The Role of the Father in Child Development, 5th Edition

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Edited by


The Role of the Father in Child Development Fifth Edition

The Role of the Father in Child Development Fifth Edition

Edited by

Michael E. Lamb University of Cambridge

John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

1 This book is printed on acid-free paper.  Copyright # 2010 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey. Published simultaneously in Canada. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning, or otherwise, except as permitted under Section 107 or 108 of the 1976 United States Copyright Act, without either the prior written permission of the Publisher, or authorization through payment of the appropriate per-copy fee to the Copyright Clearance Center, Inc., 222 Rosewood Drive, Danvers, MA 01923, (978) 750-8400, fax (978) 646-8600, or on the web at Requests to the Publisher for permission should be addressed to the Permissions Department, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 111 River Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030, (201) 748-6011, fax (201) 748-6008. Limit of Liability/Disclaimer of Warranty: While the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparing this book, they make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this book and specifically disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. No warranty may be created or extended by sales representatives or written sales materials. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation. You should consult with a professional where appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering professional services. If legal, accounting, medical, psychological or any other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. Designations used by companies to distinguish their products are often claimed as trademarks. In all instances where John Wiley & Sons, Inc. is aware of a claim, the product names appear in initial capital or all capital letters. Readers, however, should contact the appropriate companies for more complete information regarding trademarks and registration. For general information on our other products and services please contact our Customer Care Department within the U.S. at (800) 762-2974, outside the United States at (317) 572-3993 or fax (317) 572-4002. Wiley also publishes its books in a variety of electronic formats. Some content that appears in print may not be available in electronic books. For more information about Wiley products, visit our website at Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data: The role of the father in child development/edited by Michael E. Lamb. – 5th ed. p. cm. Includes index. ISBN 978-0-470-40549-9 (cloth) 1. Fathers. 2. Father and child–United States. 3. Paternal deprivation–United States. 4. Single-parent families–United States. I. Lamb, Michael E., 1953HQ756.R64 2010 306.8740 2–dc22 2009041484

Printed in the United States of America 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Contents Contributors Preface 1

How Do Fathers Influence Children’s Development? Let Me Count the Ways Michael E. Lamb

vii ix



Fatherhood and Masculinity Joseph H. Pleck


Paternal Involvement: Revised Conceptualization and Theoretical Linkages with Child Outcomes Joseph H. Pleck


The Development and Significance of Father–Child Relationships in Two-Parent Families Michael E. Lamb and Charlie Lewis




Fathers, Marriages, and Families: Revisiting and Updating the Framework for Fathering in Family Context E. Mark Cummings, Christine E. Merrilees, and Melissa Ward George


Fathers, Children, and Divorce Paul R. Amato and Cassandra Dorius


Custody and Parenting Time: Links to Family Relationships and Well-Being After Divorce William V. Fabricius, Sanford L. Braver, Priscila Diaz, and Clorinda E. Velez


Fathers in Fragile Families Marcia J. Carlson and Sara S. McLanahan


Stepfathers’ Lives: Exploring Social Context and Interpersonal Complexity William Marsiglio and Ramon Hinojosa


Fathers From Low-Income Backgrounds: Myths and Evidence Catherine S. Tamis-LeMonda and Karen E. McFadden






270 296




Gay Fathers Susan Golombok and Fiona Tasker


Fathering in Japan, China, and Korea: Changing Contexts, Images, and Roles David W. Shwalb, Jun Nakazawa, Toshiya Yamamoto, and Jung-Hwan Hyun


Fathers, Families, and Children’s Well-Becoming in Africa A. Bame Nsamenang


Fathers’ Roles in Hunter-Gatherer and Other Small-Scale Cultures Barry S. Hewlett and Shane J. Macfarlan


Fatherhood in the Context of Immigration Roni Strier and Dorit Roer-Strier


Including Fathers in Clinical Interventions for Children and Adolescents Vicky Phares, Ariz Rojas, Idia B. Thurston, and Jessica C. Hankinson




413 435



Fathers of Children With Developmental Disabilities Elaine E. MacDonald and Richard P. Hastings



Father Involvement and Public Policies Natasha J. Cabrera



Fathers, Work, and Family Policies in Europe Margaret O’Brien and Peter Moss



Changing Policies Regarding Separated Fathers in Australia Patrick Parkinson


Author Index


Subject Index



Paul R. Amato Department of Sociology Pennsylvania State University Sanford L. Braver Department of Psychology Arizona State University Natasha J. Cabrera Department of Human Development University of Maryland Marcia J. Carlson Department of Sociology University of Wisconsin-Madison E. Mark Cummings Department of Psychology University of Notre Dame Priscila Diaz Department of Psychology Arizona State University Cassandra Dorius Department of Sociology Pennsylvania State University William V. Fabricius Department of Psychology Arizona State University Melissa George Department of Psychology University of Notre Dame

Susan Golombok Centre for Family Research Faculty of Politics, Psychology, Sociology, and International Studies University of Cambridge Jessica C. Hankinson Department of Psychology University of South Florida Richard P. Hastings Department of Psychology Bangor University Barry S. Hewlett Department of Anthropology Washington State University Ramon Hinojosa HSR&D/RR&D Rehabilitation Outcomes Research Center REAP, North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System, Gainesville, FL Jung-Hwan Hyun Department of Child Care and Education Seoul Theological University Michael E. Lamb Department of Social and Developmental Psychology University of Cambridge vii


Charlie Lewis Department of Psychology University of Lancaster

Vicky Phares Department of Psychology University of South Florida

Elaine E. MacDonald Saint Michael’s House Dublin

Joseph H. Pleck Department of Human Development and Family Study University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign

Shane J. Macfarlan Department of Anthropology Washington State University William Marsiglio Department of Sociology and Criminology & Law University of Florida Karen E. McFadden Department of Applied Psychology New York University Sara S. McLanahan Department of Sociology Princeton University Christina Merrilees Department of Psychology University of Notre Dame Peter Moss Thomas Coram Research Unit Institute of Education Jun Nakazawa Faculty of Education Chiba University A. Bame Nsamenang Human Development Resource Centre University of Yaounde at Bamenda Margaret O’Brien Centre for Research on the Child and Family University of East Anglia Patrick Parkinson Sydney School of Law University of Sydney

Dorit Roer-Strier School of Social Work Hebrew University of Jerusalem Ariz Rojas Department of Psychology University of South Florida Clorinda Schenck Department of Psychology Arizona State University David W. Shwalb Department of Psychology Southern Utah University Roni Strier School of Social Work University of Haifa Catherine S. Tamis-LeMonda Department of Applied Psychology New York University Fiona Tasker Department of Education Birkbeck College, London Idia B. Thurston Department of Psychology University of South Florida Toshiya Yamamoto Department of Human Behavior and Environment Sciences Waseda University

Preface of The Role of the Father in Child Development appears nearly 35 years after the first edition was published in 1976. The intervening decades have been marked by extensive research, thoughtful scholarly reconceptualization of fatherhood and father-child relationships, and widespread public debate about the meaning and importance of fatherhood in drastically changing social landscapes. As a result, this edition bears little resemblance to the four earlier volumes with the same name. Instead, it contains a series of integrative summaries and reviews that represent the vibrant and productive scholarship that has done so much to illuminate our understanding of fatherhood and the many ways in which fathers can influence their children’s development. One feature of the contemporary scholarly landscape, in comparison with that which existed in 1976, is close attention to the broader social context. Whereas contributors to the first edition focused narrowly on biological fathers and father-child dyads, the contributors to later editions have increasingly placed fathers in the context of family systems and subsystems, in which the relationships with and attitudes of mothers and siblings also play crucial roles. By the third edition, there was also widespread recognition of the variety of roles that fathers played in their families, with the relative salience of these roles varying across time and (sub)cultural context. Meanwhile, changing patterns of partnering and child-bearing have creating a new landscape of relationships and paternal roles, with scholars and researchers broadening their focus from biological fathers in ‘intact’ two-parent families to include step-fathers (married and unmarried), resident and non-resident bio-fathers, adoptive fathers, and gay fathers. Other features of this latest edition are concerns with cultural variability alongside recognition that the middle-class North American fathers who initially attracted the attention of social scientists and commentators are a small minority, and increased attention to social policy issues in a variety of countries. Strikingly, the authors hail from five continents, with only South America unrepresented. Also noteworthy are the disciplinary backgrounds of the contributors: Whereas the first volume was written entirely by psychologists, this edition includes contributions written by psychologists, sociologists, educationalists, social policy specialists, anthropologists, social workers, and legal scholars.





All of the chapters in this anthology were written especially for the volume, whose size and scope attest to the amount social scientists have learned about father-child relationships, especially in the last few decades. Each of the contributors has made seminal contributions to our collective understanding of the specific topic about which she or he has written, and together they have painted a rich and highly nuanced account of fatherhood and paternal influences, beginning with two chapters that provide a broad overview and examine the seldom-examined links between the concepts of masculinity and fatherhood. Several later chapters focus on the normative processes whereby paternal behavior and family dynamics shape children’s development, while others examine the effect of variations in paternal involvement in both intact and divorced families or focus on the special social and psychological circumstances that shape relationships, family climate, and child development. The unique challenges, opportunities, and circumstances faced by step-fathers, divorced and divorcing fathers, non-resident fathers, gay fathers, and fathers whose children have special psychological or psycho-educational needs are also examined. A further group of contributors examine cultural variations in perceptions of fatherhood and the ways in which fathers perform their roles, as well as the policies increasingly adopted by developed countries to foster and facilitate the constructive engagement of men in their children’s lives, when they live with them and when they do not. The resulting collection of chapters constitutes a truly comprehensive and up-to-date summary of contemporary scholarship concerning fathers, fatherhood, father-child relationships, and paternal influences around the world. The collection will be of special interest to clinical, developmental, and social psychologists and their students, as well as policy makers, psychiatrists, social workers, family lawyers, and other mental health professionals. In the face of an exploding scholarly literature, this unprecedented collection provides a timely, unique, and definitive integration of recent scholarship and research. It will surely shape conceptions of and research on fatherhood for years to come. Michael E. Lamb Cambridge January 2010


How Do Fathers Influence Children’s Development? Let Me Count the Ways MICHAEL E. LAMB


claimed that psychology became a science in the second half of the 19th century, led in part by continental (mostly German) research on perception, psychophysics, and memory, Galton’s attempts to measure intelligence and establish the importance of heredity, and William James’s efforts to create a coherent theoretical edifice, which might guide the derivation of empirical answers to age-old philosophical questions. For those who study the development of personality and social behavior, however, the key figure was Freud, who pioneered the close study of pathology as a medium through which to elucidate psychological functioning and spawned a plethora of admirers and critics who constructed much of the popular and scientific psychology we encounter in books such as this. For example, we owe Freud credit for the proposition, now widely viewed as an article of faith, that childhood experiences shape subsequent personality and behavior, although Freud himself only shifted the focus from late childhood and early adolescence to infancy very late in his life. Similarly, it was Freud who placed special emphasis on the formative importance of parent–child relationships, although the specific mechanisms he considered have since been widely discredited. Furthermore, although Freud (and the cohort of psychoanalysts and psychodynamic theorists he inspired) published prodigiously from just before the turn of the nineteenth century to the time of the Second World War, the scientific study of social, personality, and developmental psychology really took off in the postwar period, initially dominated by social learning theorists who rejected Freud’s theoretical architecture even as they embraced many of the related beliefs and concepts, including those regarding the importance of parent–child relationships, although neo-analysts played a central role in the construction of attachment theory, which dominates parts of developmental psychology to this day. T IS OFTEN





Developmental psychology changed from a discipline dominated by theoretical analysis to one dominated by empirical research, much of it initially conducted in North America, in the years following World War II. This is often viewed as a politically conservative era, dominated by policies designed to put into the past the rigors and horrors of both the Depression and the two world wars by creating a new age of affluence and opportunity. In practice, this involved championing the ‘‘traditional’’ nuclear family, dominated by a breadwinning father and a home-making, child-rearing mother, often housed some distance from either parent’s biological or metaphorical roots. Not surprisingly, psychologists embraced these values of the society in which they were reared and lived, so their initial empirical forays into research on children’s early development were dominated by mothers—as informants, as the cofocus of observations, and as the ‘‘socializing’’ figures about whom they theorized. Where fathers did enter the picture, their roles were often represented through the eyes and voices of their partners, or they were judged against the models of family function developed by family theorists who shared similar societal assumptions. In such a context, it was easy (if exaggeratedly provocative) to entitle my first essay on the subject: ‘‘Fathers: Forgotten Contributions to Child Development’’ (Lamb, 1975). Three and a half decades later, the scholarly landscape has changed dramatically. Thousands of professional articles have explored the ways in which fathers affect their children’s development, and the contributors to this anthology provide a thorough and readable summary of our contemporary understanding. My goal in this introductory chapter is to sketch some of the overarching themes that dominate the book.

FATHERS AND THEIR ROLES WHAT DO FATHERS DO? It seems logical to begin this anthology by examining definitions and descriptions of fathering. What roles do fathers play in family life today? What taxonomies might effectively characterize fathers’ activities with and commitments to their children? What do fathers do when they are available to their children, and why they do what they do? In this regard, a fuller conceptualization of fathers’ roles and the origins of their ‘‘prescribed’’ responsibilities is warranted. As several contributors illustrate in this volume, historical, cultural, and familial ideologies inform the roles fathers play and undoubtedly shape the absolute amounts of time fathers spend with their children, the activities they share with them, and perhaps even the quality of the relationships between fathers and children. In earlier times, fathers were viewed as all-powerful patriarchs who wielded enormous power over their families (Knibiehler, 1995) and vestiges of these notions continued until quite recently. According to Pleck and Pleck (1997), for example, Euro-American fathers were viewed primarily as moral teachers during the colonial phase of American history. By popular consensus, fathers were primarily responsible for ensuring that their children grew

Fathers and their Roles 3

up with an appropriate sense of values, acquired primarily from a study of the Bible and other scriptural texts. Around the time of industrialization, however, the primary focus shifted from moral leadership to breadwinning and economic support of the family. Then, perhaps as a result of the Great Depression, which revealed many hapless men as poor providers, social scientists came to portray fathers as sex role models, with commentators expressing concern about the failures of many men to model masculine behavior for their sons. Throughout the 20th century, fathers were urged to be involved (Griswold, 1993), and following feminist and scholarly critiques of masculinity and femininity, there emerged in the late 1970s a concern with the ‘‘new nurturant father,’’ who played an active role in his children’s lives. As Elizabeth Pleck (2004) explained, however, popular and scholarly discussions of fatherhood have long dwelled on the importance of involvement—often defined by successful breadwinning—and the fear of inadequate fathering. In contrast to earlier conceptualizations of fathers’ roles, often focused quite narrowly on breadwinning, and later discussions focused narrowly on ‘‘involvement,’’ researchers, theorists, and practitioners no longer cling to the simplistic belief that fathers ideally fill a unidimensional and universal role in their families and in their children’s eyes. Instead, they recognize that fathers play a number of significant roles—companions, care providers, spouses, protectors, models, moral guides, teachers, and breadwinners—whose relative importance varies across historical epochs and subcultural groups. Only by considering fathers’ performance of these various roles, and by taking into account their relative importance in the socioecological contexts concerned, can fathers’ impact on child development be evaluated. Unfortunately, theorists and social commentators have tended in the past to emphasize only one paternal role at a time, with different functions attracting most attention during different historical epochs. Focusing on fathers’ behavior when with their children, much of the observational and survey data collected by developmental and social psychologists in the 1970s and early 1980s (e.g., Lamb, 1977) suggested that mothers and fathers engage in rather different types of interaction with their children, especially in Anglo-Saxon countries like the United States (see Chapter 4). These studies have consistently shown that fathers tend to ‘‘specialize’’ in play, whereas mothers specialize in caretaking and nurturance, especially (but not only) in relation to infants. Although such findings seem quite reliable, the results have often been misrepresented, and have led to overly stereotypical and unidimensional portrayals of fathers as play partners. Compared with mothers, fathers indeed spend a greater proportion of their time with children engaged in play, but they still spend most of their time with children engaged in other activities. In absolute terms, most studies suggest that mothers play with their children more than fathers do, but because play (particularly boisterous, stimulating, emotionally arousing play) is more prominent in father–child interaction, paternal playfulness and relative novelty may help make fathers especially salient to their children (Lamb, Frodi, Hwang, & Frodi, 1983). This enhanced salience may increase fathers’ influence more than would be expected based on the amount of time they spend with their children.




However, comparative studies, in which fathers’ interactions are contrasted with those of mothers, typically focus on mean level differences in parenting activities, and often obscure other common patterns of parent– child interaction. By highlighting the predominant qualities of fathers and mothers, they may promote narrow views of fathers’ and mothers’ roles, thereby failing to capture similarities in the meaning or degree of influence parents exert on their children. In fact, both fathers and mothers encourage exploration during play with their infants (Power, 1985), alter their speech patterns to infants by speaking slowly and using shorter phrases (DaltonHummel, 1982; Golinkoff & Ames, 1979; Rondal, 1980), respond to their infants’ cries and smiles (Berman, 1980), even when otherwise engaged (Notaro & Volling, 1999), and adjust their behaviors to accommodate developmental changes in their infants’ competencies (Belsky, Gilstrap, & Rovine, 1984; Crawley & Sherrod, 1984). Sensitive fathering—responding to, talking to, scaffolding, teaching and encouraging their children to learn—predicts children’s socio-emotional, cognitive, and linguistic achievements just as sensitive mothering does (e.g., Conner, Knight, & Cross, 1997; Easterbrooks & Goldberg, 1984; Shannon, Tamis-LeMonda, London, & Cabrera, 2002; Van IJzendoorn & De Wolff, 1997). Such findings suggest that fathers can and do engage with their children in many different ways, not only as playmates, and that they are more than role models for their children. The broader, more inclusive conceptualization of fathers’ roles recognizes the appreciable variation that exists both within and between fathers. Most individual fathers assume numerous roles in their families (including breadwinner, playmate, guide, caregiver), although fathers differ with respect to the relative importance of these diverse roles. FATHERS’ INFLUENCES



A second line of research on fatherhood examines fathers’ effects on children and the pathways through which those effects are exerted. Which aspects of child development are influenced most, at what ages, under which circumstances, and why? Three types of studies have been designed to explore this topic: correlational studies, studies of father absence and divorce, and studies of involved fathers. Here, we review these research methods and then examine direct and indirect effects of fathering on child development. Correlational Studies Many of the earliest studies of paternal influences were designed to identify correlations between paternal and filial characteristics. The vast majority of these studies were conducted between 1940 and 1970, when the father’s role as a sex role model was considered most important; as a result, most studies were focused on sex role development, especially in sons (for reviews, see Biller, 1971; Lamb, 1981). The design of these early studies was quite simple: Researchers assessed masculinity in fathers and in sons, and then determined how strongly the two sets of scores were correlated. To the great surprise of most researchers, however, there was no consistent correlation between the two constructs, a puzzling finding because it seemed to violate a guiding assumption about the crucial

Fathers and their Roles 5

function served by fathers. If fathers did not make their boys into men, what role did they really serve? It took a while for psychologists to realize that they had failed to ask: Why should boys want to be like their fathers? Presumably, they should only want to resemble fathers whom they liked and respected, and with whom their relationships were warm and positive. In fact, the quality of father–son relationships proved to be a crucial mediating variable: When the relationships between masculine fathers and their sons were good, the boys were indeed more masculine. Subsequent research even suggested that the quality of the father–child relationships was more important than the masculinity of the father (Mussen & Rutherford, 1963; Payne & Mussen, 1956; Sears, Maccoby, & Levin, 1957). Boys seemed to conform to the sex role standards of their communities when their relationships with their fathers were warm, regardless of how ‘‘masculine’’ the fathers were, even though warmth and intimacy have traditionally been seen as feminine characteristics. A similar conclusion was suggested by research on other aspects of psychosocial adjustment and on achievement: Paternal warmth or closeness appeared beneficial, whereas paternal masculinity appeared to be irrelevant (Biller, 1971; Lamb, 1981; Radin, 1981). By the 1980s, it had thus become clear that fathers and mothers influence children in similar ways by virtue of nurturant personal and social characteristics (see Chapter 4). Research summarized in this volume by Golombok and Tasker (Chapter 11) goes even further, indicating that the sexual orientation of homosexual fathers does not increase the likelihood that their children will be homosexual, effeminate, or maladjusted. As far as influences on children are concerned, in sum, very little about the gender of the parent seems to be distinctly important. The characteristics of the father as a parent rather than the characteristics of the father as a male adult appear to be most significant, although some scholars and social commentators continued to underscore the crucial importance of distinctive maternal and paternal roles into the late 1990s (Biller, 1994; Blankenhorn, 1995; Popenoe, 1996). Studies of Father Absence and Divorce While the whole body of research that is here termed correlational was burgeoning in the 1950s, another body of literature comprising studies in which researchers tried to understand the father’s role by examining families without fathers was developing in parallel. The assumption was that, by comparing the behavior and personalities of children raised with and without fathers, one could—essentially by a process of subtraction—estimate what sort of influences fathers typically had on their children’s development. The early father-absence and correlational studies were conducted in roughly the same era; not surprisingly, therefore, the outcomes studied were very similar and the implications were similar and consistent with popular assumptions as well (see Adams, Milner, & Schrepf, 1984; Biller, 1974, 1993; Blankenhorn, 1995; Herzog & Sudia, 1973; Whitehead, 1993, for reviews): Children—especially boys—growing up without fathers seemed to have ‘‘problems’’ in the areas of sex role and gender-identity development, school performance, psychosocial adjustment, and perhaps in the control of aggression.




Two related issues arising from the father-absence research must be addressed when evaluating these conclusions. First, one must critically examine the concept of father absence when applied to children whose parents have separated or divorced: Fathers cannot be assumed to be psychologically and emotionally absent just because the parents are separated/divorced and the men no longer live with their partners. Second, even when researchers accept the conclusion that there are differences between children raised in families with the father ‘‘present’’ and those raised in families with the father ‘‘absent,’’ they must ask why those differences exist and how they should be interpreted. Second, it is important to remember that the existence of differences between groups of children growing up with and without fathers does not mean that every child growing up without a coresident father has problems in the aspect of development concerned, or that all children whose fathers live with them develop appropriately. One cannot reach conclusions about the status of individuals from data concerning groups simply because there is great within-group heterogeneity. This again forces us to ask why such heterogeneity exists among children in fatherabsent families: Why do some children appear to suffer deleterious consequences as a result of father absence, while others do not? More broadly, the question is: What accounts for group differences between children in fatherabsent and father-present contexts, and what accounts for the impressive within-group variance? Researchers and theorists first sought to explain the effects of father absence on boys by noting the absence of male sex role models in singleparent families. In the absence of a resident male parental model, it was assumed that boys could not acquire strong masculine identities or sex roles and would not have models of achievement with which to identify (Biller, 1974, 1993). The validity of this interpretation is weakened by the fact that many boys without coresident fathers seem to develop quite normally so far as sex role development and achievement are concerned. Clearly, some factors other than the absence of a male sex role model may be at least as important as (if not more important than) the availability of a sex role model in mediating the effects of father absence on child development. What might these factors be? In a conceptual and empirical extension of research on the effects of father absence, many researchers initiated studies in the early 1980s designed to explore more carefully the ways in which divorce might influence children’s development. The results of these studies have underscored the many ways in which the absence of coresident fathers influences children (Hetherington & Kelly, 2002). First, there are the cancerous effects of predivorce and postdivorce marital conflict (Kelly, 2000; see also Chapter 5). Because most single-parent families are produced by divorce, and since divorce is often preceded and accompanied by periods of overt and covert spousal hostility, parental conflict may play a major role in explaining the problems of ‘‘fatherless’’ children. Second, there is the absence of a coparent—someone to help out with child care, perhaps participate in tough decisions, and to take over when one parent needs a break from the incessant demands of child care. Following divorce, children consistently do better when they

Fathers and their Roles 7

are able to maintain meaningful relationships with both parents unless the levels of interparental conflict remain unusually high (see Chapter 7; Kelly, 2000; Lamb & Kelly, 2009). Children of divorce are often affected by the perceived, and often actual, abandonment by one of their parents and the reduced availability of the other (see chapter 7; Lamb, 1999; Lamb & Kelly, 2009; Thompson & Laible, 1999). Third, there is the economic stress that frequently accompanies single motherhood (Pearson & Thoennes, 1990). The median and mean incomes of single women who head households are significantly lower than in any other group of families, and the disparity is even larger when one considers per-capita income rather than household income (Glick & Norton, 1979; Horn, 1995; O’Hare, 1995). Fourth, the tremendous economic stress experienced by single mothers is accompanied by emotional stress occasioned by a degree of social isolation and continuing (though diminished) social disapproval of single or divorced mothers and children (Hetherington, Cox, & Cox, 1982). Amato and Dorius (Chapter 6) provide a succinct and exceedingly clear summary of the most recent survey research on the effects of divorce on children, Carlson and McLanahan (Chapter 8) examine the characteristics and dynamics of fragile families, and Marsiglio and Hinojosa (Chapter 9) explore the little studied role of stepfathers. In sum, the evidence suggests that paternal nonresidence (previously known as ‘‘father absence’’) may be harmful not because a sex role model is absent, but because many paternal roles—economic, social, emotional—are inadequately filled in these families. Once again, the evidence suggests that recognition of the father’s multiple roles as breadwinner, parent, and emotional partner is essential for understanding how fathers influence children’s development. Similarly, the evidence suggests that the absence of a male sex role model is not important when explaining the effects of fatherhood or father absence (see Chapter 2). Research on Involved Fathers. In the 1980s, several researchers sought to identify the effects of increased paternal involvement on children. In most of these studies, researchers compared the status of children in ‘‘traditional’’ families with that of children whose fathers either shared or took primary responsibility for child care (Lamb, Pleck, & Levine, 1985; Radin, 1994; Russell, 1983, 1986); other researchers examined the correlates of varying levels of paternal engagement (Koestner, Franz, & Weinberger, 1990; Mosely & Thomson, 1995). The results were remarkable consistent. Children with highly involved fathers were characterized by increased cognitive competence, increased empathy, fewer sex-stereotyped beliefs, and a more internal locus of control (Pleck, 1997; Pruett, 1983, 1985; Radin, 1982, 1994). Again, the question that has to be asked is ‘‘Why do these sorts of differences occur?’’ Three factors are probably important in this regard (Lamb, Pleck, Charnov, & Levine, 1985). First, when parents assume less sex-stereotyped roles, their children have less sex-stereotyped attitudes themselves about male and female roles. Second, particularly in the area of cognitive competence, these children may benefit from having two highly involved parents rather than just one. This assures them the diversity of stimulation that comes from




interacting with people who have different behavioral styles. A third important issue has to do with the family context in which these children are raised. In each of the studies cited above, a high degree of paternal involvement made it possible for both parents to do what was rewarding and fulfilling for them. It allowed fathers to satisfy their desires for closeness to their children while permitting mothers to have adequately close relationships with their children and to pursue career goals. In other words, increased paternal involvement may have made both parents feel much more fulfilled. As a result, the relationships were probably much warmer and richer than might otherwise have been the case. One can speculate that the benefits obtained by children with highly involved fathers is largely attributable to the fact that high levels of paternal involvement created family contexts in which the parents felt good about their marriages and the child care arrangements they had been able to work out. In all of these studies, fathers were highly involved in child care because both they and their partners desired this. The effects on children appeared quite different when fathers were forced to become involved, perhaps by being laid off from work while their partners were able to obtain or maintain their employment (Johnson & Abramovitch, 1985). In such circumstances, wives may have resented the fact that their husbands could not support their families while the husbands resented having to do ‘‘women’s work’’ instead of providing for their families financially (Johnson & Abramovitch, 1988; Russell, 1983). Not surprisingly, this constellation of factors appeared to have adverse effects on children, just as the same degree of involvement had positive effects when the circumstances were more benign. Evidently, the extent of paternal involvement may have been much less significant (so far as the effects on children are concerned) than the reasons for high involvement and the parents’ evaluations thereof. Direct and Indirect Effects. Research on paternal influences has also moved beyond correlational studies and studies of ‘‘absence’’/divorce or enhanced involvement to explore the pathways through which fathers ultimately affect their children. Fathers affect their children directly and indirectly, and both pathways are key to a comprehensive understanding of fatherhood, as Lamb and Lewis elaborate in Chapter 4. Fathers influence their children directly through their behavior and the attitudes and messages they convey. The direct effects of fathering are especially salient when fathers’ and mothers’ interactions differ. Because fathers typically spend less time with their children, for example, many are less familiar with their children’s language competencies and thus more likely to speak in ways that ‘‘challenge’’ children’s linguistic and pragmatic abilities. Specifically, when talking to their young children, fathers use more directives, requests for clarification, wh- questions, references to past events, imperatives and contentless utterances than mothers do (e.g., Leaper, Anderson, & Sanders, 1998; Tomasello, Conti-Ramsden, & Ewert, 1990). Because these more complex forms of speech place greater linguistic demands on children, fathers are thought to serve as a ‘‘bridge to the outside world’’ (Ely, Berko-Gleason, Narasimhan, & McCabe, 1995; Mannle & Tomasello, 1987). Thus, fathers’

