Parental Incarceration and Children’s Well-being: Findings from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study

  • Kristin TurneyEmail author
  • Anna R. Haskins


The Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study, which follows a cohort of US children born around the turn of the twenty-first century to mostly unmarried parents in urban areas, is one data source commonly used to examine the relationship between parental incarceration and children’s well-being. In this chapter, we synthesize the existing literature that has used the Fragile Families data to understand the intergenerational consequences of parental incarceration. First, we provide an overview of these data, by documenting the sampling frame and outlining its strengths and limitations. Next, we describe key findings that have emerged from the Fragile Families data, focusing on research that examines how parental incarceration shapes children’s family environments and their well-being. Finally, we provide suggestions for future researchers interested in using the Fragile Families data to further extend our understanding of the intergenerational consequences of incarceration for families and children across the life course.


Child well-being Fragile families and child well-being study Inequality Parental incarceration 


  1. Achenbach, T. M., & Rescorla, L. Al. (2001). Manual for the ASEBA school-age forms & profiles. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont, Research Center for Children, Youth & Families.Google Scholar
  2. Blair, C., & Raver, C. C. (2016). Poverty, stress, and brain development: New directions for prevention and intervention. Academic Pediatrics, 16(3), S30–S36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1986). Ecology of the family as a context for human development: Research perspectives. Developmental Psychology, 22(6), 723–742.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bruns, A. (2017). Consequences of partner incarceration for women’s employment. Journal of Marriage and Family, 79(5), 1331–1352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cox, R., & Wallace, S. (2016). Identifying the link between food security and incarceration. Southern Economic Journal, 82(4), 1062–1077.Google Scholar
  6. Craigie, T.-A. L. (2011). The effect of paternal incarceration on early child behavioral problems: A racial comparison. Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice, 9(3), 179–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Curtis, M. A. (2011). The effect of incarceration on urban fathers’ health. American Journal of Men’s Health, 5(4), 341–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dallaire, D. H., & Wilson, L. C. (2010). The relation of exposure to parental criminal activity, arrest, and sentencing to children’s maladjustment. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19(4), 404–418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dunn, L. M., & Dunn, L. M. (1997). Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (3rd ed.). Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service.Google Scholar
  10. Farrington, D. P. (2018). The need to include biological variables in prospective longitudinal studies of the development of criminal behavior. JAMA Pediatrics, 172(2), 118–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Foster, H., & Hagan, J. (2015). Punishment regimes and the multilevel effects of parental incarceration: Intergenerational, intersectional, and interinstitutional models of social inequality and systemic exclusion. Annual Review of Sociology, 41, 135–158.Google Scholar
  12. Freese, J., & Shostak, S. (2009). Genetics and social inquiry. Annual Review of Sociology, 35, 107–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Geller, A. (2013). Paternal incarceration and father–child contact in Fragile Families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 75(5), 1288–1303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Geller, A., Cooper, C. E., Garfinkel, I., Schwartz-Soicher, O., & Mincy, R. B. (2012). Beyond absenteeism: Father incarceration and child development. Demography, 49(1), 49–76.Google Scholar
  15. Geller, A., & Curtis, M. (2011). A sort of homecoming: Incarceration and the housing security of urban men. Social Science Research, 40(4), 1196–1213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Geller, A., & Franklin, A. W. (2014). Paternal incarceration and the housing security of urban mothers. Journal of Marriage and Family, 76(2), 411–427.Google Scholar
  17. Geller, A., Garfinkel, Irwin, Cooper, Carey E., & Mincy, Ronald B. (2009). Parental incarceration and child well-being: Implications for urban families. Social Science Quarterly, 90(5), 1187–1202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Geller, A., Garfinkel, I., & Western, B. (2011). Paternal incarceration and support for children in fragile families. Demography, 48, 25–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Geller, A., Jaeger, K., & Pace, G. T. (2016). Surveys, records, and the study of incarceration in families. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 665, 22–43.Google Scholar
