Volume 43 - Article 22 | Pages 617–658  

Estimating and explaining ethnic disparities in the cumulative risk of paternal incarceration in Denmark

By Anne Sofie Tegner Anker, Lars H. Andersen, Christopher Wildeman


Background: Paternal incarceration is a well-known risk factor for poor child outcomes. Although existing research documents the prevalence of paternal incarceration and racial/ethnic disparities in this risk, research in this area is still sorely limited in two ways. First, the range of groups for which we know the cumulative risk of paternal incarceration is still quite narrow. Second, no research has decomposed disparities in the risk of paternal incarceration into analytically distinct components.

Objective: To estimate and explain ethnic disparities in paternal incarceration risk in Denmark.

Methods: We use Danish administrative data and two core demographic techniques. First, we use birth cohort life tables to estimate country of origin-specific paternal incarceration risks for native Danes, Western descendants of immigrants, and ten groups of non-Western descendants of immigrants. Second, we conduct Blinder-Oaxaca decompositions to see how three factors – paternal employment, education, and previous criminal justice contact – shape these risks.

Results: We find that descendants of immigrants are much more likely to experience paternal incarceration than native Danes, but that there is substantial heterogeneity across country of origin. Additionally, we find that for most countries the observed disparities in paternal incarceration risk can be almost entirely explained by group differences in paternal employment, education, and previous criminal justice contact.

Contribution: By using two core demographic techniques we provide insight into how future research on paternal incarceration and other risk factors for poor child well-being could better estimate and explain the risk of experiencing these events.

Author's Affiliation

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

A formal decomposition of declining youth crime in Denmark
Volume 35 - Article 44

Cumulative risks of paternal and maternal incarceration in Denmark and the United States
Volume 32 - Article 57

State-level variation in the imprisonment-mortality relationship, 2001−2010
Volume 34 - Article 12

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