s the conclusion of a recent study by Jay Fagan, a professor in Temple University’s School of Social Administration, and Natasha Cabrera, an associate professor at the University of Maryland.

In an article published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, Fagan asserts that fathers who are involved prenatally are significantly more likely to establish later residence with the child and mother either through marriage or cohabitation. The findings are based on a study of 1,686 fathers from The Bendheim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Wellbeing’s Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, which examined low-income fathers not living in their children’s homes who were not married to their children’s mothers at the time they were born.

“Men who are engaged during the pregnancy seem to make more of a commitment to their partner,” he said.

That commitment extends to improvements in their own behaviors, Fagan said.

“Sometimes when men find out that they’re going to have a baby, they clean up their act,” he said. “We found that if they’re unemployed, they find work. If they’re using drugs, they stop. If they’re doing other kinds of anti-social behaviors, they stop those as well.”

Fagan also found that those who make the choice to become part of their children’s lives early in the game stick with that choice whether they remain a part of the mother’s life or not. But, Fagan adds, these men do also tend to stay with the mothers of their children long term.

The research has public policy implications, and might be used to shape programs that address the needs of young, unmarried fathers prior to pregnancy rather than afterward, Fagan said.