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Nonresident Father Involvement: Do Mothers and Fathers See Eye-to-Eye? An Investigation of the Impact of Reporting Discrepancies on Parameter Estimates

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Publication Date: January 2002

Publisher(s): Pardee Rand Graduate School

Author(s): Lee Mizell

Topic: Social conditions (Social policy)

Type: Report


This dissertation explores issues associated with the use of mothers' proxy reports of nonresident fathers' characteristics and behaviors in analysis of child well-being. Specifically, it addresses the following research questions: (1) Are there discrepancies between mothers' and nonresident fathers' reports of nonresident fathers' characteristics and behaviors? (2) Do these discrepancies occur systematically in a manner that potentially underrepresents nonresident fathers' involvement with and on behalf of their children? (3) Do reporting discrepancies cause parameters estimates to vary depending on whose reports are used? (4) Does information about these discrepancies help us understand variation in child well-being? and (5) What are the implications for future research and policymaking? In answering these questions this dissertation makes three contributions to the body of existing research on nonresident fathers and families and to policymaking and practice. It first reveals how using paired data for traditionally difficult-to-survey families may be biased in the absence of a nonresponse correction. It then identifies if and/or which parameter estimates in existing research that use mothers as proxy reporters for nonresident fathers might be biased. Finally, because social policies and programs frequently target difficult-to-reach populations, it illuminates the question of whether or not it is worthwhile to allocate additional resources to collect data from them. Findings suggest that there are real differences in the way mothers and fathers report nonresident father characteristics and behavior, and that these discrepancies affect estimates of the relationship between nonresident father involvement and child well-being. Discrepancies may be due to instrumentation, latent variables, a true lack of knowledge on the part of the mother, and differences in mothers' and fathers' experiences with and perceptions of parenting, as well as social pressures and child effects.