Voluntary Fatherhood: When Men Voluntarily Invest in Non-Biological Children

Jeannie M. Hahl, University of Michigan
Pamela J. Smock, University of Michigan
Christina Cross, University of Michigan
Sara R. Zobl, University of Michigan

Despite recent attention to social fatherhood in the stepfamily literature, scholarship has not consistently distinguished men who voluntarily parent non-biological and non-adoptive children from otherwise similar men. Our analysis addresses this literature gap by conceptualizing and identifying men who invest in the biological children of other men, despite having no legal or cultural obligation to do so; we term them ‘voluntary fathers.’ Formally, we define voluntary fatherhood as a type of parenting in which men voluntarily invest in non-biological children to the extent that they would be legally or culturally compelled to invest in biological and adoptive children. Once our measure is finalized, we estimate the proportion of children residing with non-biological father figures and the proportion of children residing with non-biological father figures who act as voluntary fathers. Given that high quality parenting relationships are associated with improved child outcomes, our research has important implications for child well being.

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 Presented in Session P1. Marriage, Unions, Families, and Households