The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Understanding the Fatherhood Premium

Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King

Much research has centered on the “marriage premium,” the wage increase that men garner after marrying. Fewer studies, however, has dealt with the “fatherhood premium,” and those that exist have dealt with “fatherhood” as a more or less heterogeneous mass. A new study by Harvard researcher Alexandra Killewald seeks to investigate how the different types of fatherhood impact the fatherhood premium.

Killewald focuses on “three dimensions of fatherhood: marriage to the child’s mother, coresidence with the child, and biological paternity.” Using a longitudinal data set and with a final sample of 4,566 men, she uses fixed-effects models to compare wages before and after childbirth, while controlling for educational attainment, cognitive achievement (as measured by the Armed Forces Qualification Test), and health limitations on work performance.

The study’s results indicate overwhelmingly that married men who live with their wives and children enjoy the greatest fatherhood premium. Killewald first discusses the differences that marriage makes, and writes that “[m]arried residential fathers have a statistically significant wage premium of 3.7 percent compared to married childless men.” Comparatively, unmarried fathers—even those who live with their children—do not enjoy a wage premium in comparison with childless men. Next, Killewald moves to discuss coresidency, and once again, marriage makes all the difference. “Among married men,” she writes, “married residential fathers earn 5.9 percent more than nonresidential fathers, and the difference is statistically significant (p = .002).” “For unmarried fathers,” she continues, “the difference between residential and nonresidential fathers’ wages is not statistically significant for any individual union status.” These results, Killewald writes, indicate a “crucial” link between marriage and coresidence. Only for married men does residency with children seem to affect the wage premium. Lastly, Killewald looks at the impact biology makes—does the fatherhood premium affect biological fathers and stepfathers equally? She finds that nonbiological fathers are at a serious disadvantage, so much so that
“[f]or men who marry women with children the marriage premium is in large part offset by the stepfather penalty.”

In a discussion of her findings, Killewald claims that it is impossible to distinguish what effect increased labor has on the fatherhood premium (i.e., men who become fathers work harder to provide for their families) as compared to what she terms “employer discrimination”—employers pay men with children more or deem such men more responsible and promote them at a higher rate.  Another interesting finding is that “only men married to women working less than full-time receive a statistically significant fatherhood premium.” Even married, coresident, biological fathers do not receive a statistically significant premium if their wives devote too much time to work outside the home.

Whatever the causes, the results are clear to the researcher: “We observe a fatherhood premium only for men for whom all three ties of marriage, coresidency, and biology are mutually reinforcing.”

(Alexandra Killewald, “A Reconsideration of the Fatherhood Premium: Marriage, Coresidence, Biology, and Fathers’ Wages,” American Sociological Review 78.1 [2013]:96-116.)