Who Is the Residential Parent? Explaining Discrepancies in Unmarried Mother and Father Reports of Children’s Primary Residence

Maureen Waller, Cornell University
Margaret Jones, Cornell University

Despite efforts to evaluate reporting bias on survey measures of paternal involvement, there is little research examining the consistency of unmarried mothers’ and fathers’ reports of where their children reside. This paper uses data from the Fragile Families Survey (N=1,156) to compare parents’ reports of children’s residence 5 years after a nonmarital birth in situations where parents indicate they are living apart. Information from matched pairs suggests discrepancies in about 33% of cases. Findings from logistic regressions show that parents’ part-time cohabitation status and children spending an intermediate number of nights with the father are highly predictive of both mothers and fathers identifying themselves as the residential parent. The results suggest that using only one parent’s reports of children’s living arrangements may be unreliable when unmarried parents’ romantic relationships are ambiguous or children spend a considerable amount of time with their father. Implications for survey measurement and policy are discussed.

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Presented in Poster Session 7