  20. Haskins, A. R. (2014). Unintended consequences: Effects of paternal incarceration on child school readiness and later special education placement. Sociological Science, 1(1), 141–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Haskins, A. R. (2015). Paternal incarceration and child-reported behavioral functioning at age 9. Social Science Research, 52(7), 18–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Haskins, A. R. (2016). Beyond boys’ bad behavior: Paternal incarceration and cognitive development in middle childhood. Social Forces, 95(2), 861–892.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Haskins, A. R., & Jacobson, W. C. (2017). Schools as surveilling institutions? Paternal incarceration, system avoidance, and parental involvement in schooling. American Sociological Review, 82(4), 657–684.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Haskins, A. R., & Lee, H. (2016). Reexamining race when studying the consequences of criminal justice contact for families. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 665, 224–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Haskins, A. R., & Turney, K. (2018). Demographic landscape and sociological perspectives on parental incarceration and childhood inequality. In C. Wildeman, A. Haskins and J. Poehlmann-Tynan (Eds.), When parents are incarcerated: Interdisciplinary research and interventions to support children, pp. 9–28, American Psychological Association: Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  26. Jackson, D. B., & Vaughn, M. G. (2017). Parental incarceration and child sleep and eating behaviors. The Journal of Pediatrics, 185, 211–217.Google Scholar
  27. Jacobsen, W. C. (2016). Punished for their fathers? School discipline among children of the prison boom. Fragile Families Working Paper # WP14–08-FF.Google Scholar
  28. Johnson, E. I., & Easterling, B. (2012). Understanding unique effects of parental incarceration on children: Challenges, progress, and recommendations. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74(2), 342–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Markson, L., Lamb, M. E., & Lösel, F. (2016). The impact of contextual family risks on prisoners’ children’s behavioural outcomes and the potential protective role of family functioning moderators. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 13(3), 325–340.Google Scholar
  30. Maumary-Gremaud, A. (2000). Things that you have done, grade 4/year 5 (Technical Report). Vol. FAST Track Project.Google Scholar
  31. McLeod, B., & Tirmazi, T. (2017). Paternal dimensions and complexities: Understanding the relationships between parental dyads and fathers’ involvement among Black fathers with criminal records. Journal of Family Social Work, 20(5), 376–398.Google Scholar
  32. Murphey, D., & Cooper, P. M. (2015). Parents behind bars: What happens to their children? Washington, DC: Child Trends.Google Scholar
  33. Mustaine, E. E., & Tewksbury, R. (2015). Fathers’ methods of child discipline: Does incarceration lead to harsh and physical punishment? A research note. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 40(1), 89–99.Google Scholar
  34. Perry, A. R., & Bright, M. (2012). African American fathers and incarceration: Paternal involvement and child outcomes. Social Work in Public Health, 27(1–2), 187–203.Google Scholar
  35. Poehlmann-Tynan, J., Burnson, C., Runion, H., & Weymouth, L. A. (2017). Attachment in young children with incarcerated fathers. Development and Psychopathology, 29(2), 389–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Reichman, N. E., Teitler, J. O., Garfinkel, I., & McLanahan, S. S. (2001). Fragile Families: Sample and design. Children and Youth Services Review, 23(4), 303–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Schwartz-Soicher, O., Geller, A., & Garfinkel, I. (2011). The effect of paternal incarceration on material hardship. Social Service Review, 85(3), 447–473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Shanahan, M. J., Bauldry, S., & Freeman, J. (2010). Beyond Mendel’s ghost. Contexts, 9(4), 34–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Swisher, R., & Waller, M. (2008). Confining fatherhood: Incarceration and paternal involvement among nonresident White, African American and Latino fathers. Journal of Family Issues, 29(8), 1067–1088.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Sugie, N. F. (2012). Punishment and welfare: Paternal incarceration and families’ receipt of public assistance. Social Forces, 90(4), 1403–1427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sugie, N. F. (2015). Chilling effects: Diminished political participation among partners of formerly incarcerated men. Social Problems, 62(4), 550–571.Google Scholar