Fathers and their Roles 9

unique communicative styles directly teach children about the linguistic and communicative demands of social exchanges. Much of the research described in this book is concerned with the ways in which children are directly affected by caretaking, teaching, play, maltreatment, and neglect by their fathers, even though fathers obviously play multiple roles and affect their children’s development in many ways other than via direct interaction as well. Specifically, fathers affect children indirectly, through their effects on other people and social circumstances that bear on children’s development. For example, economic support of the family constitutes an indirect but important way in which fathers contribute to the rearing and emotional health of their children. Furthermore, economic support (or the lack of it) is one of the ways in which noncustodial fathers influence their children’s development (see Chapters 6 and 7). A second important indirect source of influence stems from the father’s role as a source of emotional and instrumental support to the other people, principally mothers, involved in the direct care of children (see Chapter 4). The father’s function as a source of emotional support tends to enhance the quality of mother–child relationships and thus facilitate positive adjustment by children. Conversely, when fathers are unsupportive and marital conflict is high, children may suffer (Cummings, Goeke-Morey, & Raymond, 2004; see also Chapter 5). Fathers can also affect the quality of family dynamics by being involved in child-related housework, thus easing the mothers’ workloads (Pleck, 1983, 1984). Paternal involvement in housework exemplifies another manner in which fathers influence children—by providing models of behavior that children can either emulate or eschew. Many of the behavior patterns acquired in childhood are the result of lessons derived from observing others and adjusting one’s behavior accordingly. Recognition that indirect patterns of influence are pervasive and perhaps more important than direct learning represents another of the major conceptual revolutions marking the 30 years of scholarship since the first edition of this anthology was prepared. Whereas some contributors to the first edition provocatively proposed that some paternal influences might be mediated indirectly (the chapter by Lewis and Weinraub, 1976, was especially noteworthy in this regard), the extraordinary importance of indirect influences is now recognized universally. Indeed, almost every contributor to this volume underscores the extent to which fathers and children must be viewed as parts of complex social systems (notably, the family) in which each person affects each other reciprocally, directly, and indirectly. From this vantage point, of course, appraising the father’s impact is much more difficult, both conceptually and statistically, but the newer perspectives promise much greater validity and, ultimately, generalization. Also of importance in the quest for understanding direct and indirect pathways is a focus on how different aspects of father involvement codetermine developmental outcomes in children. As yet, researchers have done a better job of exploring single paths of influence than at modeling interrelations among multiple aspects of fathering and child outcomes (TamisLeMonda & Cabrera, 2002). For example, Graham and Sellers (2002) attempted to disentangle the beneficial effects of child support payments




and other potential influences on children’s academic achievement. They noted that child support payments predicted child outcomes better than other sources of income did, but did not account for all of the variance, suggesting that the payment of child support does not simply have a direct impact on child development. Rather, fathers who pay child support may be more committed or dedicated to their children, may have better relationships with their children’s mothers, may visit their children more often, or may have the capacity and therefore the tendency to support them. Only by exploring these potential pathways will researchers be able to explain better when, why, and how fathers matter to their children and families. THE ESSENCE



Most chapters in this book focus on the ways in which fathers affect child development, and on the ways in which their influences can be optimized. In Chapter 2, however, Pleck probes the ‘‘essential’’ features of fatherhood, particularly the assumption that, because fathers are by definition male parents, their masculinity must be of defining significance. Many scholars have emphasized paternal masculinity in their analyses of fatherhood and father–child relationships (Biller, 1971, 1994; Blankenhorn, 1995; Popenoe, 1996; but see Silverstein & Auerbach, 1999), but Pleck shows convincingly not only that the identification of fatherhood with masculinity is ill-convinced, but also that the two constructs are effectively orthogonal. As mentioned several times in the present chapter, there is no evidence that children ‘‘do better’’ psychologically when they have more masculine fathers, or that gender differences between mothers and fathers are of great psychological significance to children. As Pleck makes clear, the continuing focus on masculine features of fatherhood in both scholarly and popular articles and books says more about the need to create unique role for men in the family than about well-documented empirical research. Of course, unlinking the concepts of masculinity and good fathering does not in any way diminish the fact that fathers can have major influence, for good or ill, on their children’s development; the other chapters in this book powerfully document the extent to which fathers affect their children’s development in numerous contexts and cultures. In some contexts, paternal masculinity is important because it is so defined by the individuals and communities involved, but as Pleck concludes, we should not decide from this that fathers’ masculinity is necessarily an important factor of what makes them significant to their partners and children. SUMMARY Viewed together, the research and scholarship summarized here have significantly advanced our understanding of paternal influences. First, fathers and mothers seem to influence their children in similar rather than dissimilar ways. Contrary to the expectations of many developmental psychologists, the differences between mothers and fathers appear much less important than the similarities. Not only does the description of

Fathers and Social Policy 11

mothering largely resemble the description of fathering (particularly the version of ‘‘involved’’ fathering that has become increasingly prominent in the late 20th century), but the mechanisms and means by which fathers influence their children appear very similar to those that mediate maternal influences on children. Stated differently, students of socialization have consistently found that parental warmth, nurturance, and closeness are associated with positive child outcomes regardless of whether the parent involved is a mother or a father. The important dimensions of parental influence are those that have to do with parental characteristics rather than gender-related characteristics. Second, as research has unfolded, psychologists have been forced to conclude that the characteristics of individual fathers—such as their masculinity, intellect, and even their warmth—are much less important, formatively speaking, than are the characteristics of the relationships that they have established with their children. Children who have secure, supportive, reciprocal, and sensitive relationships with their parents are much more likely to be well adjusted psychologically than individuals whose relationships with their parents—mothers or fathers—are less satisfying. Likewise, the amount of time that fathers and children spend together is probably much less important than what they do with that time and how fathers, mothers, children, and other important people in their lives perceive and evaluate the father–child relationship. Third, it is clear that fathers play multifaceted roles in their children’s lives and thus influence their children in diverse ways that may vary from family to family, depending on the aspirations and expectations of individual parents, their communities, and their cultures (see Chapters 12 through 15). When studying fathers’ influences on children, therefore, it is important not to focus narrowly on any single facet of paternal behavior or on narrow conceptions of fathering or fatherhood. Finally, we have come to see that the family context is often at least as important as the individual relationships within the family. Fathers must thus be viewed in the broader familial context; positive paternal influences are more likely to occur not only when there are supportive father–child relationships, but when the fathers’ relationships with their partners, ex-partners, and presumably other children, establish and maintain positive familial contexts. FATHERS AND SOCIAL POLICY For more than two decades, scholars have bemoaned the extent to which policy makers have ignored fathers when developing policies and programs designed to enhance children’s opportunities (Lamb, 1986). While social (especially family) policies remain matricentric in most countries, we can observe significant changes in the amount of attention paid to fathers, and these changes have profoundly affected the contents of this book. By way of illustration, note that policy making was almost unmentioned in the first edition of this anthology (Lamb, 1976), which likely attracted the attention of few policy makers. By contrast, applied and policy issues are discussed in




almost all of the chapters that follow, and are the focus of several (Chapters 18 through 20). In part, the increased attention paid to fathers by policy makers can be attributed to growing awareness of the ways in which fathers directly and indirectly affect children’s development. Indeed, policy makers have probably been more attentive to the importance of indirect effects than most developmental and clinical psychologists. Specifically, they have recognized that single mothers often live in economically precarious circumstances, with many at least partially dependent on government programs. In that context, many policy makers have sought to emphasize fathers’ breadwinning responsibilities in the hopes of shifting economic costs from the state to individual men. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many nonresident fathers proved elusive, impecunious, or evasive of their responsibilities, leading policy makers to better recognition of the fact that fathers were more likely to embrace their breadwinning responsibilities if they were more psychologically committed to their children. Coupled with changing popular emphasis on the psychological benefit of greater paternal nurturance, the importance of harmonious partner relationships, and the benefits of warm father–child relationships, promote closer relationships between fathers and their children. These policies and programs are quite diverse: They range from opportunities for fathers to be involved in prenatal courses and present at childbirth to the provision of parental and paternal leave schemes that allow (even promote) fathers’ involvement in the direct care of their children, and other legal practices that seek to keep fathers psychologically and financially involved in their children’s lives even when they (no longer) live together. Interestingly, similar policies have been embraced by governments of quite different political persuasions, although the more costly schemes, especially those that involve income replacement while fathers are caring for young or sick children, have been embraced only by countries (especially in Europe) with strong social democratic traditions; the Nordic countries have blazed a trail in this respect for more than three decades (Lamb & Levine, 1983; see also Chapter 19). By contrast, more conservative countries such as the United States, Japan, Korea, and China have yet to develop apparently costly programs, although the grassroots pressure may be building in some of these countries, where the age-old emphasis on the distinction between family and societal responsibilities is beginning to blur a little (see Chapters 12 and 18). In this regard, recent policy changes in Australia are significant because they were promoted by a politically conservative government on the grounds both that existing practices were manifestly unfair to fathers, mothers, and children and that new programs would ultimately pay for themselves by reducing the need for economic support of children whose fathers had financially abandoned them and for special services for children who had been psychosocially and educationally damaged by their adverse family experiences (see chapter 20). To date, no other countries have been persuaded by Australia’s experiences, but it may still be too early to tell. Apart from government programs and policies, many of the contributors describe changing practices in various sectors, all responsive to an increasing

Outline of the Book 13

emphasis on the significance of father–child relationships. For example, Cummings and his colleagues (Chapter 5) documented the harmful effects of marital conflict on children’s psychosocial adjustment and emphasize, as do Phares and her colleagues (Chapter 16), the need to provide adequate clinical support to both couples and children, mindful of the evidence that such services are more likely to be beneficial when fathers (as well as mothers) are fully engaged. Indeed, the need to include fathers appropriately is a constant refrain, whether talking about marital distress (Chapter 5); marital dissolution (Chapters 7 and 20) and the establishment of new child-rearing households (Chapter 9); fragile and low-income families (Chapters 8 and 10); immigrant fathers and families (Chapter 15); psychological pathology or distress (Chapter 16); the stresses of raising children who have mental, educational, or physical disabilities (Chapter 17); or government policy more generally (Chapters 18 and 19). Even in Africa, where the ravages of disease and poverty are still prominent, governments increasingly recognize the need to reinforce traditional beliefs in the social and economic roles played by fathers (Chapter 13). Of course, hunter-gatherers and members of other small-scale cultures do not have government policies, and the roles played by fathers vary widely (Chapter 14). Noting that father absence appears to pose a significant risk to children in industrialized countries but not to those in small-scale cultures, Hewlett and MacFarlane wonder whether this can be attributed to the declining importance of kith-and-kin relationships in industrial countries. If true, this would suggest that policy makers will need to continue placing emphasis on father-friendly and father-focused policies in the years ahead. OUTLINE OF THE BOOK In Chapter 2, Joseph Pleck carefully analyzes the widespread belief that fathers’ roles and patterns of influence on children’s development are intricately linked to their masculinity. As Pleck shows, the concepts of both fatherhood and masculinity are complex, but the basic notion implicit in most discussions of ‘‘the essential father’’ posit rather generally that children benefit from uniquely male contributions to their early experiences. As earlier editions of this book have made clear, and as Pleck systematically demonstrates, there is little empirical support for any of six interlinked ideas, including the central beliefs that there are systematic and formatively important gender differences in parenting, and that both the patterns of paternal involvement and fathers’ effects on their children are attributable to their maleness or masculinity. Instead, Pleck opines, ‘‘good fathering’’ is one of several factors promoting positive child adjustment, but is not essential, unique, or specifically masculine. Pleck’s conclusion is wholly consistent with views of fathers, fatherhood, and paternal influences that have been increasingly apparent from the third edition of this anthology, but Pleck’s magisterial and systematic analysis of once-dominant notions conclusively documents the fatal weaknesses of the assumptions, many of Freudian or psychodynamic origin, that guided a generation of scholarship and popular thought about fatherhood and the




significance of father–child relationships. As Pleck points out in his conclusion, our improved understanding of fatherhood highlights a number of questions, many quite novel, that need to be addressed as we pursue a fuller understanding of the ways in which fathers influence their children’s development. Pleck then turns his attention, in Chapter 3, to paternal involvement, a concept to which Pleck and his colleagues first drew attention 25 years ago (Lamb, Pleck, Charnov, & Levine, 1985, 1987). Here, too, years of intensive research have made necessary revisions of the ways in which scholars conceptualize paternal involvement; Pleck explores both the reasons why the concept was originally conceived and operationalized and the pressing need, given changes in both society and scholarly traditions, to understand paternal involvement differently in the future. In particular, the chapter articulates a broader vision of paternal involvement that places emphasis on participation in the types of activities and interaction that promote child adjustment and well-being and makes explicit references to the concepts of warmth, responsiveness, or sensitivity and supervision/control that are also central to the broader body of research on parenting. This updated notion of paternal involvement has emerged unheralded in the literature over the past several years as researchers have shifted from asking how much parenting fathers and mothers do to questions about the ways in which they influence children’s development. Pleck’s reconceptualization of paternal involvement also provides a framework within which paternal involvement is viewed less as a commodity and more as a facet of broader family processes and relationships, within which fathers both influence and are influenced by their children. Similar questions about what fathers do with and for their children are at the heart of Lamb and Lewis’s chapter on father–child relationships in two-parent families (Chapter 4). As made clear in this chapter, there is increasing evidence that the transition to fatherhood is a profound experience for many new fathers that triggers fascination about the new children and considerable introspection about the associated new roles and responsibilities, not only in relation to the newborns, but also in relation to their partners and other family members. For a variety of reasons, both social and psychological, most fathers spend less time relating to their infants than mothers do, becoming somewhat less sensitive as a result, but almost all infants in two-parent families nevertheless develop emotional attachments to both of their parents at about the same time. Consistent with the literature reviewed by Pleck in Chapter 2, the same features of mothering and fathering (especially warmth, sensitivity, involvement, and—increasingly with age—control) affect the quality and psychological significance of the two child–parent attachments. Likewise, although many researchers initially emphasized differences between the behavioral styles of mothers and fathers, subsequent research has made clear that many of these differences (including the ‘‘special’’ identification of fathers with playful companionship) are not universal, have been exaggerated even in societies where they do occur, and are not ‘‘essential’’ features of unique father–child relationships. Indeed, the nature and extent of fathers’ influences on children’s development and

Outline of the Book 15

well-being are determined by the same factors that determine the nature, extent, and impact of mother–child relationships, and there is substantial evidence that paternal influences need to be viewed in the context of a network of family relationships, as noted earlier in this chapter, as well as in later chapters (e.g., Chapter 5). Interestingly, however, whereas mothers appear to play more significant roles during childhood and adolescence, with filial adjustment and wellbeing influenced more by the qualities of mother– than of father–child/ adolescent relationships, fathers continue to have significant influences on adjustment that, for reasons that are not well understood, become increasingly important as offspring move into adulthood, underscoring the need to view relationships in dynamic life-span perspective. The value of viewing fathers in the context of a network of relationships within the family system is the central focus of Chapter 5, which revisits and further elaborates a framework introduced in the third and fourth editions of this anthology. Each revision of the model has been informed by a burgeoning body of evidence, much of it conducted by Cummings and his colleagues, documenting the ways in which fathers influence children’s development and adjustment, depending on the nature and quality of their marital or partner relationships. This view is consistent with increasing recognition of the extent to which influences on child development can be both direct (e.g., father to child) and indirect (e.g., father influences mother, who in turn influences the child), a notion articulated by Lewis and Weinraub (1976) in the first edition. More broadly, however, Cummings and his colleagues illustrate the ways in which child development must be viewed in the context of multifaceted family systems, within which dyadic relationships are part of transcendent and broader systems of relationships. Using sophisticated statistical procedures to analyze data gathered in longitudinal studies, the chapter not only documents the harmful effects of marital conflict (and, by corollary, the beneficial effects of marital harmony), but also explores the effects of fathers’ psychological functioning on family systems and, subsequently, on child adjustment. Such findings nicely underscore the recognition that a considerable proportion, perhaps the majority, of the influence that fathers have on children’s development is mediated via complex social systems such as the family. When marital or partner conflict becomes intolerable, it remains common for parents to separate, and there is a voluminous literature on the extent to which divorce or parental separation affects children’s adjustment. As Amato and Dorius point out in Chapter 6, there is considerable evidence that children who have experienced the separation of their parents appear less well adjusted than peers whose parents are still together on a variety of dimensions, although it is much less clear exactly why these differences emerge. I have argued elsewhere (Lamb, 2002a, 2002b; Lamb & Kelly, 2009) that the differences are attributable to a variety of factors, including economic hardship; partner conflict before, during, and after separation; and stresses on or disruptions of important child–parent relationships. Amato and Dorius discuss a considerable amount of evidence, mostly obtained from the sophisticated analyses of data derived from representative surveys, documenting




the importance of such factors. Amato and Dorius also go considerably beyond previous discussions, underscoring the complexity of the processes involved, noting that divorce can have positive effects on child adjustment when partner conflict is especially intense and intractable, for example, and that the association between continued paternal involvement and child adjustment may be bidirectional, with involvement being promoted by good adjustment and vice versa. Consistent with the conceptualization of paternal involvement advanced by Pleck in Chapter 3, furthermore, Amato and Dorius note that children’s postdivorce adjustment is not reliably affected by whether they have contact with their nonresident fathers but is influenced by the extent to which fathers actively participate in child rearing, both before and after the separation. Paternal separation and divorce are also the focus of Chapter 7, in which the focus shifts from a sociological analysis of large representative surveys to the more intensive examination of smaller numbers of families. As with the other contributors to this book, Fabricius and his colleagues recognize the need to view children’s development and adjustment in the context of a complex network of psychologically important relationships. More than most other researchers, however, Fabricius and his colleagues have sought children’s views of their parents, and their studies have poignantly documented the extent to which many children and adolescents experience psychological pains as a result of separations that attenuate the youths’ ability to maintain close and meaningful relationships with both of their parents. Recognizing these experiences and their often enduring effects on adjustment, Fabricius and colleagues have conducted a number of important studies exploring the policies and practices that can minimize the extent to which fathers disengage from their children after separation as well as the benefits that follow when, instead, divorced or separated fathers maintain psychologically significant roles in their children’s lives. Such findings, are of course, entirely consistent with the effects documented by Amato and Dorius in their analyses of survey data. Whereas previous chapters have focused either on two-parent families or their aftermath, the fragile families examined by Carlson and McLanahan in Chapter 8 occupy a different, if somewhat amorphous, demographic space. Specifically, the parents they have been studying over time were not married when the study began, although almost all were romantically involved and many were living together. During the next few years, many of the couples married (arguably consolidating their commitment to one another) while others broke off their relationships, and the researchers have been at pains to identify predictions of transitions of either type. Carlson and McLanahan show that early indicators of parental health checks or childbirth predicted both the presentation of the parental dyad and continued paternal involvement even when the parents’ relationship deteriorated, although coresidence remained the most reliable correlate of paternal involvement. Studies such as Carlson and McLanahan’s Fragile Family Study are especially important in light of evidence that, throughout the developed world, increasing proportions of children are born to unmarried mothers. In such contexts, it is crucially important to understand the diverse roles

Outline of the Book 17

that fathers can play in their children’s lives in such circumstances. Such studies may be informative regarding the design of policies that promote children’s well-being and adjustment in the varied contexts in which many are raised today. When parents separate or divorce, it is very common for one or both of them to repartner, creating situations in which their children live at least part of the time with parents as well as step parents. As noted especially by Amato and Dorius (Chapter 6), Fabricius et al. (Chapter 7), and Carlson and McLanahan (Chapter 8), most children tend to reside primarily with their mothers following separation, and therefore it is men who are most likely to be coresident stepfathers while stepmothers host shorter visits by their new partners’ children from previous relationships. As Marsiglio and Hinojosa (Chapter 9) observe, however, increases in the numbers of stepfathers have not been matched by increases in our scholarly understanding of their roles and importance, notwithstanding Marsiglio’s own pioneering work on this topic (Marsiglio, 1995, 2004a, 2004b, 2005). In part, the slow scholarly progress may be attributable to a lack of clarity about the definition of stepfatherhood, particularly when, as in increasing number of cases, the men may not be married to the women whose children are in question, or when the two adults are no longer romantically involved. From the men’s point of view, furthermore, stepfatherhood involves understanding and fitting into a complex web of competing relationships, loyalties, and routines that can constitute a psychological and social minefield. Those who navigate these complexities successfully can establish psychologically significant and supportive relationships with their stepchildren while also helping to maintain harmonious and better resourced households that are themselves beneficial. However, stepfamilies can be both unstable and problematic child-rearing environments, with many stepfathers remaining uncertain of their responsibilities with regard to their stepchildren. Clearly, considerably more research is needed to elucidate the key conceptual issues. Both Amato and Dorius (Chapter 5) and Carlson and McLanahan (Chapter 8) point out that unmarried, divorced, and/or single mothers and their children tend to live in households that are less affluent or even impoverished. Nevertheless, Tamis-LeMonda and McFadden (Chapter 10) take issue with the popular presumption that, in light of these demographic differences, low-income fathers are necessarily much less involved with or committed to their children. In reality, they argue, there is compelling evidence that lowincome fathers (members of a heterogenous category indeed!) are no more likely to shirk their parental responsibilities than more affluent peers, although they certainly face more challenges discharging these responsibilities; that many seek to avoid inflicting on their children some of the harsh conditions they experienced as children; and that as a result, many delay or avoid marriage because they feel uncertain of their ability to support their families economically, rather than because they do not value marriage and the associated commitments. Tamis-LeMonda and McFadden’s chapter is all the more powerful because they reveal how easy it is for policy makers, clinicians, and scholars to have their interpretations and conclusions distorted by biased beliefs and assumptions.




