(Photo by Anitra Johnson)
A 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report states that 63 percent of Black children are born to unmarried women. Under the assumption that the fathers of these children are not present in their lives, many question, why do these women have children by men who will abandon them? University of Delaware student, Nadisha Downs had another question. The 21-year-old, McNair Scholar wanted to know, what did young, unwed Black fathers think their role was in the lives of their children?
The McNair Scholars Program prepares first-generation undergrads for doctoral study through undergraduate research projects in their field of interest. Downs, a human services major with a minor in urban education, decided the topic of her research after consulting with her faculty mentor, Dr. Rob Palkovitz, and found there wasn’t much scientific study on the lives of African-American fathers.
Palkovitz researches father involvement in the lives of children, but his research doesn’t break down by race. In fact, Downs said she found scant research on Black fathers that would address well-publicized statistics on Black children born out-of-wedlock. And what she did find did not seem to square with what she knew anecdotally.
“I conducted a literature review and learned that research says that African-American men are viewed as absent, abandoning and inadequate fathers,” said Downs.
She felt that wasn’t the complete picture, though, and set out to study the issue herself. She says, being a young African-American woman from Wilmington, she wanted to focus her research on Black men, ages 18-25, in Wilmington.
Downs’ research questions asked about Black fathers’ perceptions of fatherhood, the challenges and barriers they faced as young men and how the community they live in impacts their lives. Downs said that the results of her findings are not a surprise to her.
“My research findings suggest that factors such as economic disparities, maternal support and community violence are predictive of father involvement and men’s experiences as fathers,” she said.
Although Downs plans to conduct follow-up study for her research, she isn’t quite sure she will continue to study the topic in graduate school. She will be graduating from the University of Delaware later this year and plans to complete either a master’s or Ph.D. program in social work.
“Considering that this research project has taken me so far, I may continue working on this topic in graduate school, although it is not my top choice of topics,” she admits.
But her works is certainly attracting interest within academia. After presenting the research earlier this year at the National Association of African American Studies national conference in Dallas, the organization invited Downs to present it again at its international conference this July in Durban, South Africa.
Additionally, her research will be filed and published with the Library of Congress, and research databases EBSCO and ProQuest. While it certainly did not get as much attention as the Black-children-born-out-of-wedlock statistics in the CDC’s report, Downs’ research on Black fathers’ perceptions on fatherhood offers a little more insight for those who have a few more questions.