  42. Turney, K. (2014a). The consequences of paternal incarceration for maternal neglect and harsh parenting. Social Forces, 92(4), 1607–1636.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Turney, K. (2014b). The intergenerational consequences of mass incarceration: Implications for children’s co-residence and contact with grandparents. Social Forces, 93(1), 299–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Turney, K. (2015a). Liminal men: Incarceration and relationship dissolution. Social Problems, 62(4), 499–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Turney, K. (2015b). Hopelessly devoted? Relationship quality during and after incarceration. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77(2), 480–495.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Turney, K. (2015c). Paternal incarceration and children’s food insecurity: A consideration of variation and mechanisms. Social Service Review, 89(2), 335–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Turney, K. (2017). The unequal consequences of mass incarceration for children. Demography, 54(1), 361–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Turney, K., & Goodsell, R. (2018). Parental incarceration and children’s wellbeing. Future of Children, 28, 147–164.Google Scholar
  49. Turney, K., & Haskins, A. R. (2014). Falling behind? Children’s early grade retention after paternal incarceration. Sociology of Education, 87(4), 241–258.Google Scholar
  50. Turney, K., & Schneider, D. (2016). Incarceration and household asset ownership. Demography, 53(6), 2075–2103.Google Scholar
  51. Turney, K., Schnittker, J., & Wildeman, C. (2012). Those they leave behind: Paternal incarceration and maternal instrumental support. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74(5), 1149–1165.Google Scholar
  52. Turney, K., & Wildeman, C. (2013). Redefining relationships: Explaining the countervailing consequences of paternal incarceration for parenting. American Sociological Review, 78(6), 949–979.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Turney, K., & Wildeman, C. (2015). Detrimental for some? Heterogeneous effects of maternal incarceration on child wellbeing. Criminology & Public Policy, 14(1), 125–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Turney, K., & Wildeman, C. (2018). Maternal incarceration and the transformation of urban family life. Social Forces, 96(3), 1155–1182.Google Scholar
  55. Turney, K., Wildeman, C., & Schnittker, J. (2012). As fathers and felons: Explaining the effects of current and recent incarceration on major depression. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 53(4), 467–483.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Wakefield, S., & Wildeman, C. (2013). Children of the prison boom: Mass incarceration and the future of American inequality. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wechsler, D. (2003). Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children: WISC-IV. San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
  58. Wildeman, C. (2010). Paternal incarceration and children’s physically aggressive behaviors: Evidence from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study. Social Forces, 89(1), 285–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Wildeman, C., Schnittker, J., & Turney, K. (2012). Despair by association? The mental health of mothers with children by recently incarcerated fathers. American Sociological Review, 77(2), 216–243.Google Scholar
  60. Wildeman, C., & Turney, K. (2014). Positive, negative, or null? The effects of maternal incarceration on children’s behavioral problems. Demography, 51(3), 1041–1068.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Wildeman, C., Turney, K., & Schnittker, J. (2014). The hedonic consequences of punishment revisited. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 104(1), 133–163.Google Scholar
  62. Wildeman, C., Turney, K., & Yi, Y. (2016). Paternal incarceration and family functioning: Variation across federal, state, and local facilities. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 665(1), 80–97.Google Scholar
  63. Woldoff, R., & Washington, H. (2008). Arrested contact: The criminal justice system, race, and father engagement. The Prison Journal, 88(2), 179–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Woodard, T., & Copp, J. E. (2016). Maternal incarceration and children’s delinquent involvement: The role of sibling relationships. Children and Youth Services Review,70, 340–348.Google Scholar
  65. Woodcock, R. W., McGrew, K. S., & Mather, N. (2001). Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement. Itasca, IL: Riverside Publishing.Google Scholar
  66. Yi, Y., Turney, K., & Wildeman, C. (2017). Mental health among jail and prison inmates. American Journal of Men’s Health, 11, 900–909.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

Personalised recommendations