Pervasive negative beliefs about low-income fathers are dwarfed by the prejudices faced by gay fathers, as Golombok and Tasker point out in Chapter 11. As these authors observe, it is hard to know how many gay fathers there are, in part because, until recently, gay men typically became fathers in heterosexual relationships before ‘‘coming out’’ as homosexual, following which many had limited contact with their children. Although there has been relatively little research on gay fathers, it is clear that their situation has changed greatly in recent years, with increasing number of gay men becoming fathers after acknowledging their sexual orientations, in part because there is increasing acceptance of same-sex lifestyles and same-sex parenting in many but by no means all societies today. To date, few researchers have been able to study the relationships between gay fathers and their children, but there is compelling evidence, from studies of lesbian mothers and their children, that same-sex parenting is not associated with psychological maladjustment in children, and that children’s adjustment in same-sex households is affected by exactly the same factors—the quality of parent–child relationships, the degree of partner harmony or conflict, and the amount of social and economic support and security—as the adjustment of children with heterosexual parents. And just as there is evidence that children do not need masculine or male-typed parents in order to thrive psychologically, furthermore, it seems clear that they do not need heterosexually oriented parents of either or both genders. Most of the research on fathers, fatherhood, and father–child relationships has been conducted in Western industrial countries, particularly in North America and western Europe, even though the majority of fathers in the world do not live in such societies. In the next few chapters, therefore, the focus shifts to the direct and indirect effects of culture on fathering and its impact. In the first of these chapters, Shwalb, Nakazawa, Yamamoto, and Hyun (Chapter 12) discuss fathers in East Asia. Their focus falls on fathers in three quite different cultures/countries (China, Japan, and Korea) whose combined population (1.5 billion) comprises nearly a quarter of the world’s current population. Entanglements between the three cultures over many centuries have created some shared traditions, not least the impact of a Confucian ideology, which placed father–son relationships at the centre of the family. The strict Confucian father dominated Shwalb’s and his colleagues’ accounts of these three cultures in the fourth edition of this anthology, but major changes now seem to have taken place throughout the region. Some of these changes reflect the adoption of Western researchers’ questions and approaches, while others reflect the broader impact of Western cultural influences in an increasingly global culture, where televised media and the omnipresent Internet have affected the beliefs and presumptions of many East Asian societies. In particular, the studies described by Shwalb and his colleagues portray cultures in which fathers are adjusting to changing demands and expectations, as well as demographic trends that may make daughters, rather than sons, more valuable in the long run. As in the Western countries discussed in other chapters, modern fathers in China, Japan, and Korea are encouraged to become more directly involved in their children’s

Outline of the Book 19

lives, although there is, as yet, little objective or reliable evidence of the extent to which fathers’ behavior has changed in this direction. Even less systematic research has been conducted on African as on East Asian fathers, as Nsamenang makes clear (Chapter 13), even though Africa accounts for a fifth of the world’s population and was, quite literally, the place where humans, and the human way of live, evolved. Contemporary Africa of course comprises more than 50 countries within which hundreds of cultural groups continue to exist with varying degrees of contact and varying degrees of exposure to colonizing cultures or religions. Despite this considerable diversity, fatherhood is highly regarded and respected in most societies, with infertility lowering the status of men in society. Beyond fecundity, however, there has been little research on the behavior and responsibilities of African fathers, who are often recognized as the head of their families, even though widespread unemployment ensures that many are unable to provide for their families adequately. In his chapter, Nsamenang calls, not only for considerable research on the diverse perceptions and performances of fathering and fatherhood throughout Africa, but also for attempts by policy makers, including international nongovernmental agencies, to design their interventions in ways that recognize and enable men’s commitment to and involvement in their families. The focus on African fathers continues in Chapter 14, in which Hewlett and MacFarlane examine fathers’ roles in hunter-gatherer and other small-scale cultures, many of which are in Africa and Oceania. Many of the studies reviewed here have adopted adaptationist perspectives, especially on the biological or reproductive bases of father involvement and the extent to which context dramatically shapes paternal behavior—topics that have received little attention in the preceding chapters. Other cited studies focus on core cultural ideologies, and beliefs and practices that powerfully influence perceptions of fatherhood. Indeed, the extent to which these factors affect parental roles and expectations is easy to overlook when researchers focus only on their native cultures; their importance becomes more clearly apparent when different cultures and societies are examined. For that reason, Hewlett and MacFarlane’s discussion of small-scale cultures has wide import. Following this analysis, these authors also ask why fathers’ presence and involvement appears to be so important to the psychological well-being of children in affluent industrialized countries while children in small-scale cultures appear to thrive psychologically despite wide variation in the behavioral styles and availability of their fathers. Their provocative conclusion is that father involvement is important in those affluent societies precisely because they are characterized by family contexts that, because children are reared in relative isolation, removed from extended networks of kin and family, deviate dramatically from those experienced, not only by children in most cultures, but also throughout most of our species’ history (Hrdy, 2009). Questions about core cultural values and beliefs also play a central role in Strier and Roer-Strier’s analysis of fatherhood in the context of immigration (Chapter 15). In our increasingly integrated world, immigration has




become a way of life for millions, with one or both parents frequently moving from one country to another in search of better economic opportunities and/or greater freedom. Studies of immigrant fathers have frequently compared them unfavorably to peers who do not migrate, but Strier and RoerStrier underscore the strengths demonstrated by many of these men as they encounter and overcome a range of barriers impeding their progress in new host countries. Clearly, immigration has diverse effects on men, depending on both their initial and subsequent circumstances, and as a result, the effects on father–child relationships and children’s adjustment are poorly understood. We do know, of course, that considerable numbers of children experience such a degree of psychological maladjustment, whether or not their parents or families migrate, and the roles that fathers play in clinical interventions for these children and adolescents are the focus of Chapter 16. As Phares and her colleagues observe, children are more likely to have psychological difficulties when either of their parents have psychological problems, although there has been much more research on the association with mothers’ than with fathers’ psychopathology. In some cases, the similarities between parents and children are genetically mediated, whereas in other cases the parents’ psychopathology affects the quality of their parental behavior, which in turn affects the children’s problems. The latter mechanism is important because (as many researchers have now demonstrated; see Gunlicks and Weissman, 2008), treatment of the parents’ problems can bring about improvements in their children’s behavior. Fathers are much less likely than mothers to be involved in clinical interventions for their children and adolescents, and there is some evidence that interventions are more effective when both parents are involved. Phares and her colleagues argue that the incremental value of paternal involvement is less than might have been expected because many of the family- or parentbased interventions were developed with mothers in mind. In addition to this problem, researchers need to address the reasons why men appear less willing to be involved in clinical interventions, as well as the reasons why many practitioners are less successful in doing so. Phares and colleagues discuss the existing research and offer several suggestions about ways in which these problems could and should be overcome. Techniques that might help promote fathers’ participation in the lives and treatment of their children are also at the heart of MacDonald and Hastings’s discussion of children with developmental disabilities (Chapter 17). Here, deinstitutionalization and the increased popularity of family systems theory have fostered efforts to ensure that fathers’ play significant roles in caring for children with disabilities, promoting a number of studies examining the ways in which fathers respond to diagnosis by recognizing the impact on their roles and responsibilities’ as well as on the psychological stresses recognized by these men. Overall, the evidence suggests that the most effective interventions are those that support each parent as an individual, as a partner, and as a member of the family; begin as soon as possible after diagnosis; and pay explicit attention to each parent’s emotional responses. Like Phares et al.,

Outline of the Book 21

MacDonald and Hastings also note that female-dominated professions often appear insensitive to the specific concerns that fathers may have, underscoring the need for professionals to examine the unintended messages they may be communicating to their clientele. Policies and services for wider groups of fathers, not only those whose children have psychological problems or developmental disabilities, are the focus of the last three chapters. In the first of these, Cabrera (Chapter 18) focuses on public policies and programs in the United States and Canada. As she points out, policy makers in North America appeared to discover fathers in the 1990s, and, as a result, there have been significant changes over the past decade and a half. Progress was initially slow because fathers (as opposed to men) had been invisible for so long, but once efforts were made to identify the specific needs and barriers faced by fathers in diverse circumstances, policies were reexamined. Perhaps the most important realization has been the fact that children in poverty are disproportionally unlikely to live with their fathers; this has in turn promoted many efforts (accompanied by varying degrees of ideological baggage) to promote fathers’ commitment to and involvement in the lives of their children on the grounds that this may promote children’s well-being, directly and indirectly. The most important relevant policy initiatives of the Clinton and Bush administrations are critically examined and evaluated by Cabrera. She also highlights differences between the United States, where married and unmarried, resident and nonresident fathers have all been the focus of some policies, and Canada, where policies have tended to focus on men who are or have been married to the children’s mothers. In both cases, evaluations have been disappointing, especially because the focus has been on individual policies, rather than the network of policies and practices. Family policies in Europe then came under scrutiny in Chapter 19. Here, O’Brien and Moss report that the European Commission has promoted several policies to promote fathers’ active involvement in their children’s lives while also promoting gender equality at home and at work. In many countries, parental leave schemes have been especially important, with recent years witnessing a shift from policies that allow parents to divide generous paid leave benefits between the two parents to policies, pioneered in the Scandinavian countries, that offer targeted benefits to mothers and fathers as well as some months that can be taken by either parent. Such arrangements have understandably led to increased take-up by fathers, but long-term effects on paternal involvement or gender equality have yet to be assessed. In addition, as O’Brien and Moss observe, paternal leave and flexible work schemes must be viewed and promoted as a part of a more holistic suite of policies that include high-quality and affordable child care as well as regulation of the amounts of paid work that can be demanded, so that some men, especially those in low-income families, are not forced to work such long hours that their family time is unnecessarily constricted. In the final chapter, Parkinson (Chapter 20) discusses the dramatic policy initiatives introduced by the Australian government between 2003 and 2008. Perhaps no other country has attempted so complete an overhaul of an entire




suite of policies and programs in an attempt to create a coherent set of policies designed to promote the welfare and well-being of children whose parents are contemplating separation. Changes were prompted by concerns that existing policies did not serve the interests of children, mothers, or fathers because they did not limit the amount of acrimony or violence, while disenfranchising and alienating many fathers and impoverishing many mothers and their children. The new policies thus seek to provide support and guidance from early in the process (ideally reducing acrimony and perhaps even averting some separations), while insisting on continued financial contributions to children’s support from both parents and one ensuring that, wherever appropriate, children have opportunities to maintain meaningful relationships with both of their parents. The evolutionary (or revolutionary) process described by Parkinson might be a model for many other countries particularly because, as Parkinson observes, the initial findings suggests that the new system is considerably better for children than the system it replaced (Parkinson & Cashmore, 2009). REFERENCES Adams, P. L., Milner, J. R., & Schrepf, N. A. (1984). Fatherless children. New York: Wiley. Belsky, J., Gilstrap, B., & Rovine, M. (1984). The Pennsylvania Infant and Family Development Project: 1. Stability and change in mother–infant and father– infant interaction at one, three, and nine months. Child Development, 55, 692– 705. Berman, P. W. (1980). Are women more responsive than men to the young? A review of developmental situational variables. Psychological Bulletin, 88, 668–695. Biller, H. B. (1971). Father, child, and sex role. Lexington, MA: Heath. Biller, H. B. (1974). Paternal deprivation: Family, school, sexuality, and society. Lexington, MA: Heath. Biller, H. B. (1993). Fathers and families. Westport, CT: Auburn House. Biller, H. B. (1994). The father factor. New York: Pocket Books. Blankenhorn, D. (1995). Fatherless America. New York: Basic Books. Conner, D. B., Knight, D. K., & Cross, D. R. (1997). Mothers’ and fathers’ scaffolding of their 2-year-olds during problem-solving and literacy interactions. Journal of Developmental Psychology, 15, 323–338. Crawley, S. B., & Sherrod, R. B. (1984). Parent–infant play during the first year of life. Infant Behavior and Development, 7, 65–75. Cummings, E. M., Goeke-Morey, M. C., & Raymond, J. (2004). Fathers in family context: Effects of marital quality and marital conflict. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of the father in child development (4th edition, pp. 196–221). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. Dalton-Hummel, D. (1982). Syntactic and conversational characteristics of fathers’ speech. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 11, 465–483. Easterbrooks, M. A., & Goldberg, W. A. (1984). Toddler development in the family: Impact of father involvement and parenting characteristics. Child Development, 55, 740–752. Ely, R., & Berko-Gleason, J., Narasimhan, B., & McCabe, A. (1995). Family talk about talk: Mothers lead the way. Discourse Processes, 19, 201–218. Glick, P. C., & Norton, A. J. (1979). Marrying, divorcing, and living together in the U. S. today. Population Bulletin, 32(5, whole issue).

References 23 Golinkoff, R. M., & Ames, G. (1979). A comparison of fathers’ and mothers’ speech with their young children, Child Development, 50, 28–32. Graham, J. N., & Sellers, A.H. (2002). Nonresident fathers and their children: Child support and visitation from an economic perspective. In C. S. Tamis-LeMonda & N. Cabrera (Eds.), Handbook of father involvement (pp. 431–453). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Griswold, R. L. (1993). Fatherhood in America. New York: Basic Books. Gunlicks, M. L., & Weissman, M. M. (2008). Change in child psychopathology with improvements in parental depression: A systematic review. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 47, 379–389. Herzog, R., & Sudia, C. E. (1973). Children in fatherless families. In B. M. Caldwell & H. N. Ricciuti (Eds.), Review of child development research (Vol. 3, pp. 141–232). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Hetherington, E. M., Cox, M., & Cox, R. (1982). Effects of divorce on parents and children. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), Nontraditional families (pp. 233–288). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. Hetherington, E. M., & Kelly, J. (2002). For better or for worse. New York: Norton. Horn, W. F. (1995). Father facts. Lancaster, PA: National Fatherhood Initiative. Hrdy, S. B. (2009). Mothers and others. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. Johnson, L. C., & Abramovitch, R. (1985). Unemployed fathers: Parenting in a changing labour market. Toronto: Social Planning Council. Johnson, L. C., & Abramovitch, R. (1988). Parental unemployment and family life. In A. Pence (Ed.), Ecological research with children and families: From concepts to methodology (pp. 49–75). New York: Teachers College Press. Kelly, J. B. (2000). Children’s adjustment in conflicted marriage and divorce: A decade review of research. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 39, 963–973l. Knibiehler, Y. (1995). Fathers, patriarchy, paternity. In M. C. P.van Dongen, G. A. B. Frinking, & M. J. G. Jacobs (Eds.), Changing fatherhood: An interdisciplinary perspective (pp. 201–214). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Thesis. Koestner, R., Franz, C., & Weinberger, J. (1990). The family origins of empathic concern: A 26-year longitudinal study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 709–717. Lamb, M. E. (1975). Fathers: Forgotten contributions to child development. Human Development, 18, 245–266. Lamb, M. E. (Ed.) (1976). The role of the father in child development. New York: Wiley. Lamb, M. E. (1977). Father–infant and mother–infant interaction in the first year of life. Child Development, 48, 167–181. Lamb, M. E. (1981). Fathers and child development: An integrative overview. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of the father in child development (Rev. ed., pp. 1–70). New York: Wiley. Lamb, M. E. (Ed.) (1986). The father’s role: Applied perspectives. New York: Wiley. Lamb, M. E. (1999). Noncustodial fathers and their impact on the children of divorce. In R. A. Thompson & P. Amato (Eds.), The post-divorce family: Research and policy issues (pp. 105–125). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Lamb, M.E. (2002a). Noncustodial fathers and their children. In C. S. Tamis-LeMonda & N. Cabrera (Eds.), Handbook of father involvement: Multidisciplinary perspectives (pp. 93–117). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Lamb, M. E. (2002b). Placing children’s interests first: Developmentally appropriate parenting plans. Virginia Journal of Social Policy and the Law, 10, 98– 119.




Lamb, M. E., Frodi, M., Hwang, C. P., & Frodi, A. M. (1983). Effects of paternal involvement on infant preferences for mothers and fathers. Child Development, 54, 450–452. Lamb, M. E., & Kelly, J. B. (2009). Improving the quality of parent–child contact in separating families with infants and young children: Empirical research foundations. In R. M. Galazer-Levy, Z. Kraus, & J. Galatzer-Levy (Eds.), The scientific basis of child custody decisions (2nd ed., pp. 187–214). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. Lamb, M. E., & Levine, J. A. (1983). The Swedsih parental insurance policy: An experiment in social engineering. In M. E. Lamb & A. Sagi (Eds.), Fatherhood and family policy (pp. 39–51). Hillsdale NJ: Erlbaum. Lamb, M. E., Pleck, J. H., Charnov, E. L., & Levine, J. A. (1985). Paternal behavior in humans. American Zoologist, 25, 883–894. Lamb, M. E., Pleck, J. H., Charnov, E. L., & Levine, J. A. (1987). A biological perspective on paternal behavior and involvement. In J. B. Lancaster, J. Altmann, A. S. Rossi, & L. R. Sherrod (Eds.), Parenting across the lifespan: Biosocial perspectives (pp. 111–142). Hawthorne, NY: Aldine. Lamb, M. E., Pleck, J. H., & Levine, J. A. (1985). The role of the father in child development: The effects of increased paternal involvement. In B. B. Lahey & A. E. Kazdin (Eds.), Advances in clinical child psychology (Vol. 8, pp. 229–266). New York: Plenum. Leaper, C., Anderson, K. J., & Sanders, P. (1998). Moderators of gender effects in parents’ talk to their children: A meta-analysis. Developmental Psychology, 34, 3–27. Lewis, M., & Weinraub, M. (1976). The father’s role in the child’s social network. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of the father in child development (pp. 157–184). New York: Wiley. Mannle, S., & Tomasello, M. (1987). Fathers, siblings, and the bridge hypothesis. In K. E. Nelson & A.von Kleek (Eds.), Children’s language (pp. 23–42). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. Marsiglio, W. (1995). Stepfathers with minor children living at home: Parenting perceptions and relationship quality. In W. Marsiglio (Ed.), Fatherhood: Contemporary theory, research, and social policy (pp. 211–229). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Marsiglio, W. (2004a). Stepdads: Stories of love, hope, and repair. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. Marsiglio, W. (2004b). When stepfathers claim stepchildren: A conceptual analyses. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 22–39. Marsiglio, W. (2005). Contextual scenarios for stepfathers’ identity construction, boundary work, and ‘‘fatherly’’ involvement. In W. Marsiglio, K. Roy, & G. L. Fox (Eds.), Situated fathering: A focus on physical and social spaces (pp. 73–97). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. Mosely, J., & Thomson, E. (1995). Fathering behavior and child outcomes: The role of race and poverty. In W. Marsiglio (Ed.), Fatherhood: Contemporary theory, research, and social policy (pp. 148–165). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Mussen, P. H., & Rutherford, E. (1963). Parent–child relations and parental personality in relation to young children’s sex-role preferences. Child Development, 34, 589–607. Notaro, P. C., & Volling, B. L. (1999). Parental responsiveness and infant–parent attachment: A replication study with fathers and mothers. Infant Behavior and Development, 22, 345–352. O’Hare, W. P. (1995). KIDS COUNT Data Book. New York: Annie Casie Foundation. Parkinson, P., & Cashmore, J. (2009). The voice of the child in family law disputes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

References 25 Payne, D. E., & Mussen, P. H. (1956). Parent–child relations and father identification among adolescent boys. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 52, 358–362. Pearson, J., & Thoennes, N. (1990). Custody after divorce: Demographic and attitudinal patterns. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 60, 233–249. Pleck, E. (2004). Two dimensions of fatherhood: A history of the good dad–bad dad complex. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of the father in child development (4th ed., pp. 32–57). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. Pleck, E., and Pleck, J. H. (1997). Fatherhood ideals in the United States: Historical dimensions. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of the father in child development (3rd ed., pp. 33–48). New York: Wiley. Pleck, J. H. (1983). Husbands’ paid work and family roles: Current research issues. In H. Lopata & J. H. Pleck (Eds.), Research in the interweave of social roles: Vol. 3. Families and jobs. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press. Pleck, J. H. (1984). Working wives and family well-being. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage. Pleck, J. H. (1997). Paternal involvement: Levels, sources and consequences. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of the father in child development (pp. 66–103). New York: Wiley. Popenoe, D. (1996). Life without fathers. New York: Free Press. Power, T. G. (1985). Mother– and father–infant play. Child Development, 56, 1514–1524. Pruett, K. D. (1983). Infants of primary nurturing fathers. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 38, 257–277. Pruett, K. D. (1985). Children of the fathermothers: Infants of primary nurturing mothers. In J. D. Call, E. Galenson, & R. L. Tyson (Eds.), Frontiers of infant psychiatry (Vol. 2, pp. 375–380). New York: Basic Books. Radin, N. (1981). The role of the father in cognitive, academic, and intellectual development. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of the father in child development (Rev. ed., pp. 379–428). New York: Wiley. Radin, N. (1982). Primary caregiving and role-sharing fathers. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), Nontraditional families: Parenting and child development (pp. 173–204). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. Radin, N. (1994). Primary-caregiving fathers in intact families. In A.E. Gottfried & A.W. Gottfried (Eds.), Redefining families: Implications for children’s development (pp. 11–54). New York: Plenum. Rondal, J. A. (1980). Fathers’ and mothers’ speech in early language development. Journal of Child Language, 7, 353–369. Russell, G. (1983). The changing roles of fathers? St Lucia: University of Queensland Press. Russell, G. (1986). Primary caretaking and role-sharing fathers. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The father’s role: Applied perspectives (pp. 29–57). New York: Wiley. Sears, R. R., Maccoby, E. E., & Levin, H. (1957). Patterns of child rearing. Evanston, IL: Peterson. Shannon, J., Tamis-LeMonda, C. S., London, K., & Cabrera, N. (2002). Beyond rough and tumble: Low-income fathers’ interactions and children’s cognitive development at 24 months. Parenting: Science and Practice, 2, 77–104. Silverstein, L. B., & Auerbach, C. F. (1999). Deconstructing the essential father. American Psychologist, 54, 397–407. Tamis-LeMonda, C.S., & Cabrera, N. (Eds.) (2002). Handbook of father involvement: Multidisciplinary perspectives. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Thompson, R. A., & Laible, D. J. (1999). Noncustodial parents. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), Parenting and child development in ‘‘nontraditional’’ families (pp. 103–123). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.




Tomasello, M., Conti-Ramsden, B., & Ewert, B. (1990). Young children’s conversations with their mothers and fathers: Difference in breakdown and repair. Journal of Child Language, 17, 115–130. Van IJzendoorn, M. H., & DeWolff, M. S. (1997). In search of the absent father—metaanalyses of infant–father attachment: A rejoinder to our discussants. Child Development, 68, 604–609. Whitehead, B. D. (1993, April). Dan Quayle was right. Atlantic Monthly, 47–84.


Fatherhood and Masculinity JOSEPH H. PLECK


between fatherhood and masculinity, this chapter introduces the Fatherhood–Masculinity Model as a conceptual framework. This model distinguishes fatherhood as a parental status from fatherhood as parenting behavior and identity. It also differentiates between masculinity as male gender status and masculinity as males’ masculinity orientation. Using this model, I systematically analyze the potential interrelationships between these dual aspects of fatherhood and masculinity and their complex possible connections to child outcomes and to outcomes for fathers themselves. The chapter then considers the dominant idea in public discourse about fatherhood and masculinity: the ‘‘essential father’’ hypothesis. The paternal essentiality thesis holds that fathers make an essential, unique, and, more specifically, uniquely male contribution to child development. Framing the essentiality hypothesis in the context of the Fatherhood–Masculinity Model suggests that paternal essentiality entails six component ideas: (a) gender differences in parenting, (b) associations between father presence and child outcomes, (c) the mediation of those associations specifically by paternal involvement, (d) the attribution of paternal presence effects to father’s maleness, (e) the uniqueness of fathering’s effects on child outcomes, and (f) the association of paternal masculinity orientation to paternal involvement and child outcomes. A review of research in each of these six areas reveals highly qualified or modest support at best. I then suggest an alternative interpretation: The ‘‘important father’’ hypothesis. This view holds that good fathering is one of many factors promoting good child outcomes, having positive consequences independent of other influences such as good mothering, and having these consequences in ways not necessarily linked to fathers’ masculinity. Though O ANALYZE LINKAGES

The work reported here was supported by the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, U. S. Department of Agriculture, under Project No. ILLU-45–0366 to Joseph H. Pleck.





being one of many sources of positive development rather than being alldeterminative, good fathering is no less important on that account. I argue that the paternal importance hypothesis does not signify a demotion in our assessment of fathering’s value for children’s development. Rather, it brings our understanding of the potential impact of good fathering in line with the way researchers understand the effects of most other influences on positive outcomes. The Fatherhood–Masculinity Model identifies many other possible intersections between fatherhood and masculinity besides hypotheses about paternal essentiality or importance. As an illustrative example, the chapter reviews research on masculinity-related dynamics in the connection between fatherhood and generativity. These investigations suggest that fathers’ masculinity influences this linkage in a complex manner, revealing some ways in which parenting and generativity may be more closely linked in men than in women, but other respects in which they may be less strongly related. The chapter concludes with recommendations for future research and practice. Some restrictions in the chapter’s scope should be acknowledged. This chapter focuses on fatherhood and masculinity primarily in the North American context, as the literature even for this limited setting is extensive. Also, in the North American and British academic contexts, the legitimacy of applying concepts of masculinity to nonmajority males is contested (Connell, 2005; Schrock & Schwalbe, 2009), a debate not addressed here. THE FATHERHOOD–MASCULINITY MODEL Fatherhood and masculinity potentially intersect in multiple ways (Marsiglio & Pleck, 2005). As an analytic framework for systematically considering their interrelationships, this section introduces the Fatherhood–Masculinity Model. This framework systematically describes a broad set of the possible linkages between fatherhood and masculinity in relation to child outcomes as well as in relation to outcomes for fathers themselves. Due to the many connections entailed in the model, it is presented in three steps. Conceptual distinctions between two components of fatherhood and between two aspects of masculinity are initially introduced, and relationships among the four resulting concepts are analyzed. Child outcomes are then added to the model, followed by outcomes for fathers themselves. FATHERHOOD



Figure 2.1 depicts the first subsection of the model, concerning the associations between fatherhood and masculinity. This part of the model makes a key distinction between fatherhood as a parental status and as parenting, and a further distinction between masculinity as paternal male gender status and as masculinity orientation. Fatherhood as a Parental Status and as Parenting. In scholarly writing, the term fatherhood is used in two different ways that are important to distinguish. First, many researchers use the term to refer to fatherhood as a parental status.

The Fatherhood–Masculinity Model 29 Parental status Child presence, #, spacing, biological and/or social





D Paternal male gender status


Paternal masculinity orientation

Denotes a moderator effect

Figure 2.1

Fatherhood and Masculinity.

