Low Birthweight: Do Unwed Fathers Help?

Publication Year


Journal Article

Previous studies have revealed that marital status is an important predictor of birth outcomes, with unmarried mothers having a higher probability than married mothers of delivering low birthweight babies. However, research on the impact of different mother-father relationships among unwed parents is virtually non-existent and little is known about whether and how father involvement affects birth outcomes. In this study, we use the sample of unwed parents in the 7-cities baseline Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing data to examine the effects of parents' relationship status and support provided by the baby's father during pregnancy on the likelihood of delivering a low birthweight baby, and to examine whether father involvement explains racial and ethnic disparities in low birthweight. We include several variables that past studies have suggested may be important in explaining birth outcomes but generally have not been able to include, such as mother's social support, her attitudes and values, and her religiosity. We find that having received monetary support from the baby's father has a negative effect on the likelihood of low birthweight and that mothers who are in a non-cohabiting romantic relationship with the father have significantly higher odds of low birthweight compared to mothers who cohabit with the father of their baby. Finally, racial ethnic differences in birth outcomes within this population appear to be invariant to the level of father involvement. A major contribution of the study is that it uses rich new data to examine birth outcomes in a population at high risk—unmarried mothers—and incorporates measures such as parents' relationship status and father's financial support, along with an extensive set of demographic, social, and behavioral risk factors.

Children and Youth Services Review