Sociology Ph.D. Dissertations


Father Involvement and Relationship Quality among Cohabiting Parents

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Susan L. Brown, PhD (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Deborah Wooldridge, PhD (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Alfred DeMaris, PhD (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Kara Joyner, PhD (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Laura Sanchez, PhD (Committee Member)


This research uses Fragile Families data to examine the ways in which father involvement is associated with relationship quality and transitions from cohabitation into either marriage or separation among new parents. It is widely recognized that cohabiting unions are more unstable than marriages and are typically short-lived. With the dramatic increase in cohabiting unions and 19 percent of children being born to cohabiting parents (Child Trends, 2007), understanding the processes through which cohabiting families with children survive or dissolve is vitally important. Research on the processes leading to marriage, or at least stable long-term unions, as well as an examination of the role of father involvement in these processes is needed. My dissertation research includes three central research questions: (1) What is the level of father involvement by union status/transition and do mothers and fathers report similar levels of father involvement?; (2) How are father involvement and coparenting associated with relationship quality among cohabiting and married parents?; (3) How are relationship and parenting characteristics associated with transitions out of cohabitation, through marriage or separation? I find that resident fathers (cohabiting or married) spend the most time with their children, regardless of whether they are continuously resident or become resident over the observation period, and resident parents have the least discrepancy between their reports. Nonresident fathers exhibit the lowest levels of involvement and the highest levels of discrepancy between reporters. Continuously married parents report the highest level of supportiveness from their spouse. There is no difference in supportiveness between continuously married parents and parents who transition from cohabitation to marriage over the observation period. Continuously cohabiting parents report less supportiveness than continuously married parents but are not significantly different from cohabitors who transition to marriage or parents who separate or experience multiple transitions over the observation period. Father involvement and coparenting are positively associated with mothers’ and fathers’ relationship quality. Finally, father involvement and coparenting are positively associated with cohabitors’ transitions to marriage and negatively associated with transitions to separation, net of relationship supportiveness and relationship expectations at birth. A positive coparenting relationship, in particular, is beneficial for the quality and survival of relationships among new parents.