This can be interpreted narrowly as fertility status, that is, being a biological father or not. It can also be interpreted broadly as well to include men who function as ‘‘social fathers’’ to children who are not their biological offspring by virtue of adoption, being a stepparent, or taking parental responsibility for a child in other ways. Fatherhood as parental status includes not only whether one is a father, but also other dimensions such as the father’s age at becoming a parent; his total number of children (parity); the spacing of his children; and whether he has only biological children, only social children, or both. In recent research, there has been particular interest in influences on the timing of first fatherhood, in the consequences of fatherhood timing, and in linkages between the fatherhood transition and other role transitions (Astone, Dariotis, Sonenstein, Pleck, & Hynes, in press; Dariotis, Pleck, Astone, & Sonenstein, in press). Scholars also use the term fatherhood in a second sense to refer to fathers’ parenting of their biological or social children, conveyed by the term fathering. Most research on fatherhood in the human development and family studies field concerns fathering in this sense. The most widely used construct in the study of men’s fathering is paternal involvement (Lamb, Pleck, Charnov, & Levine, 1985, 1987; Pleck, Lamb, & Levine, 1985). In research practice, the involvement concept has come to encompass not only fathers’ amount of interaction with their child, but also their warmth–responsiveness and their control, expressed especially in monitoring and decision making (see Chapter 3). In this chapter, the terms fathering and parenting refer to involvement in this broader sense, as well as to paternal identity, fathers’ self-meanings in the father role (LaRossa & Reitzes, 1993; Maurer, Pleck, & Rane, 2001). In summary, the broader term fatherhood will be used here to denote both fathers’ parental status and their parenting. Masculinity as Paternal Male Gender Status and as Masculinity Orientation. The term masculinity is also used in two different ways. Male gender status refers to a person’s being male rather than female. In the biogenetic perspective, male




gender status results from having the XY chromosome. In the social constructionist interpretation, it refers to being in one of two, dichotomous, socially defined, and socially constructed gender categories, which, although based on biological sex, are socially construed and elaborated. Masculinity orientation, by contrast, refers to variations within the male gender status category. It concerns variations among the persons holding male gender status in the extent to which they have male gender-typed characteristics or attitudes, or put more simply, in how ‘‘masculine’’ they are. In this chapter, masculinity will be used as the broad term incorporating both male gender status and masculinity orientation. In this usage, all biological and social fathers are members of the male gender status category. Fathers can vary, however, in their masculinity orientations. Fathers’ potentially essential and unique contribution to child development, to be analyzed in detail in a later section, concerns masculinity in both senses: the effect on children of having a parent who is male (gender status), and the effect of having a male parent who is more rather than less masculine (masculinity orientation). It should be noted that researchers have interpreted masculinity orientation in two different ways: masculinity as a male’s gender-typed personality disposition or constellation of traits, and masculinity as a male’s attitudes and beliefs about how men actually are, and how they should be (Thompson, Pleck, & Ferrera, 1992). Since the 1970s, the first conception has been operationalized with measures such as the Bem Sex Role Inventory (Bem, 1974; see Lenney, 1991, for a review), yielding scores for an individual’s masculinity (M) and femininity (F). The second conception is operationalized with measures of attitudes about men’s ideal and actual characteristics (Marcell, Ford, Pleck, & Sonenstein, 2007; Pleck & O’Donnell, 2001; Pleck, Sonenstein, & Ku, 1993a, 1993b, 1994a, 1994b). To illustrate the central distinction between the two interpretations, according to the former, high or strong masculinity orientation is shown by a male reporting that he is, for example, assertive; according to the latter, it is shown by a male saying that he thinks males should be assertive. Within the second interpretation concerning attitudes, a further important distinction is between attitudes about how women and men are or should be different from each other (often labeled as attitudes toward gender or toward women) and attitudes specifically about men’s roles (see Pleck et al., 1994a, regarding why the distinction is important). Research linking fatherhood and masculinity orientation has used both approaches. Gender studies also employs a third interpretation, masculinity as a ‘‘performance’’ or ‘‘script,’’ interpreted as not an intra-individual phenomenon but as existing inherently only in interactions among individuals (Larson & Pleck, 1999). However, this third conception has not been widely used in fatherhood research. Linkages Between Fatherhood and Masculinity. The first linkage in Figure 2.1 concerns the relationship between parental status and parenting (path A). Being a parent is a precondition for parental behavior (excluding preparatory behaviors), and generally brings about major changes in parental identity. (This and most other linkages in the figures have been studied empirically, but relevant research will generally not be cited in this discussion.) For

The Fatherhood–Masculinity Model 31

example, the timing of parenthood, the number of children someone has and their spacing, and whether they are biological and/or social children can influence how parents act and how they think of themselves as parents. Reciprocally, holding particular self-conceptions about what being a parent means can influence whether and when individuals have children, how many, and whether the children are biological and/or social. Parents’ behavioral and identity experience with earlier children also potentially affects their subsequent parenthood decisions. The left side linkages in the model bring fathers’ male gender status into focus. First, male gender status influences the circumstances in which parenthood occurs (B). For example, on average, men have first children at an older age than women do. In addition, men are more likely to have stepchildren than are women. According to the next linkage (C), male gender status may moderate the linkages between parental status and parenting just discussed. As examples, becoming a parent as a teen (or late in life), having many children or few, or having social children may have a different impact on parental involvement and identity in men than they do in women. Reciprocally, the consequences of being more (or less) engaged as a parent with one’s first child may affect subsequent parenthood decisions differently for men than for women. Likewise, having strong parental identity may promote first parenthood and later parenthood to a greater degree, or lesser degree, among men than it does among women. Fathers’ male gender status potentially influences their parenting (D). That is, the socially constructed and/or biosocial concomitants of being male may influence a man’s involvement with his child as well as the nature of his paternal identity. The right side of Figure 2.1 depicts fatherhood–masculinity linkages involving masculinity orientation. In contrast to male gender status, masculinity orientation is potentially malleable. Therefore, some linkages involving masculinity orientation entail reciprocal influence. Becoming a parent and the circumstances under which a man does so, and masculinity orientation, may influence each other reciprocally (E). That is, having a biological child may make a male feel more masculine, while simultaneously having a more traditional masculinity orientation may promote higher fertility. Next, masculinity orientation can moderate the linkage between men’s parental status and their parenting (F). For example, having a first birth as a teen may be associated with different kinds of fathering among males who hold more traditional beliefs about masculinity than among males with less traditional beliefs. Finally, a father’s parenting may be influenced by his masculinity orientation and vice versa (G). FATHERHOOD, MASCULINITY,



Figure 2.2 adds child outcomes to the model. (Linkages not related to child outcomes and already discussed in Figure 2.1 are shown with dotted lines but not labeled.) A primary way that a father’s male gender status may influence his child is by virtue of influencing his parental behavior, that is, an indirect or mediated effect (D, H). However, it is also possible that the child is directly influenced by her father’s male gender (D3). In this linkage, being directly



MASCULINITY Parental status child presence, #, spacing, biological and/or social

D Paternal male gender status

G Parenting G2


Paternal masculinity orientation

H D3

Denotes a moderator effect


Child outcomes

Figure 2.2 Fatherhood, Masculinity, and Child Outcomes. Note: For labeling of linkages involving parental status, see Figure 2.1.

influenced by fathers’ male gender status refers to the direct consequences of living with or having frequent contact with a parent who has male gender status, that is, a father. In the social context that so many children do not live with a father, or do not have a relationship with their nonresident father, simply having a father with whom one lives or has a relationship can have a significant meaning to the child and to those around her, influencing her behavior as a result. The linkage between paternal male gender status and child outcomes (D3) is shown as bidirectional because the child’s behavior could influence whether the father lives with her or how much contact he has with her; for example, in the presence of other factors promoting father absence, a child’s acting out could tip the balance toward absence. Another form potentially taken by the D3 linkage is that having a resident parent who is male could have a direct modeling effect on sons’ sex-typed behavior. Finally, the father’s male gender may function as a moderator of the child’s perceptions of her father’s parenting; that is, the same parental behavior may be perceived differently by the child depending on the parent’s gender (D2). For example, discipline on the part of fathers may have stronger effects than when mothers show the same behavior. While fathers’ parenting influences the child, there is also potential reciprocal influence (H). Father involvement research is beginning to shift away from conceptualizing paternal involvement as behavior that fathers in effect ‘‘dispense’’ to their children, toward viewing it as an inherently relational process between father and child embedded in a broader pattern of family interaction (see Chapter 3). Further, paternal male gender status may moderate the effect of this reciprocal influence of child on father (D2). For example, if a child has a high level of interest in sports, fathers may increase their engagement in sports-promoting behaviors more than mothers do. These patterns of linkages raise the possibility that fathers’ male gender status may have evocative effects: fathers’ maleness may influence their behavior with

The Fatherhood–Masculinity Model 33

their child (D), in turn affecting their child (H), as well as influence their child directly (D3); their child’s behavior in response may reinforce those paternal behaviors (H). Fathers’ masculinity orientation can also have a direct influence on their parenting (G). More masculine fathers may parent in different ways, and think about themselves differently as fathers, than less masculine fathers. In addition, masculinity orientation can directly influence the child, for example, sons’ direct modeling of their fathers’ levels or forms of masculinity orientation (G3). Fathers’ masculinity orientation may also have an indirect influence mediated by fathers’ parenting behavior (G, H). Further, masculinity orientation potentially moderates the influence of fathers’ parenting on the child, in that the same paternal behavior or identity may be experienced differently by the child, depending on how masculine she perceives her father to be (G2). In the reciprocal direction, children’s behavior can influence fathers’ masculinity orientations; for example, children’s gendertyped behavior can reinforce fathers’ gender-typed behavior (G3). Another possible dynamic is that fathers’ masculinity orientations moderate the influence of children’s behavior on fathers; for example, a son excelling at football will have a different impact on fathers who hold the high valuation of male competence in football that is part of some North American conceptions of masculinity, than on fathers who do not (G2). FATHERHOOD, MASCULINITY, CHILD OUTCOMES,



Figure 2.3 depicts the final linkages in the Fatherhood–Masculinity Model involving parent outcomes in addition to child outcomes. (For simplification, the linkages discussed in Figures 2.1 and 2.2 not concerning parent outcomes are omitted.) Possible parental outcomes include psychological well-being, life satisfaction, generativity, marital or relationship satisfaction, and Parental status J


K1 Paternal male gender status


L1 K2



K3 Parent outcomes


Paternal masculinity orientation



Denotes a moderator effect

Figure 2.3

Child outcomes

Fatherhood, Masculinity, Child Outcomes, and Father Outcomes.




socioeconomic status attainment (earnings, education). Parental status and these outcomes can reciprocally influence each other (I); for example, early childbearing and low status attainment may affect each other mutually. Among parents, the association of parenting behavior and identity with parent outcomes may also be reciprocal (J); for example, being more involved as a parent and psychological well-being may each promote the other. Bringing in gender status, paths K1 and K2 denote that the relationship between parental status and adult outcomes, and between parenting and adult outcomes, can differ for men and women. Among men, these linkages are also moderated by masculinity orientation (L1, L2). Path K3 indicates that there are average gender differences in adult outcomes (e.g., men earn more than women). These adult outcomes and children’s outcomes may influence each other; for example, parental psychological distress and adolescent problem behaviors can have a reciprocal relationship (M). This linkage may potentially be weaker, or stronger, among fathers than among mothers (K4). In parallel, among men, reciprocal influence may exist between masculinity orientation and fathers’ adult outcomes (L3); for example, masculinity attitudes and relationship satisfaction may be interrelated (Pleck et al., 1993b). Masculinity orientation may also affect the extent to which fathers’ outcomes and children’s outcomes are interconnected (L4). In summary, the broad set of potential linkages between fatherhood and masculinity identified in the Fatherhood–Masculinity Model provides the structure for a comprehensive research program on their interrelationship. The model also establishes a broader context in which to consider the notion that fathers make an essential and unique contribution to child development by virtue of their masculinity, to which we now turn. THE ESSENTIAL FATHER HYPOTHESIS IN THE CONTEXT OF THE FATHERHOOD–MASCULINITY MODEL The idea that fathers, by virtue of being male, make an essential and unique contribution to child development has existed in the social sciences since at least the 1940s (Pleck, 1981). This notion is clearly established in contemporary public discourse about fathers: At the time of this writing, an Internet search on ‘‘fathers’’ and ‘‘essential’’ jointly yielded 5.35 million pages; searching on ‘‘fathers’’ and ‘‘unique’’ produced 4.97 million pages. Blankenhorn (1995) and Popenoe (1996) provide the most concerted recent formulations of this thesis. As Silverstein and Auerbach (1999, p. 197) summarize this notion in their critical analysis, ‘‘Fathers are understood as having a unique and essential role to play in child development, especially for boys who need a male role model to establish a masculine gender identity.’’ In my view, this ‘‘essential father’’ (EF) hypothesis can be formulated at a broad level as a sequence of three linked ideas. First, fathers make a contribution to children’s development that is essential. Second, fathers make a contribution that is unique; what makes fathers’ contribution essential is precisely that it is unique. Third, fathers make a contribution that is uniquely male and uniquely masculine; that is, fathers’ contribution is unique specifically because fathers are males and have masculine characteristics.

The Essential Father Hypothesis in the Context of the Fatherhood–Masculinity Model 35

It is useful to analyze where the EF hypothesis ‘‘fits’’ within the network of potential connections depicted in the Fatherhood–Masculinity Model. Doing so makes evident, first, that there are many possible associations between fatherhood and masculinity not addressed in the hypothesis. The essentiality thesis concerns only those fatherhood–masculinity linkages connected to child outcomes (Figure 2.2). In particular, the EF hypothesis does not address potentially important connections concerning the interrelation between men’s parental status and their fathering behavior (Figure 2.1) and among fatherhood, masculinity, and fathers’ adult outcomes (Figure 2.3) analyzed in other parts of the model. Second, the Fatherhood–Masculinity Model’s Figure 2.2 makes it possible to specify systematically the possible processes involved in fathers’ potentially essential, unique, masculine contribution to child development. One primary pathway of possible influence is that being male may be associated with distinctive parenting behaviors (path D in Figure 2.2), which in turn affect the child’s development (H). In addition, the same parental behavior may have distinctive effects on the child when exhibited by fathers compared to mothers (the moderator effect on path H denoted by path D2). Simply having a resident father or having significant contact with a nonresident one could also have a direct effect (D3). Finally, variations among fathers in their masculinity orientation may also play a role, in that fathers’ having more masculine behaviors or attitudes may influence child outcomes, in particular, children’s sex typing, directly (path G3), indirectly via effects on paternal behavior (G,H), and via moderating the influence of paternal behavior on the child (G2). It is important to note that for the direct linkages involved in the EF hypothesis (D, H, D3, G, G3), the hypothesis assumes that influence is unidirectional, whereas in the broader model all but one of these paths (D) are considered bidirectional. AREAS





Research is available concerning many but not all of these possible pathways of influence. Six areas of research are most relevant: The first concerns gender differences in parenting behavior. Next considered are three topics regarding the effects of father presence (coresidence) vs. absence: the association between father presence and positive child outcomes, the mediating role of paternal involvement in this association, and the extent to which the effects of paternal presence can be attributed specifically to fathers’ male gender. Next considered is the uniqueness of fathering’s effects, relative to the effects of mothering. The final area reviewed is the association of paternal masculinity orientation to fathers’ parenting and to child outcomes. 1. Gender Differences in Parenting. The most well-established difference in parenting by parental gender is that fathers on average spend less total time with their children than mothers do (Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2004). This gender difference, however, does not have clear implications for the essential father hypothesis one way or the other. Although fathers’ lower engagement time could mean that fathers’ contribution to development is smaller than




mothers’, it could alternatively create a context in which fathers’ behaviors have a disproportionately high impact on the child. The aspect of gender differences in parenting central to the EF hypothesis is, instead, differences in the nature of fathers’ and mothers’ parental behavior. Reviews of this literature conclude that significant average differences do exist on many dimensions of parenting (Collins & Russell, 1991; Leaper, Anderson, & Sanders, 1998). And many fathers clearly view their parental behavior as different from mothers’. As Doucet (2006) observed in a recent qualitative study, ‘‘It is as though fathers look across [the] metaphorical gender divide to what women are doing and then co-construct their own actions in relation, sometimes in reaction, to those maternal decisions and movements’’ (p. 220). However, three important qualifications are required about average gender differences in parenting: average differences by parental gender are not large, within-gender variation is substantial, and as a result the overlap in fathers’ and mothers’ distributions on parenting variables is considerable. As Collins and Russell (1991, p. 109) put it, Differences in mother–child and father–child interactions . . . do not appear to be as marked as most theories imply. [For example,] observation studies in middle childhood show that many fathers were highly nurturant (e.g., by demonstrating affection) and typically participated in caregiving as frequently as mothers did, when both parents were present. Further, self-report studies in adolescence show that mothers are equally as likely as fathers to discuss school performance and future career goals.

Leaper et al.’s (1998) meta-analysis of parental gender differences in parents’ use of language with their children is especially useful because it goes beyond simply reporting whether average differences are statistically significant or not, but also provides estimates of effect sizes for various dimensions of parental speech. Effect size refers to expressing the differences found between mothers’ and fathers’ means in standard deviation units (d). Across studies, mothers tended to talk more (d ¼ 0.26), use more supportive (d ¼ 0.23) and negative (d ¼ 0.13) speech, and use less directive (d ¼ 0.19) and informing (d ¼ .15) speech than did fathers. According to standard criteria for interpreting effect sizes (>0.8 for large effects, >0.5 for medium effects, >0.2 for small effects, and effects < 0.2 considered negligible; Rosenthal, Rosnow, & Rubin, 2000), only two of the five domains meet the criterion to be considered even small effects. These low effect sizes imply that overlap between fathers and mothers is substantial. For example, according to the normal curve, the effect size of 0.23 for supportive speech in mothers’ favor means that 41% of fathers nonetheless show more supportive speech than does the average mother. Overlap would be considerable even if effect sizes were substantially higher: for example, if d ¼ 0.5, 31% of fathers would show greater support than the maternal average, and if d ¼ 0.8, 21% of fathers would be more supportive. The average gender difference in parenting receiving most attention is fathers’ greater engagement in play. Paquette (2004) proposed a well-known

The Essential Father Hypothesis in the Context of the Fatherhood–Masculinity Model 37

theory of the ‘‘father–child activation relationship’’ as the unique essence of fathering, elaborating on this difference. However, other researchers who have investigated parental play note that despite the differences in typical play style, there is also considerable overlap in how fathers and mothers play with infants and children . . . [M]ost types of parent–infant play occur with both fathers and mothers and with similar amounts of affection, object play, physical play, and conventional play interaction. . . . [F]athers’ play varies from quiet didactic or pretend play with toys to rowdy rambunctious physical play. Paquette is correct that fathers tend to engage in more physical idiosyncratic play, but that is not the only way they play or the only way they contribute to their children’s development (Roggman, 2004, p. 2004; see also Tamis-LeMonda, 2004).

Pleck and Masciadrelli’s (2004, Table 3) retabulation of time diary data about parental time from the 1997 Child Development Supplement (CDS; Yeung, Sandberg, Davis-Kean, & Hofferth, 2001) of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics provides additional insight into parental gender differences in play. Yeung et al. provide data about the somewhat broader category of ‘‘play/companionship’’ as well as caregiving and teaching activities. Retabulating these data, play/companionship was the single largest component of fathers’ engagement, 35% of their total engagement time (though it was not the majority of fathers’ engagement since it was less than 50%). And fathers’ play proportion was higher than mothers’ (29%). Nonetheless, it was noteworthy that play was also the largest single component of mothers’ engagement, higher than the proportion of their time in caregiving (22%). Because mothers spent more total engagement time than fathers with their children, mothers’ absolute amount of time in play was actually slightly higher than fathers’ (0.79 vs. 0.69 hours/day). With children aged 9–12, play was again the largest component of both fathers’ and mothers’ time; for children of this age, fathers’ absolute level of play time was higher than mothers, but only marginally so (0.57 vs. 0.52 hours/day). It is possible that parental gender differences in behavior are more marked when one examines parental behavior with boys and parental behavior with girls separately. However, Lytton and Romney’s (1991) review of differences in parental socialization by gender concluded that of 19 socialization areas, North American fathers (and mothers) differentially behave toward sons and daughters in only one: encouragement of sex-typed activities. In a subsequent review of the extent to which mother–son, mother–daughter, father–son, and father–daughter relationships are distinct, Russell and Saebel (1997) concluded that ‘‘the literature that was surveyed contained many claims and assumptions about the distinctness of relationships in the four dyads, but the empirical evidence in support of these claims and assumptions was limited’’ (p. 111). A reasonable conclusion is that average differences by gender do exist in at least some dimensions of parental behavior. However, when found, these differences are not large in magnitude, and the overlap between fathers’ and mothers’ distributions is sizeable. The pattern of results suggests that if the EF




hypothesis is valid, it is less likely to operate via fathers’ showing a unique repertory of parental behaviors, and more likely to operate via the parental behaviors shared in common by fathers and mothers having distinctive effects when exhibited by fathers. The later subsection on the uniqueness of fathering’s effects evaluates the relevant evidence. 2. Associations Between Father Presence and Child Outcomes. Reviewed here is research comparing outcomes in children, adolescents, and adults who grew up in a two-parent family, including a father and mother for all of their childhood and adolescence (hereafter referred to as father presence), and those growing up with a single mother for at least some period during childhood and adolescence (father absence). Amato and Dorius (Chapter 6) and Amato and Gilbreth (1999; see also Chapter 7) discuss studies focusing on the effects of nonresident fathers’ level of involvement on child outcomes. Both father absence and father presence occur in varying contexts (e.g., divorce vs. never-married father absence; biological vs. stepfather presence), although in making comparisons between father presence and absence, much research aggregates across these contexts. Nonetheless, the evidence is incontrovertible that there is a simple bivariate association between growing up in a two-parent family including a father and mother during childhood and adolescence and numerous positive later outcomes (McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994; Sigle-Rushton & McLanahan, 2004). For example, in bivariate analysis with no controls using a national survey, 14% percent of those raised by single mothers lived below the poverty line as adults, compared to 7% of those raised by two biological parents (Lang & Zagorsky, 2001). While the majority of children raised by single mothers were not poor as adults, the difference in poverty rates between the two groups is substantial. What is controversial is exactly why these bivariate associations occur and what they mean. The first matter to be addressed is that families with and without resident fathers differ in many sociodemographic background characteristics such as race–ethnicity and socioeconomic status that are also associated with child outcomes. In addition, since divorce and separation are a common context for paternal nonresidence, families without resident fathers may have differed from families with resident fathers in level of parental conflict prior to the divorce or separation, another factor related to child outcomes. These background characteristics are thus ‘‘selection factors’’ potentially accounting for the observed differences in children’s outcomes. Thus, at issue is whether father presence and child outcomes have an independent association, an association that persists net of selection, that is, when differences in prior background are taken into account. In a review of research using a variety of methods to address selection (statistical control, longitudinal analysis with predisruption measures of outcomes, sibling models, incorporating state-level divorce policies as contextual variables), Sigle-Rushton and McLanahan (2004) conclude that when selection is taken into account, associations between father presence and child outcomes ‘‘become smaller, sometimes statistically insignificant’’ (p. 127). Sarkadi, Kristiansson, Oberklaid, and Bremberg’s (2008) recent review of longitudinal studies of the effects of fathering on child development offers

The Essential Father Hypothesis in the Context of the Fatherhood–Masculinity Model 39

illustrations. This review included four studies of father presence–absence that controlled for socioeconomic background. Crockett, Eggebeen, and Hawkins (1993), using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY 1979), reported no effects on cognitive development. Vaden-Kiernan, Ialongo, Pearson, and Kellam (1995) found that first-grade father presence predicted low aggression in fourth to sixth grade among boys only, as reported by teachers but not parents. Sarkadi summarizes Flouri and Buchanan’s (2002) analysis of the U.K. National Child Development Study as finding effects of father absence at age 7 on trouble with the police at age 16 for girls, but the outcomes in that publication are actually age 16 relationship quality with parents and age 33 partner relationship quality, with early father absence exerting influence only on the former; Flouri’s (2005, p. 105) monograph does include the stated finding, however. Sarkadi et al. describe the fourth study, Carlson (2006), as providing the strongest evidence for the beneficial influence of father presence, yielding ‘‘general positive effects.’’ However, a careful review of the report suggests that the results are more mixed. This investigation used later data from the NLSY 1979 dataset analyzed by Crockett et al. (1993) to compare children living with continuously married parents to children in several contexts in which the child lives away from her biological father, of which two are of particular interest here: living with a divorced single mother, and living with a never-married single mother. With no controls, both father-absent groups fare significantly worse on all four outcomes studied (externalizing, delinquency, negative feelings, and internalizing), perhaps the finding on which Sarkadi et al. based their conclusion. With socioeconomic status (SES) and other controls, however, differences involving children of divorced single mothers became only marginally significant (p < 0.10) for three of the four outcomes; for the outcome still significant, negative feelings, d ¼ 0.14 (the effect size was 0.14 of a standard deviation). Differences involving children of never-married single mothers became nonsignificant for two of the four outcomes; for the outcomes remaining significant, delinquency and negative feelings, effect sizes were d ¼ 0.25 and 0.14. Using standard criteria for interpreting effect sizes (Rosenthal et al., 2000), only the effect for delinquency among children of never-married mothers meets the 0.20 threshold for being considered a nonnegligible effect, albeit only a small one. In the studies attempting to address selection, Sigle-Rushton and McLanahan (2004) note that it is difficult to rule out the possibility that selection factors that the researchers did not observe could account for the differences that remain. These authors also note that it is potentially problematic that children with a cohabiting stepfather fare worse than children with two married parents, since both kinds of families have fathers present. However, cohabiting stepfathers may be less involved (Berger, Carlson, Bzostek, & Osborne, 2008). It could be argued that without marriage, cohabiting stepfathers have lesser authority and involvement. Carlson’s study, however, finds that children with married stepfathers show more externalizing behaviors and more negative self-feelings than children with continuously married parents, with SES and mothering controlled.




Since paternal death is less subject to selection factors than overall paternal absence (though not entirely free of selection), Sigle-Rushton and McLanahan (2004) suggest that perhaps the strongest evidence of the negative effects of father absence is the association of paternal death with more negative child outcomes. However, these effects are weak (Lang & Zagorsky, 2001); in addition, the question arises whether the effect observed is uniquely connected to the dynamics involved in loss of a parent through death as opposed to paternal absence more generally. In addition, they note that the weak evidence from paternal death is mitigated by findings that children with resident cohabiting fathers can be as disadvantaged as children with single mothers. Balancing all this evidence together, Sigle-Rushton and McLanahan suggest that ‘‘selection appears to account for some but not all of the difference in child outcomes’’ (p. 129). In summary, independent associations between father presence and child outcomes are less consistent and smaller in magnitude than they are sometimes represented (e.g., National Fatherhood Initiative, 2007). Nonetheless, in some studies, being raised with a father present is associated with some positive child outcomes to some degree, net of selection. In addition, the effects of father presence appear to be contextualized; that is, they vary according to parents’ marital status and according to fathers’ biological or step relationship to the child. Some subgroups of father-present children show no better outcomes than father-absent children, suggesting that having a resident male parent per se does not have an overall effect. Thus, the evidence provides only qualified and limited support for the effects of paternal presence entailed by the essentiality perspective. 3. Mediation of the Association Between Father Presence and Child Outcomes by Paternal Behaviors. The EF hypothesis implies not just that father presence is associated with positive outcomes net of selection; it also requires that fathers’ involvement behaviors mediate the linkage between father presence and child outcomes. That is, data need to show that father presence promotes child outcomes because presence is linked to how fathers behave as parents, which in turn influences child outcomes. A first issue to address is that the link between father presence and child outcomes has other possible mediators besides fathers’ parenting. A particularly important example is family income. In addition to being a selection factor for father absence (both marital disruption and unmarried parenthood), low income can also function as a mediator of the effects of father absence: As a result of absence of a father, the child’s family has lower income and fewer of the resources that income provides. Another possible mediator is mothers’ behavior. Father presence potentially has positive effects on her parenting that could promote good child outcomes. (For further analysis of fathering’s indirect effects via mothers, see Chapter 5.) The existence of these other possible mediators of the link between father presence and child outcomes implies that to assess the role of paternal behavior as a mediator, these other mediational processes need to be controlled for, since they are not part of the EF hypothesis. The statement that ‘‘fathers make an essential contribution to child development’’ is not usually

The Essential Father Hypothesis in the Context of the Fatherhood–Masculinity Model 41

understood to mean ‘‘because their earnings provide greater family income than would be the case without a father’’ or ‘‘because they promote mothers’ parenting.’’ Rather, the hypothesis of paternal essentiality connotes that fathers make a unique contribution to development specifically because of how they themselves act as parents. These other possible mediator effects thus need to be controlled by including family income and mothers’ parenting as predictors. If they are not controlled, the mediational role of fathers’ parenting may be overestimated. Carlson’s (2006) study discussed earlier using the NLSY 1979 provides perhaps the best available analysis concerning the extent to which the effects of father presence are mediated specifically by fathers’ level of involvement. Although nonresident biological fathers are less involved with their children on average than are resident biological fathers, there is sufficient variation within each group and sufficient overlap between the groups to test this possible mediation. Carlson’s analysis tested this mediation in two ways. The most important comparisons contrast the children of continuously married parents to children living with a divorced single mother, and to children living with a never-married single mother. As noted earlier, with no background variables controlled, both father-absent groups show significantly poorer scores on the outcomes examined: internalizing behavior, delinquency, negative feelings, and internalizing behavior. When level of father involvement is controlled, all effects become nonsignificant (Carlson’s model 2 vs. model 1), meeting the key formal test for mediation: an initially significant effect becoming nonsignificant when the mediator is added to the model. This initial analysis suggests that the effects of father presence are fully mediated by level of father involvement. However, the more rigorous test of mediation includes controls for family income and other background factors (her model 5 vs. 4). As discussed above, these controls are necessary to at least partially take selection effects into account. But to evaluate paternal involvement as a mediator, controlling for family income is even more important because doing so also takes into account this variable’s possible mediator role, yielding a more precise estimate of the mediational effects specifically of paternal parenting. In the models with these controls, Carlson notes that all the coefficients representing effects of father presence on outcomes are lower when father involvement is included in the models than when it is not. However, the formal test for mediation (a significant effect becoming nonsignificant when the mediator is added) is met for only one of the outcomes, negative feelings, albeit for both father-absent groups. For another outcome, delinquency in children of unmarried mothers, mediation is clearly disconfirmed, as this group continues to show significantly more delinquent behavior than children of continuously married parents after level of paternal involvement is controlled. Thus, the more stringent test of mediation confirms mediation of the association between father presence and child outcomes for only one of four outcomes studied. Altogether, when other possible mediational effects are taken into account, there is only limited research confirmation that the effects of paternal presence on child outcomes are mediated specifically by fathers’ paternal involvement.




