Author's School

Brown School

Date of Award

Summer 8-15-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Patricia Kohl

Committee Members

Amy Eyler, Sean Joe, Vetta Sanders-Thompson, Richard Tolman, Todd Swanstrom


Child support policy is one of the key forces in the lives of families in the U.S., where 1 in 4 children and half of African American children live apart from their fathers (Carlson et al., 2017; Grall, 2020; U.S. Census Bureau, 2014). Most unmarried fathers of newborns express a strong desire and commitment to their children (Carlson & McLanahan, 2002; England & Edin, 2007). However, by the time their children turn five, fathers'; involvement (caregiving and time, provision of child support) diminishes greatly (Turner & Waller, 2017). This decrease in father involvement among low-income NRFs is thought to be related to unintended consequences of child support policy; however, little is known about the effect of child support policy design on father identity. Yet less is understood about how child support policy exerts this effect, or which specific aspects of policy design play a meaningful role. The overarching purpose of this research is to investigate the effect of child support policy design on father identity among low-income fathers living apart from their children using in-depth interviews with fathers, state-level policy design data, and transcripts of governors' state of the state addresses. The findings of this study suggest that child support policy design influences fathers parenting self-esteem by increasing role strain.