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Those They Leave Behind: Paternal Incarceration and Maternal Instrumental Support


  • Department of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, 3718 Locust Walk, Philadelphia, PA 19104.

  • Department of Sociology, Yale University, P.O. Box 208265, New Haven, CT 06520.

Department of Sociology, University of California, 3151 Social Science Plaza, Irvine, CA 92697 (


As the American imprisonment rate has risen, researchers have become increasingly concerned about the implications of mass imprisonment for family life. The authors extend this research by examining how paternal incarceration is linked to perceived instrumental support among the mothers of inmates' children. Results from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N = 4,132) suggest that recent, but not current, paternal incarceration is independently associated with less maternal perceived instrumental support and that this association persists after adjusting for a rich set of control variables, including prior perceived instrumental support. For families of recently incarcerated men, incarceration may be a double strike, simultaneously increasing the need for instrumental support while decreasing its availability when incarcerated fathers return to the community.