4. Attributing Paternal Presence Effects to Fathers’ Male Gender. To the extent that paternal presence promotes positive child outcomes, and that these effects are mediated by paternal behaviors, a final issue about paternal presence effects needs to be addressed. Can these effects be attributed to fathers being male? The question may sound odd, but arises in the following way. In their critical analysis of the EF hypothesis, Silverstein and Auerbach (1999) noted an important confound in the traditional comparison of fatherpresent two-parent families and single-mother-headed families. In this comparison, two effects are mixed together: the effect of being raised by a father or not, and the effect of being reared by two parents or one parent. Any poorer outcomes in children raised by single mothers could therefore result either from not having a male parent, or from being raised by only one parent instead of two. To elucidate the effects of having a male parent or not, comparisons are needed between pairs of family structures that hold constant the number of parents, but vary in whether they include a male parent. Several such comparisons are possible: single fathers and single mothers; two-parent lesbian families and two-parent gay male families; and two-parent heterosexual families and two-parent lesbian families. Of these three possible comparisons, the largest body of research is available for the third. These investigations provide little support for the notion that children of two lesbian parents show poorer developmental outcomes than do children in two-parent heterosexual families (see reviews in Patterson & Chan, 1999; Stacey & Biblarz, 2001; see also Chapter 11). An important limitation of this body of research is the widespread use of convenience samples. These samples make it difficult to rule out the possibility that the absence of differences might result from lesbian families whose children function better being more likely to volunteer for research, particularly if it is evident to potential participants that the project concerns lesbian families. However, this line of research includes one set of studies (Wainright, Russell, & Patterson, 2004; Wainright & Patterson, 2006, 2008) with a sample that was particularly rigorously drawn, the large-scale representative sample of adolescents and their families in the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (Add Health). A subset of 44 families in the survey included two parents, both female, who identified themselves as being in a marriage-like relationship. A comparison subsample of 44 families with two married heterosexual parents was selected, matched on the target adolescent’s and parents’ other characteristics. The two groups of adolescents were then compared on self-esteem, anxiety, depression, grade point average, trouble in school, school connectedness, autonomy, and neighborhood integration, with inclusion of other predictors of these outcomes to increase the statistical power of the comparisons by family structure. No significant differences were observed between the two groups of adolescents, with the exception that children of two lesbian parents reported higher neighborhood integration (Wainright, Russell, & Patterson). Subsequent analyses focusing on peer relations, substance use, and delinquency likewise found no differences (Wainright & Patterson, 2006, 2008).

The Essential Father Hypothesis in the Context of the Fatherhood–Masculinity Model 43

Altogether, this evidence suggests that in the differences found in father absence research between two-parent mother-father families and singlemother families are likely due to the former including two parents rather than due to their including a male parent. This suggests that the effects of father presence in two-parent heterosexual families should not be attributed to the fathers’ maleness, contrary to the EF hypothesis. 5. The Uniqueness of Fathering’s Effects. To consider the uniqueness of paternal contributions to development, we now shift attention away from research on the effects of father presence vs. absence on child outcomes, to research on the influence of variations in fathering behavior among children of resident fathers. The influence of father involvement on children is perhaps the single most frequently studied topic in the fatherhood field, and has been investigated with increasingly advanced statistical methodologies. The more rigorous the research, the fewer effects are found. Nonetheless, the most sophisticated recent studies provide some evidence of direct causal influences on children’s development (see chapter 3). This section focuses on just one methodological issue in this research that has substantive implications for the EF hypothesis: the extent to which the effects of fathering are independent of the effects of mothering. So that this issue can be considered in depth, the discussion here does not take into account other methodological concerns such as selection and the possible reciprocal influence of child outcomes on paternal involvement (see review in Chapter 3). The need to take maternal influences into account in research on paternal influences on development is now well recognized (Amato & Rivera, 1999; Pleck, 1997; Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2004). The reason is that fathering and mothering variables are usually relatively strongly positively correlated with each other. For example, levels of paternal and maternal involvement are positively associated, even when child age and gender as well as parental background characteristics are controlled (Aldous, Mulligan & Bjarnason, 1998; Amato & Rivera, 1999; Harris & Ryan, 2004; Ishii-Kuntz & Coltrane, 1992; Pleck & Hofferth, 2008). The quality of fathers’ and mothers’ relationships with their child (King & Sobolewski, 2006) and their parental styles (Martin, Ryan, & Brooks-Gunn, 2007; Simons & Conger, 2007; TamisLeMonda, Shannon, Cabrera, & Lamb, 2004; Winsler, Madigan, & Aquilino, 2005) are also correlated. Thus, if mothering is not controlled, when links are found between fathering and child outcomes, it is possible that only mothering influences child outcomes, and fathering appears to be linked to outcomes only because it is correlated with mothering. Those effects would be attributed to fathering in the model because mothering is not included as a predictor. By adding mothering variables, however, one can assess whether fathering has an ‘‘independent’’ effect, that is, independent of the effect of mothering. Framed another way, the analysis can determine whether fathering accounts for ‘‘unique variance’’ in child outcomes beyond that explained by mothering.




When proponents of the EF hypothesis assert that fathers’ contributions to child development are unique, however, they use this term in a sense that goes beyond the statistical meaning. Fathers’ influence also has to be distinct from mothers’ in the sense of not being substitutable or replaceable by mothers’. That is, it must be the case that for children whose fathers do not provide a particular influence, mothers’ providing it will not have the same effect. The paternal essentiality hypothesis thus implies that paternal influences are unique not only in the sense of statistical independence, but also in the sense of nonsubstitutability. The difference between these two senses of uniqueness can be illustrated in research on the consequences of fathering on child outcomes that takes mothering into account. For example, in the ethnically diverse National Early Head Start Evaluation, Tamis-LeMonda and colleagues (2004) analyzed the link between observational composite measures of supportive parenting (sensitivity, positive regard), and cognitive stimulation at 24 months with the Bayley Mental Development Index (MDI) and the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) at 36 months, with paternal and maternal sociodemographics controlled. Fathers’ supportive parenting had effects on these outcomes independent of mothers’. This study also reports the unique variances explained. Fathers’ supportive parenting uniquely predicted 7% of the variance in the MDI, and 8% in the PPVT, compared with 13% and 10% uniquely explained by mothers’ supportive parenting. Another analysis of these data conducted by Ryan, Martin, and BrooksGunn (2006) addresses whether the effects of fathering are also unique in the second sense, not being substitutable or replaceable by the effects of mothering. Ryan et al. classified fathers and mothers as supportive or nonsupportive based on a median split on the supportiveness variable for both genders combined. Children’s average MDI scores at 36 months were then presented graphically for four parenting combinations (exact means not given): A: both father and mother supportive, about 95; B: unsupportive father, supportive mother, about 90; C: supportive father, unsupportive mother, about 90; and D: both parents unsupportive, about 85. Uniqueness in the sense of statistical independence is illustrated by the comparisons between groups A and B, and between groups C and D. The A vs. B comparison shows the effect of father supportiveness with the level of mother supportiveness held constant (in this case, high), as does C vs. D (maternal supportiveness constant at low). Both comparisons suggest that with mother supportiveness controlled, father supportiveness is associated with about a five-point increment in MDI. However, the extent to which the effects of paternal and maternal supportiveness are replaceable by each other is indicated by the comparison of groups B and C. Here, the effect of having only a supportive father and the effect of having only a supportive mother appear to be interchangeable, each making about a five-point difference. If fathers do not provide support, mothers’ provision of support has the same effect on child outcomes. Overall, the study finds that it is better to have two supportive parents than only one, but if a child has only one, the effects of father supportiveness and mother supportiveness are equivalent. Martin, Ryan, and Brooks-Gunn’s (2007)

The Essential Father Hypothesis in the Context of the Fatherhood–Masculinity Model 45

analysis of later outcomes at age 5 replicated these results, leading the authors to conclude that ‘‘among children with one supportive parent, the sex of that parent was inconsequential’’ (p. 423). Overall, the preponderance of evidence indicates that fathers’ behaviors have effects on child outcomes that are statistically independent of mothers’, and account for unique variance beyond that explained by mothers’ behaviors (although a minority of studies do find only maternal influences). However, these father effects appear to be equivalent to and interchangeable with those of mothers, rather than being completely distinct from them. Thus, current research does not support the notion that fathers have unique, nonsubstitutable effects on child outcomes in the sense implied by the EF hypothesis. 6. Influence of Paternal Masculinity Orientation on Fathering and on Child Outcomes. A final implication of the EF hypothesis concerns the influence of fathers’ masculinity orientation on their parenting and on child outcomes. As indicated in the Fatherhood–Masculinity Model, gender orientation can be operationalized either as gender-typed personality characteristics (with current measures yielding separate scores for masculinity [M] and femininity [F]), or as attitudes about masculinity. We consider here the associations of father involvement to both aspects of masculinity, and then the links of child outcomes to both. Several cross-sectional comparisons find that involved fathers are more likely to be androgynous, that is, high in both M and F (Palkovitz, 1984; Rosenwasser & Patterson, 1984–1985; Sanderson & Sanders-Thompson, 2002), or in F (Russell, 1983, 1986). However, other cross-sectional studies find no associations (DeFrain, 1979; Lamb, Frodi, Hwang, & Frodi, 1982; Levant, Slattery, & Loiselle, 1987; Radin, 1994). Longitudinal studies also yield mixed results (Grossman, Pollack, & Golding, 1988; Kurdeck, 1998; Radin, 1994). Research operationalizing masculinity as beliefs about what men should be like have not found it related to involvement (Barnett & Baruch, 1987; Bonney, Kelley, & Levant, 1999). Many more studies have examined the link between fathering and broader attitudes about gender egalitarianism, with mixed results (for detailed review, see Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2004). Turning to influences of masculinity on child outcomes, Mussen’s (1961; Mussen & Rutherford, 1963) older research focused on masculinity as gendertyped personality characteristics. In Mussen’s studies, consistent with the models of gender socialization of his time, parents were regarded as the primary if not sole influence on development, and among males, high masculinity was interpreted as an indicator of positive adjustment (Pleck, 1981). In these analyses, paternal masculinity was unrelated to sons’ adolescent adjustment, or even to sons’ masculinity. In contemporary investigations, siblings, peers, other adults, and media are regarded as additional potential influences on development that need to be assessed and taken into account in evaluating parental influence. These influences can be interrelated in complex ways. For example, in Katz and Ksansnak’s (1994) cross-sectional analysis of gender socialization influences in 9- to 17-year-olds found that children’s perceptions of parents’ gender




atraditionality (both fathers’ and mothers’) loaded on the same socialization factor as same-sex friends’ gender atraditionality (labeled social environment flexibility). However, children’s desired similarity to their opposite-sex parent was part of a different factor (termed cross-sex socialization influence), on which desired similarity to opposite-sex grandparent, teachers, and media characters also loaded. In boys as well as girls, both socialization factors predicted a measure of self-flexibility in gender orientation, and the first predicted tolerance of gender atraditionality in others. But since both socialization factors incorporated nonparental as well as parental influences, and the parental influences included both mothers and fathers, the study did not provide evidence of a unique effect of fathers’ masculinity orientation on children’s gender outcomes. A more recent example is Crouter, Whiteman, McHale, and Osgood’s (2007) longitudinal study using a cohort of children from ages 7 to 19, focusing on factors influencing trajectories of change in children’s gender attitudes. Fathers’ and mothers’ gender attitudes were correlated (r ¼ 0.42). Analyses revealed that boys with more traditional parents maintained quite traditional attitudes across middle childhood and well into adolescence until about age 15, at which point their attitudes gradually became even more traditional. In contrast, boys with less traditional parents demonstrated a pronounced curvilinear pattern: initially highly traditional, becoming less so, and then becoming traditional again. Girls showed somewhat different patterns, and patterns for both boys and girls varied according to whether they were first-borns or second-borns. These recent studies of associations between paternal masculinity orientation and child outcomes suggest two conclusions. First, fathers’ and mothers’ gender-typed characteristics, as well as their gender-related attitudes, may be empirically correlated both with each other and with gender socialization influences from other sources such as peers, other adults, and media. These intercorrelations do not rule out the possibility that paternal gender-typed characteristics or attitudes could have independent effects on children’s gender-related or other outcomes. However, these intercorrelations do make independent paternal effects less likely, and in any event indicate that establishing independent effects for paternal gender orientation necessitates controlling for these other correlated gender socialization influences. Second, these results suggest that any effects observed for paternal masculinity are likely to be restricted to specific contexts defined by such factors as birth order and child gender. In overview, the available research does not yield consistent confirmation of the association between fathers’ masculinity orientation and their fathering encompassed in the EF hypothesis. Likewise, in research on child outcomes, independent effects of paternal masculinity orientation that are generalizable across contexts have not been documented. EVALUATING



To summarize the six areas of research relevant to the essential father hypothesis, first, statistically significant average differences by gender clearly

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do exist for some dimensions of parental behavior. However, these differences are not large in size, and the overlap between fathers’ and mothers’ distributions is considerable. Second, being raised in a two-parent family including a father (father presence) is associated with positive child outcomes to some degree net of selection factors, but these associations are less consistent and smaller in magnitude than they are sometimes represented. In addition, the strength of the paternal presence effect varies by context (fathers’ biological or step relationship to the child, marital status), with some subgroups of father-present children showing no better outcomes than fatherabsent children, suggesting that having a resident male parent per se does not have an effect across contexts. Third, there is only limited support for the notion that fathers’ parental involvement behaviors are the specific mediator of the relationship between paternal presence and good child outcomes. Fourth, comparisons between children reared in two-parent families with male and female parents and children raised in two-parent families with two lesbian parents fails to find differences favoring the former. Thus, the limited effects of father presence in two-parent compared to single-mother families cannot be attributed to the father’s being male, as opposed to being a second parent. Fifth, in research in which paternal and maternal influences are investigated simultaneously, there is evidence that fathers’ behaviors have effects on child outcomes that are statistically independent of mothering, and account for unique variance beyond that explained by mothers’ behaviors. However, these effects are equivalent and interchangeable with each other, rather than being distinctive in the sense of being nonsubstitutable. Sixth, the observed associations of fathers’ gender-typed personality characteristics and gender-related attitudes to fathers’ parenting and child outcomes are inconsistent and not generalizable across varying contexts. In reviewing research in any area, ‘‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.’’ New research could yield more substantiation for paternal essentiality than exists currently. With this caveat in mind, the most reasonable conclusion from a review of the research available in these six areas is nonetheless that support for the paternal essentiality hypothesis is highly qualified and modest at best. AN ALTERNATIVE FORMULATION: THE IMPORTANT FATHER HYPOTHESIS In broad terms, the EF hypothesis holds that fathers’ make a contribution to child development that is essential, unique, and uniquely masculine. In my view, of all the deficiencies in the research support for paternal essentiality, two are most critical. The first failing is that the research concerning the uniqueness of fathering’s effects (fifth topic above) does not support the notion that fathers make a contribution to development that is distinct from mothers, in the sense of fathers’ influence not being substitutable by mothers’. The second key weakness is that investigations attempting to link fathers’ influence on development specifically with their masculinity orientation provide little substantiation, as shown in research on the associations of fathers’ masculinity orientation with child outcomes and with fathers’ parenting (sixth topic). Reinforcing both points, in research comparing child




outcomes in two-parent heterosexual families with two-parent lesbian families (fourth topic), the effects of having a second parent besides the biological mother are not found to vary according to the second parent’s gender. Thus, current evidence does not support the notion that fathers’ influence on child development is a uniquely masculine one. I propose an alternative way to think about fathers’ contributions to development that does not require problematic assumptions about essential and uniquely masculine effects: Good fathering makes an important contribution to development. The response of some, even some other fatherhood researchers, to this material has been ‘‘so, you are saying that fathers make no difference whatsoever,’’ but there is a middle ground between fathers’ being absolutely essential and their being completely irrelevant. The ‘‘paternal importance’’ hypothesis is supported by findings from some methodologically rigorous research that good fathering has significant associations with positive development that are statistically independent of the effects of good mothering and of other factors such as SES. These studies’ use of designs that take into account possible selection effects and potential reciprocal influence help make the case that the associations found reflect causal effects (see Chapter 3). In this alternative hypothesis, good fathering is considered one of many important influences on positive development. The fact that fathering is not all-determinative does not mean that it is irrelevant. Indeed, the paternal importance hypothesis is consistent with the way that contemporary researchers think about influences on positive outcomes in most domains. Cardiovascular health provides a good example. Low cholesterol, normal blood pressure, diet, exercise, appropriate weight, and not smoking are all significant predictors of not having heart disease. Promoting every one of them is desirable. However, no single one of these factors is ‘‘essential’’ for cardiac health in a literal sense. (Many heart attack patients have normal cholesterol, or normal blood pressure, and so forth; some, in fact, have no risk factors at all other than family history, gender, and age.) Rather, each variable represents a risk factor or supportive factor in heart health, statistically associated with it, and with some evidence that modifying each improves health outcomes. To some, saying that fathers are important for positive child development, rather than saying that they are essential, is demotion in our assessment of fathering’s effects. In my view, it simply represents bringing our understanding of the impact of good fathering in line with the way researchers understand the effects of influences on positive outcomes in most other domains. OTHER LINKAGES IN THE FATHERHOOD–MASCULINITY MODEL: MASCULINITY DYNAMICS IN THE RELATION BETWEEN FATHERHOOD AND GENERATIVITY AS AN ILLUSTRATIVE EXAMPLE This chapter introduced the Fatherhood–Masculinity Model as an analytical framework for the full range of their possible interrelationships. This broader perspective makes evident that the potential linkages encompassed in the EF

Other Linkages in the Fatherhood–Masculinity Model 49

hypothesis include only a small subset of the possible interconnections between fatherhood and masculinity. Once the EF hypothesis is ‘‘decentered’’ as the sole focus of attention, one realizes that in a broader perspective fatherhood–masculinity connections include the potential linkages of gender status and gender orientation to any parenting variable and child outcome. Fatherhood–masculinity relationships also include the possible moderating effects of gender status and gender orientation on associations between any pair of parenting constructs, and on linkages between any parenting variable and any other psychosocial construct. One example can be discussed here. In research on the consequences for men of being a father and of being involved as a father, an important current direction focuses on effects on fathers’ psychosocial generativity (Masciadrelli & Pleck, 2003; Palkovitz, 2002). Generativity is important because it is related to psychological wellbeing, both theoretically and empirically (e.g., Erikson, 1964; Peterson & Klohnen, 1995; Stewart, Ostrove, & Helson, 2001; Vaillant, 1977). Erikson (p. 130) remarked, ‘‘Parenthood is, for most, the first, and for many, the prime generative encounter.’’ Three kinds of research potentially provide insight into masculinity-related dynamics influencing how fatherhood promotes—or does not promote—generativity. One line of investigation concerns whether the link between generativity and parenthood differs for men and women (path K1 in Figure 2.3). Some research finds that being a parent is associated with aspects of generativity among men but not women, at least using some measures (McAdams & de St. Aubin, 1992). However, other studies find more consistent linkages among women than among men (Peterson & Klohnen, 1995; Peterson & Stewart, 1996). Also relevant is Snarey, Son, Kuehne, Hauser, and Vaillant’s (1987) observation that the circumstances of parenthood influenced the impact of being a father on generativity. Initially infertile men who later became fathers (either through adoption or medical procedures allowing them to become birth fathers) were rated as exhibiting higher levels of societal generativity than fertile, biological fathers. No parallel comparison is available for women. A second topic is how connections between parental behavior and generativity compare for fathers and mothers (path K2). The most well-known research documenting links between parenting behavior and generativity focused on fathers (Snarey, 1993). With level of psychosocial development prior to parenthood and other factors controlled, positive paternal engagement, particularly supporting the child’s socioemotional development, explained 14% of the variance in men’s midlife generativity. Other studies also suggest that play and social involvement, but not routine caregiving, are linked to generativity (Bailey, 1992; 1994; Christiansen & Palkovitz, 1998; McKeering & Pakenham, 2000). Two studies find no parallel relationships for mothers (Bailey, 1994; McKeering & Pakenham). In a third study with a large African-American subsample, parental role-modeling activities were associated with generativity in both genders (Hart, McAdams, Hirsch, & Bauer, 2001; see also Caldwell & White, 2006, on Black fathers’ generativity). A final line of research concerns the association between generativity and parental identity. Two available studies yield inconsistent results. On the one hand, Christiansen and Palkovitz (1998) find a strong association between




fathers’ generativity and paternal identity, operationalized as belief in the importance of the role of the father for child development. In multivariate analyses including paternal identity, paternal behavior, and other potential predictors such as global psychosocial identity, paternal identity emerged as the strongest predictor of paternal generativity. On the other hand, however, McKeering and Pakenham (2000) observed no relationship between societal generativity and parental identity in either gender in their Australian sample. No studies were located examining this association among mothers. Two opposing theoretical perspectives provide a standpoint from which to interpret the complex pattern of similarities and differences by gender observed in these three areas. According to one, because high involvement in parenting is less socially normative for men than women, when men do it, parenting has more influence on their generativity (cf. Maurer et al., 2001). The alternative view is that because parenting is more central to women’s identities, variations in parental experience should have stronger associations with generativity for them than for men. The extent to which either argument holds true may, of course, vary according to what aspect of parenthood is examined, and according to social context. Overall, research on fatherhood and generativity, framed in a gender perspective, provides one example of a fatherhood–masculinity linkage unrelated to the EF hypothesis worth further consideration. The role of gender-related dynamics in the connections between other psychosocial constructs and parenting experience, and in the connections among parenting variables, merit more investigation. IMPLICATIONS FOR RESEARCH AND PRACTICE The following are perhaps the most important recommendations for future research and practice to be derived from this chapter’s consideration of multifaceted linkages between fatherhood and masculinity. 1. The essential father hypothesis has dominated discussion of the linkages between fatherhood and masculinity. Only modest support is found for this view of fathering’s essential, unique, masculine effects. Given the centrality of paternal essentiality in the public understanding of fatherhood, as well as the intrinsic importance of the issues involved, research relevant to the hypothesis clearly should and will continue. Scholars should pursue each of the six component lines of investigation identified here, using new designs and analytical techniques. In addition, researchers should also critically analyze this chapter’s conceptual formulation of the research implications of the notion that fathers’ contributions are essential. If subsequent work yields better formulations of what the concept of paternal essentiality means, the chapter’s intent will have been realized, even if the conclusions drawn about paternal essentiality differ from those offered here. 2. The Fatherhood–Masculinity Model identifies numerous other interconnections between fatherhood and masculinity that have received far less

Implications for Research and Practice 51

attention than the linkages encompassed in the EF hypothesis. Fathers’ gender status and gender orientation potentially influence any parenting variable. These aspects of fathers’ masculinity may also moderate the relationship between any pair of parenting constructs, and the relationship between any parenting variable and any other psychosocial concept. Opportunities abound for important new research. 3. It is especially important that future research on fatherhood and masculinity employ more diverse samples. This includes addressing racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and sexual orientation diversity, as well as giving greater attention to other industrial societies and to developing countries (e.g., Chuang & Moreno, 2008; Connor & White, 2006; Klinth, 2008; other chapters in this volume). 4. For fatherhood practitioners, the chapter’s conclusions about the EF hypothesis present potential challenges. Many fathers find the idea that fathers’ contributions to child development are essential and unique an inspirational and motivating one. In a cultural context in which fathers’ contributions are often not socially valued as much as mothers’, for many fathers this belief may be the only one available with which to construct a narrative justifying or explaining why they should be involved. And for many fatherhood practitioners themselves, the idea of paternal essentiality may be central in providing a rationale for their work. It is important to recognize that what the term essential means in public discourse about fatherhood is not necessarily the same as its traditional literal meaning. Indeed, its literal sense is shifting to signify only ‘‘important.’’ Although dictionaries define essential as ‘‘indispensable; requisite: as in, water is essential to life’’ (Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, 1962), Microsoft Word’s thesaurus now includes important as a possible synonym. In my experience, the large majority of both fathers and fatherhood practitioners who use the term essential to characterize fathering’s effects actually use this language to express just that they think fathering is ‘‘really important,’’ corresponding to the paternal importance hypothesis. To believe that fathering is essential to positive child development, in the traditional literal sense, one must think that it is impossible for a child raised without a father to develop successfully. Most who say ‘‘fathers are essential’’ know of disconfirming examples, and thus do not mean this. In my opinion, the word essential is not going to go away in public discourse about fathers, but both practitioners and fathers do not need to get ‘‘stuck’’ on it. In addressing issues of masculinity with fathers, practitioners can offer understandings of the term that meet fathers’ needs for support. 5. Of the other potential linkages between fatherhood and masculinity relevant to practitioners, a particularly important one concerns how masculinity influences the connection between fatherhood and employment. One of the clearest ways that gender influences the experience of parenthood is that following a birth, especially a first birth, fathers’ labor force participation generally increases, while mothers’ decreases, a phenomenon so obvious that its theoretical significance may be




overlooked. The masculinity process underlying fathers’ part of this pattern has important practical implications, especially in a cultural context in which many fathers do not fulfill their obligations for financial support in situations of divorce or not having married the child’s mother. Responsible fatherhood programs are as effective as they are in large part because they can make use of most fathers’ understanding that, as males, they have a particular obligation to provide economic support for their children. Responsible fatherhood programs can develop additional ways of building on fathers’ understanding of their economic role in terms of their masculinity. Fatherhood programs more generally can consider additional ways that they can take advantage of fathers’ positive constructions of masculinity to help support fathers in all their important paternal roles. REFERENCES Aldous, J., Mulligan, G. M., & Bjarnason, T. (1998). Fathering over time: What makes the difference? Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60, 809–820. Amato, P. R, & Gilbreth, J. (1999). Nonresident fathers and children’s well-being: A meta-analysis. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 557–573. Amato, P. R., & Rivera, F. (1999). Paternal involvement and children’s behavior. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 375–384. Astone, N., Dariotis, J., Sonenstein, F., Pleck, J. H., & Hynes, K. (in press). Men’s work efforts and the transition to fatherhood. Journal of Family and Economic Issues. Bailey, W. T. (1992). Psychological development in men: Generativity and involvement with young children. Psychological Reports, 71, 929–930. Bailey, W. T. (1994). Fathers’ involvement and responding to infants: ‘‘More’’ may not be ‘‘better.’’ Psychological Reports, 74, 92–94. Barnett, R. C., & Baruch, G. B. (1987). Determinants of fathers’ participation in family work. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 49, 29–40. Bem, S. (1974). The measurement of psychological androgyny. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42, 155–162. Berger, L., Carlson, M., Bzostek, S., & Osborne, C. (2008). Parenting practices of resident fathers: The role of marital and biological ties. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70, 625–639. Blankenhorn, D. (1995). Fatherless America: Confronting our most urgent social problem. New York: Basic Books. Bonney, J. F., Kelley, M. L., & Levant, R. F. (1999). A model of fathers’ behavioral involvement in child care in dual-earner families. Journal of Family Psychology, 13, 401–415. Caldwell, L., & White, J. (2006). Generative fathering: Challenges to Black masculinity and identity. In M. Connor & J. White (Eds.), Black fathers: An invisible presence in America (pp. 53–70). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Carlson, M. (2006). Family structure, father involvement, and adolescent behavioral outcomes. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68, 137–154. Christiansen, S. L., & Palkovitz, R. (1998). Exploring Erikson’s psychosocial theory of development: Generativity and its relationship to paternal identity, intimacy, and involvement in childcare. Journal of Men’s Studies, 7, 133–156. Chuang, S., & Moreno, R. (Eds.). (2008). On new shores: Understanding immigrant fathers in America. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

