Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users, please click the view more button below to purchase a copy of this dissertation from Proquest.

(Some titles may also be available free of charge in our Open Access Dissertation Collection, so please check there first.)

Masculinity and fatherhood: Stratified reproduction among the Puerto Rican partners of adolescent mothers

Jennifer Whitman Foster, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This ethnographic study investigates the lived experience of thirty Puerto Rican fathers living in the city of Holyoke, Massachusetts, a city where adolescent birth rates remain high despite declining national trends. All of the fathers were twenty-four years or younger when their children were born; the mothers of their children were adolescents. Study participants were recruited from the lowest income neighborhoods of the city, where the majority of adolescent mothers reside. Information about the experience of fatherhood was obtained by qualitative interviews with these men in their community, researcher participant-observation of selected activities in the neighborhoods, and interviews with teachers, social workers, and extended family members. Key themes that emerged: (1) gender is understood as a fixed and unchanging attribute of persons, (2) despite this understanding, their identity as father is a process of negotiation with the women in these men's lives, (3) mutually planned, intentional pregnancies are common despite difficult economic and social circumstances, (4) “being there” is the most important component of fathering, related to each father's experience with his own father, (5) fathers care deeply how they are “seen” by their children, causing them to consider alternative narrative possibilities for their lives. The narratives of these fathers complicate the absent father discourse of public health and social policy and challenge the boundaries of the dichotomy between troubled and safe masculinities. Three of the thirty men were married at the time of interview; only one associated marriage with children. The influence of the political-economic history of the city as well as the gendered history of welfare and the single mother are brought to bear on how masculinity is constructed by these fathers. Suggestions are made for future applied anthropology research endeavors that legitimate making time and space for fathers to talk about their aspirations as fathers and their vulnerabilities as men.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Foster, Jennifer Whitman, "Masculinity and fatherhood: Stratified reproduction among the Puerto Rican partners of adolescent mothers" (2003). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3078681.