Among young parents, Hamer found, “there’s no conversation about what it means to be a parent. That was part of the issue for these men; they didn’t really understand what their place was.”
Kefalas, on the other hand, says that her research yielded almost the opposite conclusion: Not only were young men discussing the possibility of children with their sexual partners, but they also talked to their women about wanting babies.
“A very distinctive phenomenon among low-income populations, across white, Hispanic and black men, was that you’d hear guys going, ‘I wanna have a baby by you’ to their 17-year-old girlfriend,” Kefalas says. “Now, what does that mean? A cynic would say it’s just a pickup line, and I’m sure there are young men who say it in that cynical sense. But I also believe that in that moment, many of them believe it to a certain extent.”
(Here, it’s important to remember that not all absent fathers were never married to their child’s mother. In a study from 1991, only 39 percent of the lone mothers sampled were never married.)
Hamer says she’s “not sure she’d disagree” with financial abortions, but she’s skeptical of their success in low-income communities. “I think it would have a greater impact on men who actually have the means to provide financial assistance to their children.”
The researchers agree that, in the end, fatherhood in America is so inextricably linked to financial support that many young black dads end up having ersatz financial abortions simply by leaving their families.
“Everyone’s invoking this cultural script about parenting and ignoring the fact that, in both legal and civil society, fatherhood is defined by economic ability,” says Kefalas. “And you have this whole class of men who are systematically blocked from achieving those economic requirements.”
Adds Hamer, “It’s not that these men have different values than middle-income men. They want their child to go to college, they want to be able to take their child to Disneyworld, they want all those things — it’s just not possible.”
Cord Jefferson is a staff writer for The Root. Follow him on Twitter.