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Lamb (Ed.), Nontraditional families: Parenting and child development (pp. 117–138). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. Lang, K., & Zagorsky, J. (2001). Does growing up with a parent absent really hurt? Journal of Human Resources, 36, 253–273. LaRossa, R., & Reitzes, D. (1993). Symbolic interactionism and family studies. In P. G. Boss, W. J. Doherty, R. LaRossa, W. R. Schumm, & S. K. Steinmetz (Eds.), Sourcebook of family theories and methods: A contextual approach (pp. 135–162). New York: Plenum. Larson, R., & Pleck, J. H. (1999). Hidden feelings: Emotionality in boys and men. In D. Bernstein (Ed.), Gender and motivation: The Nebraska Symposium on Motivation 1998 (pp. 25–74). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Leaper, C., Anderson, K., & Sanders, P. (1998). Moderators of gender effects on parents’ talk to their children: A meta-analysis. Developmental Psychology, 34, 3–27. Lenney, E. (1991). Sex roles: The measurement of masculinity, femininity, and androgyny. In J. Robinson, P. Shaver, & L. Wrightsman (Eds.), Measures of personality and social psychological attitudes (pp. 573–660). New York: Academic Press. Levant, R. F., Slattery, S. C., & Loiselle, J. E. (1987). Fathers’ involvement in housework and child care with school-aged daughters. Family Relations, 36, 152–157. Lytton, H., & Romney, D. (1991). Parents’ differential socialization by gender: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 109, 267–296. Marcell, A., Ford, C., Pleck, J. H., & Sonenstein, F. L. (2007). Masculine beliefs, parental communication, and adolescent males’ health care use. Pediatrics, 119(4), e966–975. Marsiglio, W., & Pleck, J. H. (2005). Fatherhood and masculinities. In R.W. Connell, J. Hearn, & M. Kimmel (Eds.), The handbook of studies on men and masculinities (pp. 249–269). Martin, A., Ryan, R., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2007). The joint influence of mother and father parenting on child cognitive outcomes at age 5. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 22, 423–439. Masciadrelli, B., & Pleck, J. H. (2003, November). Men, generativity, and fathering: What experiences are necessary? Presented at the National Council on Family Relations, Vancouver. Maurer, T. W., Pleck, J. H., & Rane, T. R. (2001). Parental identity and reflected appraisals: Measurement and gender dynamics. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 63, 309–321. McAdams, D. P., & deSt. Aubin, E. (1992). A theory of generativity and its assessment through self-report, behavioral acts, and narrative themes in autobiography. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 1003–1015. McKeering, H., & Pakenham, K. I. (2000). Gender and generativity issues in parenting: Do fathers benefit more than mothers from involvement in child care activities? Sex Roles, 43, 459–480. McLanahan, S., & Sandefur, G. (1994). Growing up with a single parent: What hurts, what helps. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Mussen, P. (1961). Some antecedents and consequents of masculinity of interests in adolescence. Psychological Monographs, 75(2), 1–24. Mussen, P., & Rutherford, E. (1963). Parent–child relations and parental personality in relation to young children’s sex-role preferences. Child Development, 34, 589–607. National Fatherhood Initiative (2007). Father facts (5th ed.). Gaithersville, MD: National Fatherhood Initiative. Palkovitz, R. (1984). Parental attitudes and father’s interactions with their 5-monthold infants. Developmental Psychology, 20, 1054–1060.

References 55 Palkovitz, R. (2002). Provisional balances: Involved fathering and men’s adult development. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Paquette, D. (2004). Theorizing the father-child relationship: Mechanisms and developmental outcomes. Human Development, 47, 193–219. Patterson, C., & Chan, R. (1999). Families headed by gay and lesbian parents. In M. Lamb (Ed.), Parenting and child development in ‘‘nontraditional’’ families (pp. 191– 219). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Peterson, B. E., & Klohnen, E. C. (1995). Realization of generativity in two samples of women at midlife. Psychology and Aging, 10, 20–29. Peterson, B. E., & Stewart, A. J. (1996). Antecedents and contexts of generativity motivation at midlife. Psychology and Aging, 11, 21–33. Pleck, J. H. (1981). The myth of masculinity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Pleck, J. H. (1997). Paternal involvement: Levels, sources, and consequences. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of the father in child development (3rd ed., pp. 66–103). New York: Wiley. Pleck, J. H., & Hofferth, S. (2008). Mother involvement as an influence on father involvement with early adolescents. Fathering, 6, 267–286. Pleck, J. H., Lamb, M. E., & Levine, J. A. (1985). Facilitating future change in men’s family roles. Marriage and Family Review, 9(3–4), 11–16. Reprinted in R. A. Lewis, & M. Sussman (Eds.), Men’s changing roles in the family (pp. 11–16). New York: Haworth Press (1986). Pleck, J. H., & Masciadrelli, B. (2004). Paternal involvement in U.S. residential fathers: Levels, sources, and consequences. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of the father in child development (4th ed., pp. 222–271). New York: Wiley. Pleck, J. H., & O’Donnell, L. N. (2001). Gender attitudes and health risk behaviors in African-American and Latino early adolescents. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 31, 93–100. Pleck, J. H., Sonenstein, F. L., & Ku, L. C. (1993a). Masculinity ideology and its correlates. In S. Oskamp, & M. Costanzo (Eds.), Gender issues in contemporary society (pp. 85–110). Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Pleck, J. H., Sonenstein, F. L., & Ku, L. C. (1993b). Masculinity ideology: Its impact on adolescent males’ heterosexual relationships. Journal of Social Issues, 49(3), 11–29. Pleck, J. H., Sonenstein, F. L., & Ku, L. C. (1994a). Attitudes toward male roles among adolescent males: A discriminant validity analysis. Sex Roles, 30(7/8), 481–501. Pleck, J. H., Sonenstein, F. L., & Ku, L. C. (1994b). Problem behaviors and masculinity ideology in adolescent males. In R. D. Ketterlinus, & M. E. Lamb (Eds.), Adolescent problem behaviors (pp. 165–186). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. Popenoe, D. (1996). Life without father: Compelling new evidence that fatherhood and marriage are indispensable for the good of children and society. New York: Free Press. Radin, N. (1994). Primary-caregiving fathers in intact families. In A.E. Gottfried, & A.W. Gottfried (Eds.), Redefining families: Implications for children’s development (pp. 55–97). New York: Plenum. Roggman, L. (2004). Do fathers just want to have fun? Human Development, 47, 228– 236. Rosenthal, R., Rosnow, R., & Rubin, D. (2000). Contrasts and effect sizes in behavioral research. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Rosenwasser, S. M., & Patterson, W. (1984–1985). Nontraditional male: Men with primary child care/household responsibilities. Psychology and Human Development, 1, 101–111. Russell, A., & Saebel, J. (1997). Mother-son, mother-daughter, father-son, and fatherdaughter: Are they distinct relationships? Developmental Review, 17, 111–147.




Russell, G. (1986). Primary caretakers and role sharing fathers. In M.E. Lamb (Ed.), The father’s role: Applied perspectives (pp. 29–60). New York: Wiley. Russell, G. (1983). The changing role of fathers. St. Lucia, Queensland: University of Queensland Press. Ryan, R., Martin, A., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2006). Is one good parent good enough? Patterns of mother and father parenting and child cognitive outcomes at 24 and 36 months. Parenting, 6, 211–228. Sanderson, S., & Sanders-Thompson, V. L. T. (2002). Factors associated with perceived paternal involvement in childrearing. Sex Roles, 46, 99–111. Sarkadi, A., Kristiansson, R., Oberklaid, F., & Bremberg, S. (2008). Fathers’ involvement and children’s developmental outcomes: A systematic review of longitudinal studies. Acta Pædiatrica, 97, 153–158. Schrock, D., & Schwalbe, M. (2009). Men, masculinity, and manhood acts. Annual Review of Sociology, 35, 277–296. Sigle-Rushton, W., & McLanahan, S. (2004). Father absence and child well-being: A critical review. In D. Moynihan, T. Smeedling, & L. Rainwater (Eds.), The future of the family (pp. 116–155). New York: Russell Sage Foundation. Silverstein, L. B., & Auerbach, C. F. (1999). Deconstructing the essential father. American Psychologist, 54, 397–407. Simons, L., & Conger, R. (2007). Linking mother-father differences in parenting to a typology of family parenting styles and adolescent outcomes. Journal of Family Issues, 28, 212–242. Snarey, J. (1993). How fathers care for the next generation: A four-decade study. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Snarey, J., Son, L., Kuehne, V. S., Hauser, S., & Vaillant, G. (1987). The role of parenting in men’s psychosocial development: A longitudinal study of early adulthood infertility and midlife generativity. Developmental Psychology, 23, 593–603. Stacey, J., & Biblarz, T. (2001). (How) does the sexual orientation of parents matter? American Sociological Review, 66, 159–183. Stewart, A. J., Ostrove, J. M., & Helson, R. (2001). Middle aging women: Patterns of personality change from the 30s to the 50s. Journal of Adult Development, 8, 23–37. Tamis-LeMonda, C. (2004). Conceptualizing fathers’ roles: Playmates and more. Human Development, 47, 220–227. Tamis-LeMonda, C., Shannon, J., Cabrera, N., & Lamb, M. (2004). Fathers and mothers at play with their 2- and 3-year olds: Contributions to language and cognitive development. Child Development, 75, 1806–1820. Thompson, E. H., Jr., Pleck, J. H., & Ferrera, D. L. (1992). Men and masculinities: Scales for masculinity ideology and masculinity-related constructs. Sex Roles, 27 (11/12), 573–607. Vaden-Kiernan, N., Ialongo, N., Pearson, J., & Kellam, S. (1995). Household family structure and children’s aggressive behavior: A longitudinal study of urban elementary children. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 23, 553–568. Vaillant, G. E. (1977). Adaptation to life. Boston: Little, Brown. Wainright, J. L. & Patterson, C. J. (2006). Delinquency, victimization, and substance use among adolescents with female same-sex parents. Journal of Family Psychology, 20, 526–530. Wainright, J. L., & Patterson, C. J. (2008). Peer relations among adolescents with female same sex parents. Developmental Psychology, 44, 117–126. Wainright, J., Russell, S., & Patterson, C. (2004). Psychosocial adjustment, school outcomes, and romantic relationships of adolescents with same-sex parents. Child Development, 75, 1886–1898.

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Paternal Involvement Revised Conceptualization and Theoretical Linkages with Child Outcomes JOSEPH H. PLECK


increasingly recognizing the need for theory to guide research (Day & Lamb, 2004; Marsiglio, Amato, Day, & Lamb, 2000; Pleck, 2007). This chapter’s objective is to advance theory concerning paternal involvement in two ways. First, I propose a revised conceptualization of the construct of paternal involvement. The reconceptualization includes three primary components: (a) positive engagement activities, (b) warmth and responsiveness, and (c) control. It also includes two auxiliary domains: (d) indirect care, and (e) process responsibility. The primary components reflect the predominant ways that involvement is actually operationalized in most current fathering research. Use of these core dimensions also integrates investigation of father involvement more closely with the broader field of parenting research. The auxiliary domains clarify the two distinct aspects of the original responsibility component. Data on the empirical interrelationships among the five components, their levels, and the extent to which these levels have changed in recent decades are then reviewed. Second, the chapter considers why and how, from a theoretical viewpoint, components of father involvement might have direct positive influences on child development. At the outset, recent empirical research on these influences is reviewed, identifying some important recent methodological advances. The most rigorously designed studies provide some evidence for direct paternal effects among both resident and nonresident fathers. Then, several possible sources for theorizing paternal influences are examined. I develop a ‘‘parental capital’’ framework for understanding the possible direct influences of the paternal involvement and its components on child outcomes. ATHERHOOD SCHOLARS ARE

The work reported here was supported by the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, U. S. Department of Agriculture, under Project No. ILLU-45–0366 to Joseph H. Pleck.


A Revised Conceptualization of Paternal Involvement 59

This parental capital model employs concepts from social capital theory, parental style research, and Bronfenbrenner’s ecological perspective. Some restrictions in scope should be noted. Although the chapter includes some material on nonresident fathers when available, most of the data referenced pertains to married fathers in residential contexts. Chapters 6 and 7 in this volume thoroughly review current research on nonresident and divorced fathers. In addition, most of the chapter’s empirical material concerns fathers who are heterosexual, did not have a first child as a teen, are not disabled, and live in the United States. It is the chapter’s hope, however, that the theoretical ideas advanced may have relevance to other fathers (see other chapters in this volume for coverage of diverse father groups). A REVISED CONCEPTUALIZATION OF PATERNAL INVOLVEMENT Prior to the introduction of the involvement construct in the mid-1980s, the paternal variable studied most frequently was fathers’ presence (coresidence) in the child’s household. Other aspects of paternal behavior and children’s relationships with their fathers received some attention such as fathers’ role in children’s cognitive, social, and moral development, fathers’ interaction style, and infant attachment to fathers (see Lamb, 1976, 1981). However, existing research did not address how large a part fathers play in the care and socialization of their children—in simple terms, how much fathers do as parents. How much fathers actually did had become a matter of growing social concern by the early 1980s (Pleck, 1997; Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2004). In this scientific and cultural context, Lamb, Pleck, Charnov, and Levine (1985; Pleck, Lamb, & Levine, 1985) proposed a conceptualization of paternal involvement, encompassing three components: (a) paternal engagement (direct interaction with the child, in the form of caretaking, or play or leisure); (b) accessibility (availability) to the child; and (c) responsibility, defined as making sure that the child is taken care of as well as arranging for resources for the child. RECENT OPERATIONALIZATIONS



The construct of paternal involvement (hereafter termed the Lamb-Pleck conceptualization) was subsequently widely used. However, as researchers operationalized it, they interpreted it in new ways. This parallels how the conceptualizations of other behavioral science constructs such as self-esteem, attachment, marital adjustment, and social class have shifted over time. As an illustration, Hofferth’s (2003) analysis of influences on paternal involvement in the 1997 Child Development Supplement (CDS) of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) operationalized residential fathers’ involvement with four measures: (a) time spent with the child (coded from time diaries); (b) warmth (sample items: frequency of hugging the child, telling the child they love him or her); (c) monitoring and control (having rules about the child’s activities, food, whereabouts, and homework, and discussing these rules); and (d) responsibility (coded from responses to questions about to what extent each parent performed eight tasks: bathing children and


changing diapers, disciplining children, choosing children’s activities, buying children’s clothes, driving children to activities, selecting a pediatrician and making appointments, selecting a child care program or school, and playing with the child). Carlson’s (2006) analysis of resident and nonresident biological fathers in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) 1979 provides a second example. Beginning in 1990, adolescent children of women in the 1979 panel reported about their relationship with their biological fathers. Paternal involvement was assessed by a composite of seven items: talking over important decisions with my father, father listening to my side of an argument, father knowing whom I am with when I am not at home, father missing events or activities that are important to me (reverse coded), father and I sharing ideas or talking about what really matters to me, father spends enough time with me, and I feel close to him. These seven items loaded strongly on a single factor, and ‘‘represent a single construct of high-quality father involvement’’ (p. 142). The measures used in these two studies, and many others, have some correspondence to the Lamb-Pleck conceptualization, but also vary from it in important ways. For example, it is difficult to logically relate having rules for the child’s behavior (Hofferth) or father–child closeness (Carlson) to Lamb and Pleck’s three components. The following sections analyze how the operationalization of father involvement came to its present point, and propose a revised conceptualization. THE FOCUS ON ENGAGEMENT, AND THE SHIFT IN ITS INTERPRETATION ENGAGEMENT TIME TO POSITIVE ENGAGEMENT ACTIVITIES



From the outset, paternal involvement research focused primarily on the engagement component. The other two domains received far less attention. In addition, ‘‘involvement’’ was often used as a synonym for just the engagement component. (In rhetoric, employing the term for the whole to refer to a part is called synecdoche, e.g., ‘‘Brazil won the soccer match.’’) One reason both occurred was that engagement was more like existing concepts in human development, while accessibility and responsibility may have seemed less important and more difficult to investigate. When the latter two components were operationalized, their meaning was sometimes stretched, for example, interpreting accessibility as fathers’ being resident in the household as opposed to nonresident (Sarkadi, Kristiansson, Oberklaid, & Bremberg, 2008), a phenomenon which had been already conceptualized for many decades as father presence vs. absence. Lamb et al.’s (1985) original presentation may have inadvertently contributed to the blurring of the distinction between engagement and involvement. They introduced the broader involvement construct by noting the traditional focus of developmental psychology on ‘‘direct rearing activities,’’ then saying that ‘‘consistent with this, our focus here is on the amount of time spent in activities involving the child. . . . We focus here on the amount of time spent in activities involving the child because they are the ones undergoing particular change today.’’ They then defined involvement’s engagement component as ‘‘the father’s direct contact with his child, through

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caretaking and shared activities’’ (p. 884). The authors stated immediately following that the responsibility component did not involve time. Nonetheless, the initial passage may have made it seem that the more inclusive concept of paternal involvement, not just engagement, concerned time and interaction. For clarity, this chapter will adhere to the distinction between engagement and the broader construct. Also, Lamb et al. originally termed the first component interaction, but Lamb (1987) relabeled it as engagement, the current usage that is followed here. As work with the engagement construct proceeded, there was an important shift in exactly how paternal engagement time was conceptualized. Fathering research gradually shifted from conceptualizing paternal engagement as all the time a father spends interacting with his child, of whatever nature, to conceptualizing it as the subset of the kind of more interactive activities that potentially promote child development. Put succinctly, the field progressed from defining engagement as fathers’ total interaction time in a content-free sense, to defining it as fathers’ positive engagement activities. This shift can be traced in the changing role of time use methodology in paternal engagement research. As suggested by Lamb et al.’s language, time use research played a major part in the formulation of engagement, reflecting Pleck’s (1985) experience with this method. In the typical time diary format, adults recorded what they did in the preceding 24 hours, with respondents describing their activities in their own words. These activities were then coded in highly specific categories (96 in early time use studies). Analyses typically aggregated these detailed codes into ‘‘basic child care’’ (consisting of baby care, child care, medical care—kids) and ‘‘other child care’’ (helping/teaching, reading/talking, indoor and outdoor playing, babysitting/other, and travel related to child care). Basic and other child care were then summed as ‘‘total child care’’ time (Pleck, p. 36). Particularly important, publications typically reported results for fathers using only the total time measure. Lamb et al.’s (1985) review of research on levels of paternal engagement did cite numerous findings from smaller scale studies using observational methods and focusing on narrower categories of paternal interaction. But it also included results about fathers’ total engagement from diary studies, which implicitly defined engagement as all the time in which a father reported he was doing something with his children, with no restriction as to the type of activity. In later discussions of engagement, the time diary approach for assessing total engagement garnered disproportionate attention from both proponents (Pleck, 1997; Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2004; Pleck & Stueve, 2001) and critics (Hawkins & Palkovitz, 1999; Palkovitz, 1997) alike. Two factors contributed to the subsequent focus on fathers’ total engagement time from time use research. First, the major diary studies used national or other large-scale representative samples, so that their results could be generalized to populations. Second, time diary methodology was coming into widespread use in the social sciences more generally. The U.S. national diary study conducted in 1965–1966 as part of the Multinational Study of Time use was replicated in later years, then succeeded by the American Time Use Study (ATUS), an ongoing component of the Bureau of the Census’s Current


Population Survey; the Panel Study of Income Dynamics collected time diaries for children in its Child Development Supplement in 1997 and 2001; and European countries began ongoing time use survey programs (Sullivan, Coltrane, McAnnally, & Altintas, 2009). The availability of the measure of total paternal engagement typically reported from diary data made it possible to make both cross-time and cross-national comparisons (e.g., Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2004; Sullivan & Coltrane, 2008). However, this total engagement measure had important disadvantages. Most time use studies collected data from and about adults. If a father had more than one child, the diary data were coded for his time with all his children rather than with individual children. For some research purposes, fathers’ time with all children was germane, for example, in research on gender equity in marriage (as reflected in comparisons of wives’ and husbands’ total paid and family work time in two-earner families) as well as research on predictors of paternal engagement (e.g., Pleck, 1985). However, fathers’ time with all his children cannot be appropriately used to assess the influence of paternal involvement on child outcomes, which necessarily should focus on individual children (cf. Amato & Rivera, 1999). Later studies, by collecting diaries about children’s time use, did obtain data about fathers’ engagement with a specific focal child (Sandberg & Hofferth, 2001; Yeung, Sandberg, Davis-Kean, & Hofferth, 2001), so this issue could be addressed. But there was a more important problem. Analyses of fathers’ total amount of interaction with individual children provided little evidence indicating that it was significantly linked with developmental outcomes (Cabrera, Tamis-LeMonda, Bradley, Hofferth, & Lamb 2000; Pleck, 1997). Further, some critics argued, based on these results as well as conceptual grounds, that engagement should be conceptualized in a much broader way encompassing fathers’ thoughts, affects, perceptions, and beliefs, rather than with just ‘‘ticks and clicks’’ (Hawkins & Palkovitz, 1999; Palkovitz, 1997). The operationalization of paternal engagement did shift away from total interaction time, but these new measurement approaches emerged for pragmatic reasons, not because of this empirical evidence or these conceptual critiques. The cost and respondent burden of collecting time diaries (not to mention coding them) was too high for routine research use. This disadvantage is heightened when one considers that diaries for multiple days are needed to assess characteristic patterns of time use. Briefer self-report measures of engagement, gauging periods longer than a single day, were necessary. To meet this need, researchers developed measures asking fathers about specific activities with children, either in terms of the frequency of the activity, or how the activity was shared between father and mother. In U.S. national datasets, the first major example was the set of seven paternal engagement items in the 1987 National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH). Fathers of younger children reported the frequency of outings away from home, playing at home, and reading, and fathers with older children responded about leisure activities, working on projects or playing at home, having private talks, and helping with reading and doing homework, on a scale ranging from never or rarely to almost every day (Marsiglio, 1991). In the NSFH, fathers reported their activities with all their children combined,

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but this kind of measure was easily adapted to apply to engagement with a particular child. In contrast to total engagement time, activity measures like these often did have positive correlates with developmental outcomes. Pleck (1997; Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2004) made the interpretation that the reason these activity assessments, in contrast to total engagement, were associated with child outcomes was because they focused on the kinds of more interactive parenting activities that potentially promote child development. As studies of fathering increasingly adopted such activity frequency measures, time use researchers themselves less often analyzed only fathers’ total time with children or a child, and more often distinguished different kinds of engagement time, and reported results for them in detail. For example, Yeung et al.’s (2001) major analysis of fathers’ time use in the 1997 CDS examines play/companionship, teaching, and caregiving separately. Particularly significant, Bianchi, Robinson, and Milkie (2006, p. 68) relabeled what 1980s time diary research blandly termed fathers’ ‘‘other child care’’ (component codes described above) as their ‘‘interactive’’ or ‘‘enrichment’’ time with their children. They also narrowed this summary category to include only helping/teaching, reading/talking, and indoor/outdoor playing. The older ‘‘other child care’’ category had also included the activity codes for babysitting/other and child care travel (combining these with teaching, reading, and playing had always seemed odd). These codes were now shifted to the other child care category, previously termed ‘‘basic child care’’ and now renamed as ‘‘routine’’ activities. Particularly important, Bianchi et al. report fathers’ time in the two categories separately. If the two categories had been defined and labeled in the 1980s as Bianchi et al. did later, and if detailed data for those categories had been easily available then, Lamb and Pleck might well have distinguished the two types of engagement. Had that happened, other researchers might have zeroed in on engagement’s more interactive forms much earlier than they did. Overall, the relationship between time use methods and paternal engagement has come full circle. Time use research, and the way that it typically defined and reported father’s engagement in the 1980s, contributed to the initial conceptualization of engagement as fathers’ total time spent with his children or a particular child. Some critics proposed radically broadening engagement and the larger construct of involvement to include thoughts, affects, perceptions, and beliefs. Since critics noted the limitations of fathers’ total activity time as a predictor of their children’s outcomes, it is noteworthy that they proposed defining involvement more broadly, rather than the perhaps more obvious alternative of defining the engagement component more narrowly. Measures of the latter did emerge and come into widespread use, but for pragmatic rather than conceptual reasons. THE INCLUSION



