Engaging Absent Fathers: Lessons from Paternity Establishment Programs

Maya Rossin, Columbia University

I provide the first comprehensive analysis of the causal effects of in-hospital voluntary paternity establishment (IHVPE) programs on paternity establishment and consequent family structure and well-being. Using variation in the timing of IHVPE initiation, I show that IHVPE programs increase paternity establishment rates by 38 percent, and reduce the likelihood of parental marriage post-childbirth. The decrease in marriage leads to positive selection into samples of both married and unmarried fathers, providing evidence for an increase in the marriage threshold in father quality. Accounting for selection out of marriage, there is some indication of a net reduction in father transfers: private health insurance provision for children declines, while maternal labor supply increases. On the whole, measures of child welfare such as total family income and child mental and physical health are unaffected, although children’s access to preventative care declines. I perform numerous robustness checks to support the validity of my findings.

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Presented in Session 2: Men’s Roles in Families and Relationships