Poor, Uninsured Fathers Fall Under The Radar

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

A new study shows that more than half of low-income U.S. fathers have no health insurance, and even those with jobs do not always have access to affordable coverage.

Few studies involve low-income fathers, because most surveys of households have not included data on nonresident fathers and even fewer studies make a distinction between public health insurance and private insurance, according to study co-author Kelly Noonan, Ph.D.

Noonan is a professor of economics at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Mass. The study appears in the February issue of the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.

The study evaluated 1,653 low-income (defined as no more than twice the federal poverty level) fathers through the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a national survey that randomly selects families of babies born in urban areas. The survey included questions about health insurance and overall health.


Twenty-nine percent of the men had private health insurance. Fourteen percent had public insurance such as Social Security disability benefits, or if they lived with their children, either Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Fifty-eight percent of men had no insurance.

The survey found that more than a third of the fathers said that they were in less than good health, 15 percent were disabled and 8 percent said they had screened positive for having depression in the past 12 months. Uninsured fathers tended to be younger, less educated, more likely to have very low incomes and less likely to be employed.

Fathers were more likely to be uninsured than the rest of their families, the study found. Thirty-seven percent of the mothers had no health insurance and 14 percent of the children were uninsured.

“Notably, fathers’ uninsurance is a risk factor for children not having insurance,” the study found. “Of the 228 children who were uninsured [when followed up in the survey], 68 percent had fathers without insurance.”

“Public policy does not look at the needs of men,” Noonan said. She added that the low rate of private insurance is not surprising given that low-income jobs are less likely to offer health insurance, or if they do, the premiums might be too expensive.