Warmth and Responsiveness. In addition to focusing on potentially development-promoting activities rather than all interaction time, the interpretation of engagement expanded in another way as well. As illustrated in Hofferth’s (2003) and Carlson’s (2006) research, operationalizations of engagement now frequently include paternal warmth and/or responsiveness to the child. This


qualitative dimension of fathering is investigated as a distinct domain by itself (Hofferth) or as part of a composite involvement measure (Carlson). Pleck (1997; Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2004) also documented the ways that numerous questionnaire fathering measures developed around the same time as the engagement construct combined warmth or responsiveness with father’s positive activity frequency. Control. Also exemplified in Hofferth’s (2003) and Carlson’s (2006) studies, recent studies of father involvement increasingly include measures falling within the broad domain of parental control. One aspect is paternal monitoring, reflected in knowing the child’s whereabouts (and in some recent literature referred to specifically as knowledge). In addition, fathers’ participation in decision making about the children is also increasingly included (Pleck & Hofferth, 2008). Researchers typically interpret monitoring and decision making as operationalizations of Lamb and Pleck’s responsibility component. The Convergence of Paternal Involvement and Authoritative Parental Style. Those familiar with research on parental style will immediately recognize warmthresponsiveness and control as the two factors in Maccoby and Martin’s (1983) interpretation of the dimensions underlying Baumrind’s (1967) parental style categories, with authoritative parental style combining the two. (A recent development in parental style research is the distinction between two kinds of control, behavioral and psychological, e.g., Stolz, Barber, and Olson (2005).) As researchers operationalized paternal involvement subsequent to Lamb and Pleck’s formulation, how did items or measures assessing these two dimensions come to be included together with reports of positive activity frequency? The simple answer is that beginning in the 1990s, research in human development and family studies increasingly made use of public-use national datasets like the NLSY and NSFH. When the researchers designing these datasets selected parenting measures to include besides activity engagement, they selected items from existing instruments. Because of its centrality in parenting research, existing measures focused on the component dimensions of parental style. When researchers interested in paternal involvement turned to these datasets, researchers used these measures, ‘‘shoe-horning’’ them into the construct of paternal involvement. Thus, the incorporation of warmthresponsiveness and control measures into paternal involvement was to some extent driven by availability and opportunity. As the paternal involvement construct began to include elements of authoritative parental style, the concept of authoritative parental style simultaneously has started to incorporate the involvement construct’s engagement dimension, as originally formulated by Lamb and Pleck in terms of time. For example, Marsiglio et al. (2000, pp. 1182–1183) use the term authoritative parenting for the configuration of ‘‘spending time with children (emphasis added), providing emotional support, giving everyday assistance, monitoring children’s behavior, and noncoercive disciplining.’’ Carlson (2006, p. 138) links parental style to engagement time in saying, ‘‘Time spent together provides parents the opportunity to demonstrate the warmth and support, and appropriate control and monitoring, that are intrinsic to authoritative

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parenting.’’ Steinberg’s work on parental style has also described authoritativeness with language connoting engagement, for example, Lanborn, Mounts, Steinberg, and Dornbusch’s (1991, p. 1053) referring to the aspect of authoritative parental style usually referred to a warmth-responsiveness as ‘‘acceptance/involvement.’’ Since both the involvement construct and the parental style construct are intended to address broad dimensions of parenting, their conceptual convergence is perhaps not surprising. RESPONSIBILITY Many researchers interpreted responsibility to mean only monitoring the child’s activities and decision making about the child, but these were already well established as parenting constructs in their own right. The responsibility component of paternal involvement meant something different. Lamb et al. (1985, p. 884) defined responsibility as referring ‘‘not to the amount of time spent with or accessible to children, but to the role father takes in making sure that the child is taken care of and arranging for resources to be available for the child (emphasis added). For example, this might involve arranging for babysitters, making appointments with pediatricians and seeing that the child is taken to them, determining when the child needs new clothes, etc.’’ This definition refers to responsibility as both a process (‘‘making sure the child is taken care of’’) and to indirect care, a type of activity (‘‘arranging for resources to be available’’). (For evaluations of existing responsibility measures, see Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2004). Indirect Care. To address this aspect of responsibility first, indirect care refers to activities undertaken for the child, but not involving interaction with the child, with the exception of providing economic support. As Lamb et al. explained the omission of breadwinning, ‘‘although [it] may also be very important, we explicitly exclude from consideration breadwinning. . . . We focus here on the amount of time spent in activities involving the child because they are the ones undergoing particular change today, and because psychologists have yet to consider paternal behavior in more comprehensive fashion’’ (p. 884). Provision of economic support had been previously identified as an aspect of fathering, and was already being studied. The intent of the involvement construct was to identify new dimensions of fathering that appeared to be changing and that previously received little attention. Consideration of existing research suggests that indirect care falls into two subcategories. The first can be termed material indirect care, purchasing and arranging goods and services for the child. Some research labels these behaviors child-related work (Hossain, 2001; Kelley, 1997). The specific indirect care activity receiving most research attention has been making child care arrangements (Leslie, Anderson, & Branson, 1991; Peterson & Gerson, 1992). Fathers’ arrangement of their children’s health care has also been a research focus (Bailey, 1991; Isacco & Garfield, in press; Moore & Kotelchuk, 2004). Stueve and Pleck (2001; Pleck & Stueve, 2004) assessed this form of indirect care with an open-ended question asking parents to describe meaningful or important experiences ‘‘arranging and planning things for’’ their child,


‘‘things like making doctor’s and dentist’s appointments, arranging childcare or transportation, and educational planning.’’ Factors interpretable as this aspect of indirect care have emerged in factor analyses of broad sets of paternal parenting measures (Beitel & Parke, 1998; Bruce & Fox, 1997; Deutsch, Servis, & Payne, 2001). Other work independent of Lamb and Pleck’s formulation has identified a second broad category of indirect care, social indirect care, referring to promoting the child’s community connections. In this domain, Parke, McDowell, Kim, Killian, Dennis, and Wild (2004) have emphasized the critical importance of fathers’ ‘‘managerial’’ role in their children’s friendships. Fathers’ advocacy with social institutions on behalf of their children can also be interpreted as form of social indirect care (Lareau, 2003; Small & Eastman, 1991). Doucet (2006, 2009) refers to social indirect care as fathers’ ‘‘community responsibility.’’ Process Responsibility. This aspect of responsibility is illustrated in Coltrane’s (1996, p. 54) observation that ‘‘in most families, husbands notice less about what needs to be done, and wait to be asked to do various chores and require explicit directions if they are to complete the tasks successfully . . . most couples continue to characterize husband’s contributions to housework and child care as ‘helping their wives.’’’ Process responsibility involves taking initiative and monitoring what is needed. It is illustrated by Walzer’s (1996) concepts of ‘‘parental consciousness’’ and ‘‘mental baby care’’ (worrying, processing information about what to expect, and managing the division of labor). Paternal responsibility is one of the major themes in Doucet’s (2006, 2009) work. In her explications of fathers’ community responsibility (noted above as social indirect care) and emotional responsibility (referring primarily to caregiving), Doucet includes both behavior and process responsibility. However, she gives special emphasis to the latter. A father in her research aptly summed up the essence of process responsibility as ‘‘seeing the need’’ as opposed to ‘‘filling the need’’ (p. 219). Doucet also employs a classification of fathers as assistants, partners, or managers in these domains, which in effect places them on a continuum of process responsibility. A REVISED CONCEPTUALIZATION



To summarize, researchers have generally operationalized Lamb and Pleck’s mid-1980s formulation of paternal involvement in ways going beyond their conceptualization. The initial formulation’s engagement component, grounded in time use methodology, focused on all interaction time with the child, but subsequent research increasingly assessed engagement as a narrower set of more highly interactive paternal activities, and time diary investigators themselves increasingly concentrated on time in narrower activity categories rather than total time. Fatherhood researchers have also increasingly added warmth-responsiveness and control to their assessments of paternal involvement. Indirect care and process responsibility have received

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some attention, although far less. Accessibility has been studied least of all (but see Bianchi et al., 2006; Yeung et al., 2001). Building on this history, I propose here a revised conceptualization of paternal involvement that includes three primary components: (a) positive engagement activities, interaction with the child of the more intensive kind likely to promote development; (b) warmth and responsiveness; and (c) control, particularly monitoring and decision making. The revised involvement conceptualization also includes two auxiliary domains: (d) indirect care, activities done for the child that do not entail interaction with the child, in the forms of material indirect care (purchasing and arranging goods and services for the child) as well as social indirect care (fostering community connections with peers and institutions), but excluding breadwinning; and (e) process responsibility, referring to a father’s monitoring that his child’s needs for the first four components of involvement are being met, as distinct from the extent to which the father meets those needs himself. The first of the primary components, positive engagement activities, is a modified form of engagement as originally formulated. The explicit inclusion of the second and third domains, the qualitative dimensions underlying authoritative parental style, helps integrate the paternal involvement construct (and by extension, fathering research) with the broader field of parenting research. In addition to mirroring how paternal engagement is actually operationalized in most current investigations, the three primary components are compatible with those proposed in other recent reviews such as Palkovitz’s (2007) thematic analysis of ‘‘things that matter in fathering’’ (affective climate, behavioral style, and relational synchrony), Hawkins, Amato, and King’s (2007) concept of ‘‘active fathering,’’ and Sarkadi et al.’s (2008) concept of ‘‘effective engagement.’’ The preponderance of future research on father involvement will likely continue to focus, as it does now, on only the three core dimensions. Giving prime attention to these core involvement components is legitimate in light of the volume of past parenting research concerning the importance of these parental behaviors, especially the second and third. It is also appropriate in view of how much more there is to be learned about them. The revised conceptualization includes indirect care as the first of two auxiliary components. Indirect care has been investigated far less frequently than the three primary involvement domains, but researchers are showing increasing interest in it. Lamb and Pleck’s formulation emphasized purchasing goods and arranging services for the child, termed here material indirect care. More recent research has particularly attended to the father’s role in fostering the child’s peer relations and community connections and their advocacy on behalf of the child, social indirect care. Process responsibility is the final component of paternal involvement. Existing quantitative and qualitative research is limited in extent, but nonetheless suggests that process responsibility holds promise for further investigation. Lamb and Pleck’s combining process responsibility and indirect care under the term responsibility may have obscured how conceptually distinct the two phenomena are.







When Lamb and Pleck proposed the paternal involvement construct in the mid-1980s, they offered it as a conceptual tool for the study of fatherhood. In formulating involvement and its component domains, they did not reference the parenting dimensions that had previously been studied in mothers. In subsequent research, the relationship between paternal involvement and mothers’ parenting has been framed in two ways. First, reflecting the concept’s origins, many researchers consider it to apply uniquely and only to fathers. Stolz et al. (2005) aptly critique this approach: We once studied primarily mothers and called their behaviors ‘‘parenting’’ without considering whether we had accurately portrayed fathers, but now we often study only fathers and call their behaviors ‘‘fathering’’ without considering whether . . . those behaviors are similar when enacted by mothers (p. 1076).

A second approach uses the involvement construct for the study of mothers’ parenting as well as fathers’, treating this conceptual generalization as not necessitating particular justification. The incorporation of the qualitative dimensions underlying parental style into the paternal involvement construct has accelerated this application of the involvement construct to mothering. As reviewed in a later section, much of this research takes as its objective to investigate empirically whether involvement has the same correlates in mothers as in fathers, and to analyze the independent contribution of each to child outcomes. A researcher such as myself who primarily studies fatherhood is perhaps not well positioned to formally propose that the construct of paternal involvement—either Lamb and Pleck’s original formulation, the reconceptualization offered here, or other proposals yet to be offered—should be applied to mothers as well as fathers. Research in human development and family studies, however, appears to be moving in this direction. Using the same measures for involvement for both mothers and fathers requires careful attention to issues of similarity of factor structure (Finley, Mira, & Schwartz, 2008) and of measurement equivalence (Adamsons & Buehler, 2007). With these caveats, applying the involvement construct to both mothers and fathers makes possible a systematic exploration of gender differences and similarities in the levels, sources, and consequences of mothers’ and fathers’ behavior that offers opportunities to increase our understanding of parenting.

COMPONENTS OF PATERNAL INVOLVEMENT: INTERRELATIONSHIPS, LEVELS, AND CHANGE OVER TIME This section first examines how the five paternal involvement domains are interrelated with each other. It then discusses recent research on fathers’ levels of involvement, and the extent to which these levels have changed in recent decades. The data referenced primarily concern residential fathers, though some information about nonresident fathers is included.

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INTERRELATIONSHIPS AMONG COMPONENTS The question is frequently raised whether paternal involvement should be interpreted as unidimensional or multidimensional. At the outset, it is helpful to frame the dimensionality issue in the context of the evolution of the involvement construct. First, the dimensionality question has not primarily concerned whether the three domains in Lamb and Pleck’s mid-1980s formulation comprise a single factor. Lamb and Pleck’s formulation of interaction, accessibility, and responsibility as distinct domains did not logically require that they be intercorrelated and, if anything, implied that they may be relatively independent. Since most research focuses on engagement alone, the question on most researchers’ minds is whether the engagement component by itself is unidimensional or multidimensional. Second, researchers increasingly operationalized involvement to include warmth-responsiveness and control. The inclusion of these dimensions in engagement along with positive engagement activities has made the dimensionality question more salient. The largest body of research concerning dimensionality does in fact concern the three primary involvement components. Many, but not all, analyses indicate that the three components are moderately interrelated. Several formal analyses of the factor structure of relatively small numbers of indicators across the three domains suggest that they comprise a single dimension, and analyses using larger sets of indicators find that most indicators do. Carlson (2006) found in the NLSY 1979 that adolescents’ reports concerning seven areas that ranged from the father attending important events and spending enough time with me (positive activity engagement), my feeling close to him (warmth), his listening to my side of an argument (responsiveness), and his making decisions concerning me (decision making) all loaded strongly on a single factor. Pleck and Hofferth’s (2008) confirmatory factor analysis of six of these items (excluding spending enough time) found they comprised a single latent variable, although the coefficient for decisions was lower than for the other items. Nonetheless, they found that a one-factor measurement model had significantly better model fit than a two-factor model. Coley and Medeiros (2007) likewise found a single latent dimension in nonresident fathers. In a study using a broader pool of measures in the CDS, Schoppe-Sullivan, McBride, and Ho (2004) found multiple distinct first-order factors underlying the involvement variables. These investigators also found that all first-order factors except cognitive monitoring loaded on a single second-order factor, but monitoring remained separate as a second-order dimension. Skinner, Johnson, and Snyder (2005) also found multiple latent factors underlying these kinds of items, as did Finley et al. (2008). Other analyses concern only the first two involvement components, with measures of control not included. Numerous studies have employed fathering measures that combine the two spheres; those measures having adequate internal reliability indicates that activity frequency and warmth-responsiveness must be at least moderately positively correlated (Pleck, 1997; Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2004). In addition, using the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (Add Health), Cookston and Finlay (2006) found a single


latent factor encompassing four activity frequency items, five communication frequency items, and five warmth-closeness items for resident fathers. However, Hawkins et al. (2007), using a smaller group of items in these domains in the same dataset, found that they did not comprise a single latent factor for resident fathers, though they did for nonresident ones. Ryan, Martin, and Brooks-Gunn’s (2006) factor analysis in an observational study with toddlers likewise found that activity engagement and warmth-responsiveness were aspects of the same dimension, but other studies have found them only weakly correlated (Brown, McBride, Shin, & Bost, 2007). Overall, evidence about the dimensionality of the three primary involvement components is mixed. The extent of interrelationship or independence among the three components appears to vary as a function of the exact item text, the number of items, and the samples used. Researchers should analyze the dimensionality of the involvement measures used in their particular studies, and when the data suggest multiple dimensions, they should be analyzed separately. Another way to evaluate whether multiple dimensions should be distinguished within the three primary involvement domains is to ascertain whether they have the same covariates. In Hofferth’s (2003) analysis of the CDS, paternal engagement time, warmth, control, and a composite of indirect and direct care (labeled responsibility in her analysis) were treated as separate variables on a priori grounds. Although the four measures of involvement had some predictors in common (reporting that one’s own father was involved, and having positive attitudes about fathers’ role), most predictors for the four measures did not overlap. For example, fathers’ work hours was significantly negatively associated with engagement time and the indirect-direct care composite, but not with warmth or control. Having attended parenting classes predicted high control, but not the other fathering dimensions. Shifting to associations with outcomes, a comparison of two analyses using Add Health data is particularly valuable. As noted earlier, Cookston and Finlay (2006) found a single latent factor underlying fathers’ activity frequency, communication frequency, and warmth-closeness. They further found that this paternal involvement factor (with mother involvement controlled) predicted concurrent and subsequent lower delinquency and lower depression, and concurrent lower alcohol use. Using the same dataset but analyzing the three components of involvement separately, Goncy and Van Dulmen (in press), however, found that while paternal communication and warmthcloseness predicted lower concurrent alcohol use and fewer co-occurring risky behaviors (e.g., driving when drinking), activity frequency did not (again with the parallel dimensions of maternal involvement controlled). The available evidence is more limited concerning the interrelations of indirect care and process responsibility with the primary involvement components and with each other. McBride and Mills’s (1993) measure of process responsibility is significantly correlated with fathers’ level of engagement time, but only in two-earner families. Several factor analyses of paternal parenting items yielded separate factors distinguishing indirect care and process responsibility from each other, as well as from the three core involvement domains (Beitel & Parke, 1998; Bruce & Fox, 1997; Deutsch

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et al., 2001). The balance of evidence suggests that process responsibility and indirect care are empirically independent, and are not consistently related to the primary spheres of involvement. In summary, some studies suggest that the three primary involvement components (paternal positive activity engagement, warmth-responsiveness, and control) are moderately related to each other, and comprise a single factor. However, control is somewhat less strongly associated with the other two components than the latter are to each other, and a number of analyses find multiple latent factors underlying these components. In addition, these components often have different covariates. It is evident that researchers should analyze the measurement structure of the instruments they use, and if distinct components have adequate psychometric properties, it is recommended that they be analyzed separately. Nonetheless, if measurement models suggest a single factor, or items need to be combined across these involvement domains to obtain adequate reliability, analyses with the resulting composite paternal involvement measures can still inform future research. Although evidence bearing on indirect care and process responsibility is more limited, the data available suggest that they should be treated as dimensions of paternal involvement that are distinct from each other as well as independent of the three primary components. LEVELS



Presented here are data concerning levels of the five components of paternal involvement among resident fathers. For information on nonresident fathers’ contact with their children and how it has changed in recent decades, see Amato, Myers, and Emery (2009). Amato and Dorius (Chapter 6) and Fabricius, Braver, Diaz, and Schenck (Chapter 7) provide other information about nonresident fathers’ involvement. Positive Activity Engagement. My prior reviews of levels and secular change in residential fathers’ paternal engagement focused on fathers’ total interaction time spent with their children (Pleck, 1997; Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2004). Consistent with the reconceptualization of engagement as positive activity engagement, however, this section focuses on data concerning this subset of fathers’ total interaction with their children. Child Trends’ (2006) Charting parenthood: A statistical portrait of fathers and mothers in America provides illustrative data for specific positive engagement activities from large-scale representative samples. For example, in the 1997 CDS, the percentage of fathers in two-parent families who played board games or puzzles with their child aged 3 to 5 at least once a week was 43%; looked at books together, 60%; talked about family, 79%; and played sports or outdoor activities, 81% (values reported as integers in Child Trends, p. 149). Comparable proportions for mothers were 55, 79, 84, and 71%. Thus, fathers reported these positive engagement activities nearly as frequently as mothers do, with the exception that sports and outdoor activities were more frequent in fathers. Further tabulations are also provided for children aged 6 to 9 and 10 to 12, and are also broken out by parents’ sociodemographic


characteristics. Using another dataset, the 2000 National Survey of Parents, Bianchi et al. (2006, pp. 79–83) report on the proportions of fathers engaging in seven interactive activities, as well as average number of engagement days per week for each activity. As discussed earlier, Bianchi et al. (2006) modified the subcategories for fathers’ total engagement time that had been previously used in time diary analysis, creating a subcategory, ‘‘interactive’’ or ‘‘enrichment’’ activities with their children (helping/teaching, reading/talking, and indoor and outdoor playing), that corresponds to positive engagement activities. Particularly valuable, they reanalyzed the major U.S. time diary studies going back to 1965 to construct a time series for this measure from 1965 to 2000. In 2000, U.S. married resident fathers with children under 18 spent an average of 2.4 hours/week (20.4 minutes/day) in interactive activities (if they had more than one child, this means with all their children combined). Married fathers’ interactive activity time was about 72% of married mothers’ 3.3 hours/week (28.2 minutes/day). (In interpreting these relatively low figures, recall that they concern time with children in all households with children up to age 17. The older the child, the less time spent in these activities by fathers and mothers (Yeung et al., 2001), so that these averages are depressed by the inclusion of families with older children.) Fathers’ 2000 interactive engagement time was 94% higher than its 1965 level of 1.3 hours/week, with most of the increase occurring since 1985. However, mothers’ interactive activities increased over the same period to a greater degree (from 1.5 to 3.3 hours/week). As a result, the ratio of fathers’ to mothers’ interactive activities dropped somewhat over the 35-year period, from 80% to 72% (Bianchi et al., 2006, p. 66). Wang and Bianchi’s (2009) brief report from the most recent national diary study, the 2003–2004 ATUS, suggests that fathers’ interactive activities have risen since 2000 to 3.0 hours/week (26.2 minutes/day); data on mothers are not reported. To put fathers’ positive activity engagement time in the context of all their time spent with their children, U.S. married fathers in 2000 spent an additional 4.1 hours/week (35.1 minutes/day) in ‘‘routine’’ child care activities. They also reported an additional 26.5 hours/week (3.8 hours/day) in other time when their children were present but which was not coded as interactive or routine care activities (corresponding to accessibility), yielding 33.0 hours/ week (4.7 hours/day) in total time spent with their children (Bianchi et al., 2006, pp. 64, 72). Fathers’ routine activity time and other time increased markedly between 1965 and 2000, much more so than did mothers’, so that the ratio of fathers’ to mothers’ routine activity time increased, as did the ratio for other time. Overall, fathers spent 64.7% as much total time with children as mothers did in 2000, compared to 44.7% as much time in 1965. This increasing proportion was due only to fathers’ increase relative to mothers in routine activities and other time with children. As just noted, the ratio of fathers’ to mothers’ interactive activities declined somewhat. Bianchi et al. also summarize paternal time use data from 1965 to 2000 for Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, France, and the United Kingdom. The data reported concern ‘‘child care time,’’ a category broader than interactive activities, but narrower than the combination of interactive and routine

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activities (compare Bianchi et al., 2006, pp. 160, 64). U.S. fathers’ total child care time in 2000 is lower, and has increased less since 1965, than in all of these other industrial countries except France. British fathers showed both the highest 2000 level and greatest increase, having had the lowest level in 1965. French fathers demonstrated a relatively high level in 1965, dipping in the late 1980s, and with little net increase by 2000 (for other cross-national comparisons, see Sullivan & Coltrane, 2008). Warmth-Responsiveness. Child Trends’ (2006) Charting parenthood provides illustrative data for this involvement component as well. In the 1997 CDS, among resident fathers of children under age 13, the proportion reporting hugging or showing affection to his child every day was 73%; telling his child he loves him/her, 62%; and telling his child he appreciated something he/she did, 37%. Comparable maternal percentages were 87, 85, and 55%. Paternal expression of warmth were negatively related to the child’s age, for example, 90% of fathers of 0- to 2-year-olds hugged every day (98% of mothers), while 50% of fathers of 10- to 12-year-olds did so (74% of mothers) (Child Trends, p. 143). No data providing insight into possible change over time in fathers’ warmth-responsiveness were located for this review. In the 1996 Add Health survey, adolescents rated how close they felt to their father and mother on a 5-point scale (1 = not close at all, 5 = extremely close). Results with this measure are particularly valuable because they are available for nonresident as well as resident fathers, and among subgroups of resident fathers. Focusing first on families with two resident parents, boys report equal closeness to their fathers and mothers (both 4.3 on the 5-point scale), while girls describe some less closeness to their fathers (4.0) than mothers (4.3). Both genders report lower levels of closeness with resident stepfathers (3.6, 3.5). Boys and girls also characterize relationships with nonresident biological fathers as even less close (3.1, 2.9). Relationships with single resident fathers are about as positive as those with resident fathers in two parent families (Child Trends, 2006, p. 142). Bianchi et al. (2006) report further national data about fathers and mothers praising their children, laughing with them, and hugging or kissing them from the 2000 National Survey of Parents, showing statistically significant but quite small parental gender differences. Control. The CDS provides results regarding parental limit setting for three activities for children aged 3 to 12: how much time spent watching TV per day, what TV programs to watch, and who the child spends time with. The percentages of fathers reporting setting such limits often or very often are 40, 61, and 40%, compared to mothers’ 48, 71, and 51%. However, Black fathers set these limits more often than do Black mothers, for example, 60% compared to 52% regarding who the child spends time with (Child Trends, 2006, p. 140). Black fathers are also reported to be more likely to have sole responsibility for disciplining the child (10%) than are white fathers (3%). In 32% of Hispanic families, fathers are reported to have sole responsibility, although they report limit setting less frequently than do fathers in other racial–ethnic groups (Child Trends, pp., 138, 140). The 2000 National Survey of Parents provides


other data about the proportions of fathers and mothers who are aware of their children’s whereabouts almost all of the time, again showing significant but small gender differences (Bianchi et al., 2006). No data concerning change over time appear to be available. Indirect Care. In large-scale representative samples, only scattered data have been reported about fathers’ levels of indirect care. In the CDS, of the eight items in Hofferth’s (2003) scale labeled responsibility, five are indirect care tasks. For the individual items, distributional data have been reported only for selecting a child care program, preschool, or school, consistent with this being the most frequently studied aspect of indirect care. The CDS response categories correspond to mother only, mother–father shared, father only, or someone else. It is noteworthy that fathers and mothers in the CDS sample reported the division of labor for this indirect care task quite differently. Of fathers, 60% reported sharing this task, 34% said that the mother did it, and 7% indicated they did it alone (percents rounded to integers in the source report). Among mothers, however, only 38% described selecting child care or school as a shared task, 60% said they did it alone, and 2% indicated the father did it (Child Trends, 2006, p. 139). Thus, fathers report their degree of participation in this indirect care task at a much higher level than mothers rate it. But even in fathers’ reports, 34% reported no involvement in this activity. No data are available concerning change over time. Process Responsibility. In data from small nonrepresentative samples, fathers’ levels of process responsibility are substantially lower than mothers’ (Baruch & Barnett, 1986; McBride & Mills, 1993). Measures of process responsibility have not been used in large representative samples or replicated over time in smaller samples. However, representative sample data exist over several decades concerning the proportion of fathers of preschool children who experience, on a regular basis, extended periods of time during which they are likely to have high process responsibility for their child: being the primary child care arrangement for their preschool children under age 5 during employed mothers’ hours of work, referred to here as paternal care (O’Connell, 1993). In the most recent available data, from spring 2005, 20.5% of married employed mothers report that the father is the primary care provider. In addition, 9.0% of divorced and separated mothers do so, as do 13.9% of never married mothers (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008a). Casper (1997) reports detailed analyses of factors associated with paternal care, showing that most such fathers are employed, primarily full time, and additionally that paternal arrangements are more common in families with two or more preschoolers, are most common in the Northeast and least common in the South, and are less common in families living in suburbs rather than urban or rural areas. Although most paternal care fathers are employed, paternal care is more likely among the unemployed. Thus, the paternal care rate fluctuates somewhat with the unemployment rate (Casper & O’Connell, 1998). Regarding change over time, Presser (1989) cites evidence that paternal care for children during mothers’ working hours increased between 1965 and

