American Sociological Association

Paternal Incarceration and Teachers’ Expectations of Students

In the past 40 years, paternal imprisonment has been transformed from an event affecting only the most unfortunate children to one that one in four African American children experience. Although research speculates that the stigma, strain, and separation resulting from paternal incarceration cause the poor outcomes of children of incarcerated fathers, evidence regarding these mechanisms is lacking. In this article, we use an experimental vignette design to provide causal evidence regarding how the stigma of paternal incarceration affects third- to fifth-grade teachers’ expectations of students in a large southwestern school district (N = 107). We then replicate this experiment using an online Qualtrics panel of third- to fifth-grade teachers (N = 314). The results indicate that the stigma of paternal incarceration shapes teachers’ expectations of students, leading to a 10 percent to 40 percent increase in teachers’ expectations of children’s behavioral problems.