Journal of Family and Economic Issues

, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 253–264 | Cite as

A Big Brother: New Findings on How Low-Income Fathers Define Responsible Fatherhood

  • Monika J. U. MyersEmail author
Original Paper


I interviewed 57 low-income fathers about how they define responsible fatherhood. Unlike findings from previous research, their definition did not include financial provision or daily caregiving. Instead, their definition included six dimensions, some of which resemble a “Big Brother”: spending time in non-caregiving activities; avoiding harm by voluntarily distancing from the child when it is in the child’s best interest; acknowledging paternity in non-legal forums; spending money on gifts, joint activities, and special needs; monitoring the child’s home for trouble; and minimizing absences in the child’s life. Because these fathers do not emphasize traditional breadwinning or primary caregiving, their responsible fathering beliefs and behavior may be unappreciated by academics, practitioners, and policy makers.


Fatherhood Fragile families Low-income father Responsible fatherhood 


  1. Akers, R. (2009). Social learning and social structure. Edison, NJ: Transaction Publishers.Google Scholar
  2. Allen, B., Nunley, J., & Seals, A. (2011). The effect of joint-custody-legislation on the child-support receipt of single mothers. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 32, 124–139. doi: 10.1007/s10834-010-9193-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Amato, P. (2005). The impact of family formation change on the cognitive, social, and emotional well-being of the next generation. Future of Children, 15, 75–96. doi: 10.1353/foc.2005.0012.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bartkowski, J. (2004). The promise keepers: Servants, soldiers, and Godly men. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. (2008). School-based mentoring. Retrieved from
  6. Brunson, R. K., & Miller, J. (2006). Gender, race, and urban policing: the experience of African American youths. Gender & Society, 20, 531–552. doi: 10.1177/0891243206287727.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carlson, M., & McLanahan, S. (2010). Fathers’ characteristics and capabilities. In M. Lamb (Ed.), The role of the father in child development (5th ed., pp. 241–260). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  8. Cherlin, A. (2005). American marriage in the early twenty-first century. The Future of Children, 15(2), 33–55. Retrieved from
  9. Coleman-Jensen, A. (2011). Working for peanuts: nonstandard work and food insecurity across household structure. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 32, 84–97. doi: 10.1007/s10834-010-9190-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Coltrane, S. (1989). Household labor and the routine production of gender. Social Problems, 36, 473–490. Retrieved from
  11. Coltrane, S. (2001). Marketing the marriage solution: misplaced simplicity in the politics of fatherhood. Sociological Perspectives, 44(4), 387–402. Retrieved from
  12. Cooper, J. (2007). Cognitive dissonance: 50 years of a classic theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  13. Day, R., & Lamb, M. (Eds.). (2004). Conceptualizing and measuring father involvement. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  14. Doherty, W. J., Kouneski, E. F., & Erickson, M. F. (1998). Responsible fathering: an overview and conceptual framework. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60(2), 277–292. doi: 10.2307/353848.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Edin, K., & Lein, L. (1997). Making ends meet: How single mothers survive welfare and low-wage work. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  16. Edin, K., & Reed, J. (2005). Why don’t they just get married? Barriers to marriage among the disadvantaged. The Future of Children, 15(2), 117–137. doi: 10.1353/foc.2005.0017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gavanas, A. (2004). Fatherhood politics in the United States: Masculinity, sexuality, race, and marriage. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  18. Gerson, K. (1985). Hard choices: How women decide about work, career, and motherhood. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  19. Hamer, J. F. (2001). What it means to be daddy: Fatherhood for black men living away from their children. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Hofferth, S., Forry, N., & Peters, H. E. (2010). Child support, father-child contact, and preteens’ involvement with nonresidential fathers: racial/ethnic differences. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 31, 14–32. doi: 10.1007/s10834-009-9172-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hofferth, S., & Pinzon, A. (2011). Do nonresidential fathers’ financial support and contact improve children’s health? Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 32, 280–295. doi: 10.1007/s10834-010-9237-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lamb, M., Pleck, J. H., Charnov, E., & Levine, J. (1987). A biosocial perspective on paternal behavior and involvement. In J. Lancaster, J. Altman, & A. Rossi (Eds.), Parenting across the lifespan: Biosocial perspectives (pp. 111–142). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  23. Lamb, M., Pleck, J. H., & Levine, J. (1985). The role of the father in child development: The effects of increased paternal involvement. In B. B. Lahey & A. E. Kazdin (Eds.), Advances in clinical child psychology (pp. 229–255). New York: Plenum.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Levine, J., & Pitt, E. (1995). New expectations: Community strategies for responsible fatherhood. New York: Families and Work Institute.Google Scholar
  25. Madhubuti, H. R., & Karenga, M. (Eds.). (1996). Million man march/day of absence: A commemorative anthology, speeches, commentary, photography, poetry, illustrations & documents. Chicago, IL: Third World Press.Google Scholar
  26. Marsiglio, W., Hutchinson, S., & Cohan, M. (2001). Young men’s procreative identity: Becoming aware, being aware, and being responsible. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62, 1173–1191. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2001.00123.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Maume, D. (2010). Reconsidering the temporal increase in fathers’ time with children. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 32, 411–423. doi: 10.1007/s10834-010-9227-y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Moynihan, D. P. (1965). The Negro family: The case for national action. Retrieved from
  29. Nelson, T. (2004). Low-income fathers. Annual Review of Sociology, 30, 427–451. doi: 10.1146/annurev.soc.29.010202.095947.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Nock, S. (2005). Marriage as a public issue. The Future of Children, 15(2), 13–32. Retrieved from
  31. Phillips, C., & Bowling, B. (2003). Racism, ethnicity, and criminology: Developing minority perspectives. British Journal of Criminology, 43, 269–290. doi: 10.1093/bjc/43.2.269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Reichman, N., Teitler, J., Garfinkel, I., & McLanahan, S. (2001). Fragile families: Sample and design. Children and Youth Services Review, 23(45), 303–326. doi: 10.1016/S0190-7409(01)00141-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Roy, K. (2004). You can’t eat love: Constructing provider role expectations for low-income and working-class fathers. Fathering, 2(3), 253–276. doi: 10.3149/fth.0203.253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Stacey, J. (1998). Brave new families: Stories of domestic upheaval in late-twentieth century America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  35. Tamis-LaMonda, C. S., & Cabrera, N. (2002). Handbook of father involvement: Multidisciplinary perspectives. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.Google Scholar
  36. Taylor, J. M., Gilligan, C., & Sullivan, A. M. (1995). Between voice and silence: Women and girls, race and relationship. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  37. U.S. Bureau of the Census. (2007). State and county quick facts. Washington, DC: U.S. Bureau of the Census. Retrieved from
  38. Waller, M. & Swisher, R. (2006). Fathers risk factors in fragile families: Implications for healthy relationships and father involvement. Social Forces, 53(3), 392–420. Retrieved from Google Scholar
  39. Wilson, W. J. (1987). Truly disadvantaged: The innercity, the underclass, and public policy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  40. Wrong, D. H. (1961). The oversocialized conception of man in modern sociology. American Sociological Review, 26(2), 183–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Criminology, Sociology, and GeographyArkansas State UniversityJonesboroUSA

Personalised recommendations