Theoretical Linkages between Paternal Involvement and Child Outcomes 75

1985. The overall paternal care rate (for employed mothers of all marital statuses combined) in the most recent 2005 data, 17.2%, is somewhat higher than it was in 1985, 15.7%, with a spike up to 20.0% during the 1991 recession (U.S. Census, 2008b). Overall, data on paternal care for preschool children of employed mothers suggests that a substantial minority of fathers have a high level of process responsibility—about one in five married fathers, and at least one in ten unmarried fathers in 2005. In addition, if the paternal care rate is used as an indicator, fathers’ level of process responsibility gradually increased between 1965 and 1985, and since 1985 has varied in tandem with paternal unemployment. Overview. Average levels of fathers’ positive activity engagement can be characterized in multiple ways. The proportions of resident fathers with young children who engage in various specific interactive engagement activities at least once a week are relatively high both in absolute terms and relative to mothers. Using ‘‘interactive’’ activity time as an indicator, married fathers with children under 18 spent about 2.4 hours/week in positive activity engagement in 2000, about 72% of mothers’ level, and spent 3.0 hours/week in 2003–2004. On various indicators, relatively high proportions of fathers evidence warmth-responsiveness and appropriate control behaviors with their children. The ratios of fathers’ rates of these behaviors to mothers’ rates is generally higher than the ratio of fathers’ to mothers’ interactive activity time. Few systematic data are available regarding fathers’ levels of indirect care, with the exception of selecting and arranging child care. Fathers report their degree of participation to be much higher than mothers rate it; 66% of fathers reported they selected the child care arrangements either jointly or alone, but only 40% of mothers reported this. Data on process responsibility are likewise limited. However, using as an indicator the father being the primary care provider during employed mothers’ working hours, a substantial minority of fathers has significant process responsibility for the child, even if they are not married to the child’s mother. Data on change over time are available for positive engagement activities (showing marked increases in absolute levels) and for one indicator of process responsibility (suggesting no change), but not for the three other dimensions of paternal involvement. THEORETICAL LINKAGES BETWEEN PATERNAL INVOLVEMENT AND CHILD OUTCOMES When Lamb and Pleck formulated the paternal involvement construct in the mid-1980s, they cautiously put forward that in at least some circumstances, involvement might have positive consequences for children, mothers, and fathers themselves. For the child, they suggested possible positive effects only if the father and mother wanted the father to be involved, a reasonable qualification. However, they did not go further to explicate why and how, from a theoretical viewpoint, father involvement could have positive influences, especially on children’s development. Existing research


has tended to simply assume it should, without specifying underlying theoretical mechanisms (Pleck, 2007). Analysis of the conceptual linkages between paternal involvement and child outcomes is needed in order to promote theory development in its own right, as well as to identify mediators of involvement’s effects that can be investigated in future research (Palkovitz, 2002). This section first briefly reviews current non-intervention research concerning the association between paternal involvement and child outcomes (for reviews of fathering intervention programs, see McBride & Lutz, 2004; Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2004). Then, following a review of possible sources for theoretical linkages between involvement and child outcomes, I develop a ‘‘parental capital’’ framework for understanding why and how components of paternal involvement might have direct positive influences on child outcomes. DIRECT INFLUENCES OF PATERNAL INVOLVEMENT CURRENT EVIDENCE



Direct father-to-child effects are by no means the only mechanism potentially linking involvement and child outcomes: Paternal involvement may affect children’s development via its indirect effects on mothers and on siblings (Chapter 5), and fathers and children may influence each other reciprocally. However, in any analysis of how paternal involvement influences child outcomes, direct father-to-child effects are nonetheless of paramount interest. For convenience, in the following discussion, the term involvement will be used to refer to only the three primary components. This review focuses on effects of paternal involvement on outcomes in middle and later childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, hereafter generally referred to as child outcomes. For research on the consequences of involvement for infant and early childhood, see Chapter 4. No research on the linkages of paternal indirect care and process responsibility with child outcomes were located for this review. Future research should address this gap. Outside the scope of paternal involvement but nonetheless important, Amato (1998) provides evidence about the independent effects of paternal breadwinning on child outcomes. In studying the possible influence of the three primary domains of paternal involvement on developmental outcomes, the first step is investigating the degree to which those domains and child outcomes are independently associated. Amato and Rivera (1999; see also Marsiglio et al., 2000) noted that stronger and more consistent associations between resident fathers’ paternal involvement and child outcomes are found in research that is methodologically less rigorous than in studies that are more rigorous. These reviewers emphasized two design criteria as essential to establish association: employing ‘‘different-source’’ data on involvement components and child outcomes, and controlling for maternal involvement. Sarkadi et al. (2008) more recently reviewed 24 longitudinal studies, in which socioeconomic status (SES) was controlled in 18, of which 12 also controlled for maternal involvement, although not all had different-source data. All of the latter found positive associations with one or more of the

Theoretical Linkages between Paternal Involvement and Child Outcomes 77

three core involvement components in at least some subgroups (for example, boys). Of these 12 studies, 5 were analyses reported in separate journal publications employing the same dataset, the National Child Development Study (Flouri, 2005), focusing on outcomes at successively later ages. Thus, these 12 studies include only 8 with independent samples. Nonetheless, Flouri’s analyses are valuable in showing the persistence of the positive correlates of early paternal involvement evident during childhood and adolescence through age 33. For resident fathers, evidence from research meeting the two standards continues to accumulate suggesting that positive activity engagement, warmth-responsiveness, and control are empirically associated with positive child outcomes. Tabulating the research included in Amato and Rivera (1999) and Parke (2002), and adding several further investigations, Pleck and Masciadrelli (2004) concluded that 10 of 14 studies showed positive associations with involvement. Subsequent to Pleck and Masciadrelli’s summary, additional confirming studies include Carlson (2006); Chang, Halpern, and Kaufman (2007); Cookston and Finlay (2006); Flouri (2005); Martin, Ryan, and Brooks-Gunn (2007); Ryan, Martin, and Brooks-Gunn (2006); Stolz, Barber, and Olsen (2005); and Tamis-LeMonda, Shannon, Cabrera, and Lamb (2004). However, McBride, Dyer, Liu, Brown, and Hong (2009) fail to find support. In addition, positive associations between these aspects of involvement and child outcomes are generally observed among nonresident fathers (Amato & Gilbreth, 1999; Marsiglio et al., 2000), although simple frequency of contact and payment of child support are examined as predictors of child outcomes far more frequently. Recently Emerging Design Criteria. Some of the studies included in prior reviews or just noted that employ different-source data and control for maternal involvement, and that find positive associations between involvement and child outcomes, nonetheless have other limitations. A number of these investigations are cross-sectional, thus establishing only that involvement and outcomes are associated (Marsiglio et al., 2000). Of the research that is longitudinal, many studies lack either or both of two additional important design features. First, to establish that paternal involvement has a causal influence, a longitudinal design needs to address possible ‘‘selection effects.’’ Estimating the association between time 1 involvement and time 2 child outcomes, with controls only for maternal involvement and sociodemographics, cannot exclude the possibility that the observed association results from selection. That is, other variables that were not controlled in the model could predict both involvement and outcomes (albeit assessed at different times), so that the fathers who are more involved at time 1 differ from fathers who are less involved in other respects, and those other characteristics rather than their level of involvement influence the time 2 child outcomes. In essence, one can never have certainty that all relevant selection variables have been controlled, and some may not even be observable. A variety of techniques is used to address this problem. As applied to paternal involvement effects, one common procedure with two-wave data is


to control for the earlier measure of the child outcome in assessing influences on the same outcome measured later (sometimes called autoregression). The underlying premise is that the two assessments of the outcome include in common a stable component of that outcome. By controlling for the time 1 outcome in studying factors impacting on the time 2 outcome, one is in effect controlling for the stable component of the time 2 child outcome, and all the predictors of that stable component including those that were not observed. Other methods analyzing change in two-wave data can also be used, and with three or more waves of data, more advanced techniques such as growth curve modeling are available. Second, research estimating the effect of father involvement on child outcomes needs to allow for the possibility that child outcomes reciprocally influence father involvement. One procedure is the cross-lagged design, which uses time 1 measures of each variable to predict the time 2 measure of the other, and also takes into account the degree of stability in each over time and their correlation at each point in time. Another technique is growth curve modeling with time-varying covariates, in which change in one variable can be used to predict change in the other and vice versa. Because of the use of multiple time points with these methods, selection issues are also minimized. Several of the most recent longitudinal studies cited above do use these methods to address selection by itself, or to handle reciprocal causation as well. Notably, some of these focus on nonresident fathers. All employ differentsource data for father involvement and child outcomes, although not all control for maternal involvement. Using resident fathers in Add Health, and controlling for maternal involvement and sociodemographics, Cookston and Finlay (2006) initially modeled delinquency, depression, and alcohol among adolescents at average age 15 (wave 2) as a function of a composite of the three primary paternal involvement components assessed a year and a half earlier (wave 1), finding substantial effects in expected directions for all three outcomes. When wave 1 measures of the outcomes were added to the models as controls, significant effects persisted for delinquency and depression, thus providing evidence that the longitudinal associations found were not due to unobserved selection factors. Using growth curve modeling with the NLSY 1979, Chang et al. (2007) found that paternal involvement was inversely related to both internalizing and externalizing behaviors in adolescents. Many of Flouri’s (2005) analyses approximate an autoregression design by controlling for earlier outcomes that, although not identical to later outcomes, are cognate to them, for example, controlling for behavior problems at age 7 in modeling trouble with the police at age 16. These analyses generally find effects of paternal involvement in at least one gender. Hawkins et al. (2007) employed a full cross-lagged design in studying externalizing behavior, internalizing behavior, and academic achievement as outcomes. In resident fathers, they found evidence for both father effects (on children) and child effects (on fathers), but for nonresident fathers, they found only the latter. These analyses did not control for maternal involvement. Coley and Medeiros (2007) used both lagged ordinary least squares regression models with time-varying predictors and individual fixed-effects

Theoretical Linkages between Paternal Involvement and Child Outcomes 79

regression models investigating nonresident father involvement and delinquency in a representative sample of low-income, predominantly minority adolescents. These investigators found that increases in father involvement predicted decreases in adolescent delinquency, thus establishing father effects. Results also provided mixed evidence for child effects. Adolescent delinquency did not predict subsequent changes in father involvement. However, the two measures covaried such that as adolescent delinquency increased, father involvement did as well. Coley and Medeiros’s interpretation was nonresident fathers may increase their involvement in the face of adolescent problem behavior. This analysis did not control for mothers’ involvement. In a second study, Coley, Votruba-Dzal, and Schindler (2009) analyzed resident parents’ involvement and adolescent sexual risk behaviors using the NLSY 1997. This research employed growth curve modeling, and the measures of each parent’s individual involvement were limited to knowledge about the adolescents’ friends and activities. Increases in neither mothers’ nor fathers’ knowledge predicted increased sexual risk, although increases in shared family activities did. In addition, increases in adolescent sexual risk taking predicted increased father knowledge but not mother knowledge. Overview and Outstanding Research Issues. Research on the effects of paternal involvement on child outcomes has benefited from major methodological advances in recent years. Prior reviews suggested two essential design standards in research on paternal influences: different-source data on involvement and outcomes, and controlling for maternal involvement. In the most recent studies, two additional methodological criteria have in effect now emerged: research (a) should address selection more fully than simply controlling for sociodemographics and other observable variables, and (b) should also take reciprocal causation into account. The studies just reviewed meeting these additional criteria provide the best current nonexperimental evidence concerning the causal influence of the core components of paternal involvement on child outcomes. However, the results of all the available investigations, whether supporting paternal effects on child outcomes or not, require some qualification. Cookston and Finlay (2006) document paternal influence with selection and maternal involvement addressed, but without taking into account reciprocal causation. The potential weakness is not that time 2 outcomes could have caused time 1 paternal involvement, but rather that allowing a causal path from time 1 outcomes to time 2 involvement in the model could have altered the estimate of effect of time 1 involvement on time 2 outcomes. Chang et al. (2007) likewise control for maternal involvement but do not address reciprocal influence. Flouri (2005) also does not address reciprocal causation, and in addition only approximates autoregression. Incorporating reciprocal causation, Coley and Medeiros (2007) substantiate father effects for nonresident fathers, and Hawkins et al. (2007) do so for resident fathers, but maternal involvement was not controlled. Coley et al.’s (2009) design includes maternal involvement and reciprocal causation, observing no father effect, but the paternal involvement measure concerned only fathers’ knowledge


about the child, a salient parenting dimension in relation to adolescent sexual behavior, but nonetheless only one aspect of one of the three primary components of father involvement. None of these investigations meets every desirable design standard, and also assesses the primary components of paternal involvement broadly. Nonetheless, in the majority of the analyses that satisfy most of the standards, direct father effects are documented. This confirmation occurs in three of the four studies employing resident father samples (Chang et al., 2007; Cookston & Finlay, 2006; Flouri, 2005; Amato et al., 2009, resident father subsample). Paternal effects are also evident in one of the two studies of nonresident fathers (Coley & Medeiros, 2007). Thus, the most methodologically rigorous studies that are currently available provide some evidence for independent, direct paternal effects. Several broad issues are salient as research moves forward. First, research should adopt additional advanced analytical methods. For example, in analyses using two-parent families, controlling for maternal influence certainly provides better estimates of the independent effects of paternal involvement than analyses that do not. However, including maternal and paternal involvement as independent predictors does not take into account the interdependence between the two parents’ involvement, due to parents being nested within couples. Multilevel dyadic analysis procedures would address this (Kenney, Kashy, & Cook, 2006). It would also be valuable to give more attention to couple profiles of involvement (McBride, Dyer, & Laxman, 2009), rather than analyze paternal and maternal influence as independent or interdependent effects. Propensity score matching (Rosenbaum & Rubin, 1985) offers a way of minimizing selection issues in the association between paternal involvement and developmental outcomes that has not yet been employed. Use of mixture modeling (Muthen, 2004; Muthen & Muthen, 2000), a person-centered rather than variable-centered approach, tests the possibility that paternal involvement influences child outcomes in varying ways, and describes these patterns in a manner that goes beyond testing moderator effects or predictors of random slopes. Using this method in a study of the consequences of paternal incarceration, Dyer (2009) identified multiple distinct classes, with incarceration having negative effects on the child in some, positive effects in others, and no effects in yet other classes; the analysis further identified differential predictors of membership in these classes. Second, positive effects of paternal involvement should be studied in a more contextualized manner. Although some research finds associations between core involvement spheres and developmental outcomes, a nontrivial number of studies do not. The associations found are often restricted to particular outcomes and/or restricted to specific subgroups (Sarkadi et al., 2008). Thus, future research should pay more heed to Lamb et al.’s (1985) early caution that positive effects of paternal involvement may occur only in specific contexts. Third, pathways of influence other than direct father-to-child effects should receive more attention. This review has already emphasized child-to-father influence as possible confound in estimating father effects. Taking these childto-father influences further, in addition to the possibility that high involvement

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represents a response to positive child outcomes in some contexts, it could also be a reaction to negative ones in others, as has been suggested in some studies (DeLuccie, 1996; McBride et al., 2009). These reciprocal processes between father and child raise the possibility of varying patterns of evocative effects (e.g., paternal involvement may lead to good child outcomes, which reinforce paternal involvement); alternatively, negative outcomes could promote high involvement, which in turn either can improve or harm the child’s functioning, depending on the nature of the involvement. In addition to reciprocal father-child effects, paternal involvement can influence the child indirectly via effects on mothers (see Chapter 5), as well as through its impact on the child’s sibling relationships. Not taking these indirect effects into account leads to overestimation of the direct influence of paternal involvement on child outcomes; that is, the apparent direct effects may actually include indirect maternal and sibling effects as well. Finally, reciprocal influence between father and child is not just a process to be statistically taken into account to yield more valid estimates of direct father-to-child effects. The issues raised by reciprocal influence are more than data-analytic. They necessitate a more fundamental reconsideration of the implicit assumption that paternal involvement is a behavioral configuration that fathers in effect ‘‘dispense’’ to varying degrees to their children, who may respond with positive or negative changes in their own functioning, but not in ways that influence their fathers’ behavior. In the alternative family process or transactional view, paternal involvement is not an exogenous paternal behavior but a relational process between father and child that is embedded in other family relationships. THEORY LINKING PATERNAL INVOLVEMENT POTENTIAL SOURCES



This section now considers four possible sources for theory concerning exactly why paternal involvement components could or should influence developmental outcomes in children: attachment theory, parental style research, Bronfenbrenner’s concept of proximal process, and social capital theory. For an analysis of the theoretical view that fathers influence child development specifically by virtue of their masculinity, see Pleck (2007; and Chapter 2). Attachment Theory. Attachment theory was utilized in the study of fathering for almost two decades prior to Lamb and Pleck’s work, beginning with Kotelchuk (1967, 1976). Using attachment theory, one could argue paternal involvement promotes child development because father involvement promotes secure infant attachment (to the father), which in turn promotes good child outcomes through the processes hypothesized by attachment theorists (Cassidy, 1999). There is, in fact, evidence that positive activity engagement and warmth-responsiveness generally have a statistically significant but small association with infant–father attachment (Brown et al., 2007; Lamb, 2002; Chapter 4). Paquette (2004) has used attachment theory as the starting point for his broad conceptualization of the ‘‘father-child


activation relationship’’ as the essential mechanism for paternal effects on children. Attachment theory, however, has limitations as a basis for conceptualizing why father involvement can have positive effects. First, although the consequences of secure attachment for the developing individual are viewed as lasting until at least the young adult years, the period during which parental involvement is viewed as directly influencing attachment is restricted to the child’s earliest years. The theory thus does not provide a basis for viewing paternal (or maternal) involvement with older children and on adolescents as influential. Related to its focus on children’s early years, the attachment model has little role for parents’ control behaviors, of increasing importance in parenting with older children and adolescents. Of course, for a conceptualization of paternal involvement to be of value, it need not necessarily address paternal influence at all stages of children’s development; perhaps different concepts are needed for different stages. Nonetheless, a model of paternal influences primarily applicable only in infancy and early childhood would not meet the theoretical needs of most fatherhood researchers. Second, although attachment theory is well established within the field of human development, it is nonetheless controversial. In addition to strong adherents, it has its share of critics (Vaughn & Bost, 1999). Overall, attachment theory is too narrow in scope as well as in its acceptance within developmental science to provide the fundamental theoretical basis for interpreting why paternal involvement might lead to positive developmental outcomes. Parental Style Research. As discussed earlier, the warmth-responsiveness and control dimensions in parental style have been included in many researchers’ operationalizations of paternal involvement, and authoritative parental style is now increasingly formulated to include engagement. It is thus logical to consider the parental style framework (Baumrind, 1967; Maccoby & Martin, 1983) as a basis for theorizing why paternal involvement is linked to child outcomes. Compared to attachment, the parental style approach has broader applicability across children’s development, particularly because its control dimension becomes more salient in parenting as children get older. Parental style and its component dimensions also have broader acceptance in developmental science. The limitation of parental style, however, is that researchers using the construct have been relatively inexplicit about exactly why features of authoritative parental style promote good developmental outcomes. The theoretical perspective considered next provides one possible answer. Bronfenbrenner’s Concept of ‘‘Proximal Process.’’ Bronfenbrenner (1979, 1986, 1994) proposed an ecological perspective on human development that has become highly influential. His model is perhaps most well known for making distinctions among different ecological levels or systems as they bear on the child’s development: the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, and chronosystem. However, in my view, another idea in Bronfenbrenner’s theory is equally or more important, his conceptualization of exactly

Theoretical Linkages between Paternal Involvement and Child Outcomes 83

what about microsystem relationships, the key developmental arena, promote development: ‘‘proximal process.’’ Bronfenbrenner (1994, p. 1644) describes proximal process in the first of his two formal ecological propositions: Human development . . . takes place through a process of progressively more complex, reciprocal interactions between an active, evolving, biopsychological human organism and the persons, objects, and symbols in its immediate environment. . . . Such enduring forms of interaction . . . are referred to as ‘‘proximal processes’’

Bronfenbrenner analogized proximal process to a ping-pong game between the child and his or her microsystem partners, but one in which the movement of the ball back and forth becomes increasingly complex, and in which the more mature microsystem partner gradually introduces move complex ‘‘moves’’ that stimulate the development of reciprocally more complex countermoves by the child. These enduring patterns of reciprocal, increasingly complex interaction with significant others (both adult and peer) are ultimately what ‘‘drive’’ development. In this view, development is an inherently relational process, rather than an activity taking place within the individual. Belsky’s (1984) widely used process model of parenting can be interpreted as applying Bronfenbrenner’s concepts. Belsky specifies particular mesosystem and exosystem influences on the child via their influence on parents (marital relations, parents jobs, parents’ social support network), and emphasizes ‘‘sensitive parenting, that is attuned to the needs of the child’’ (p. 85) as the key process in parent–child relations that promotes development. Cabrera, Fitzgerald, Bradley, and Roggman’s (2007) ‘‘dynamics’’ model of paternal influences is also compatible. The three primary domains in the revised conceptualization of paternal involvement can be interpreted in proximal process terms. The kinds of contact occurring in positive activity engagement are contexts for proximal process interactions. The responsiveness component of the warmth-responsiveness dimension involves reciprocal interaction, explicitly one of the defining characteristics of proximal process. Control, when combined with responsiveness, necessarily leads to a great deal of reciprocal, increasingly complex interaction, especially as children grow into adolescence. These connections between the core involvement domains and Bronfenbrenner’s proximal process concept provide theoretical linkages between these domains and positive child outcomes. Social Capital Theory. The concept of social capital (Coleman, 1988) is increasingly used in developmental science (Amato, 1995, 1998; Entwisle & Astone, 1994; Furstenberg, 1996; Furstenberg & Hughes, 1995). Coleman identified two kinds of family-based ‘‘capital’’ provided by parents that facilitate optimal development: financial capital and social capital. Financial capital denotes material resources provided to children such as food, shelter, goods, and services, including education. Relabeling it as parental financial capital underlines its sources within the family.


According to Coleman, the second type of family-based capital promoting child development is social capital, taking two forms. He calls the first ‘‘family social capital,’’ referring to the parenting behaviors promoting the child’s cognitive-social development, school readiness, and educational aspirations—in effect, parental socialization. The second form is ‘‘community social capital.’’ Community social capital is, however, rooted in the family, as it refers to the linkages that parents provide children to the larger world (a) by serving as advocates for them in schools and other settings; (b) by sharing their own social networks with their children, for example, getting a friend to help the child or to give the adolescent a job; and (c) by sharing their knowledge of how to negotiate entry into the adult world, for example, knowing whom to call or how to act on a job interview. The second and third subtypes become increasingly more important as the child moves through adolescence and early adulthood. To help reinforce parents’ specific role in these two forms of social capital, it is helpful to modify Coleman’s terms. Replacing family social capital with parental socialization social capital makes clear that the concept refers specifically to parental socialization behaviors. Relabeling community social capital as parental community social capital highlights that parents provide access to this community social capital. Entwisle and Astone (1994) use the distinction between parental socialization social capital and parental community social capital as a basis for hypothesizing that at different points in development, different aspects of parents’ socioeconomic status may be especially relevant to parental influence on child outcomes. Parents’ income and education (the former influencing their levels of family-based material capital, and the latter influencing family socialization social capital) may be more consequential for early development. By contrast, parents’ employment status and occupation (which help determine their level of community social capital) may be more influential later in development (cf. Leydendecker, Harwood, Comparini, & Yalcinkaya, 2005). AN INTEGRATION: THE PARENTAL CAPITAL MODEL Social capital theory, with its allied concept of financial capital, provides the basis for a ‘‘parental capital’’ framework for theorizing the direct influences of paternal involvement components on child outcomes. The concepts underlying authoritative parental style and the concept of proximal process are incorporated within this framework. Table 3.1 summarizes the connections between the five paternal involvement components and the multiple forms of fathers’ parental capital, and shows connections with these other concepts. First to be considered are the three cells at the intersection of the three primary involvement components (columns 1–3) and parental socialization social capital (row B). According to the model, parents’ performance of the three components—fathers’ positive engagement activities, warmth-responsiveness, and control—in their direct socializing interaction with their child is interpreted as potentially fostering good developmental outcomes because these components entail aspects of authoritative parental style and proximal




C3. Sharing knowledge about entry into the adult world

C2. Provision of network access

Proximal process

Proximal process

Proximal process

Proximal process

Social IC: fostering nonpeer community connections

Social IC: fostering nonpeer community connections

Process responsibility refers to the father’s monitoring to ensure that the child’s needs for the first four components of parental involvement are being met. Fathers’ breadwinning is part of provision of financial capital, but is not included as a component of indirect care. See discussion in text.

C. Parental community social capital

C1. Advocacy

Proximal process

Social IC: fostering peer relations Proximal process

Proximal process

4. Indirect care (IC)

B. Parental socialization social capital

3. Control (authoritative parental style)

Material IC: purchasing and arranging goods and services

2. Warmthresponsiveness (authoritative parental style)

A. Financial capitalb

Fathers’ Parental Capital

1. Positive engagement activities (context for authoritative parental style)

Paternal Involvement

Table 3.1 Relationships Between Paternal Involvement and Fathers’ Parental Capital

5. Process responsibilitya 9 > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > = indirect >effects > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > ;


process. Since social capital theory does not describe in much detail what parental socialization consists of or why it influences development, the model’s specification of three aspects of parental socialization may contribute to the social capital perspective. Second, according to the parental capital model, one aspect of parental community capital, sharing knowledge about entry into the adult world (C3), occurs via the three primary involvement components. The social capital perspective focuses on the content of the knowledge that is shared with the child. The parental capital model also emphasizes the interactive process between father and adolescent or adult by which that knowledge is shared. This process necessitates direct interaction with the child, providing opportunities for fathers to offer warmth-responsiveness and an appropriate balance between control and autonomy granting. Next, the parental capital model offers an interpretation of how material indirect care benefits the child, a matter not made explicit in Lamb and Pleck’s conceptualization. As noted before, Lamb and Pleck excluded breadwinning from material indirect care (and from the involvement construct as a whole). In the model, the importance of material indirect care is that it is the key mediator of the extent to which the child gets the benefits of family financial capital. Acquiring money through employment or other means (breadwinning) is obviously a precondition for providing goods and services to the child. But earning income does not automatically translate to it being spent on the child. As family economics research makes clear, families vary considerably in how they allocate their economic resources to different family members (Kenney, 2006). The purchasing and arranging goods and services (material) component of indirect care is the behavior through which family financial resources are used for the child’s benefit. Turning to social indirect care, the aspect receiving most attention in prior research is fathers’ role in managing the child’s peer relationships. These studies take as a fundamental premise that good peer relations promote positive development. The parental capital model makes explicit that this form of social indirect care benefits the child because it puts the child in additional interaction contexts in which development-promoting proximal process can occur. The social capital perspective has so far not considered parents’ role in fostering children’s peer relationships as an aspect of their provision of social capital. Since it involves integrating the child into the community, it could be considered an aspect of parental community social capital. However, it is difficult to classify this role within the community social capital’s three subtypes. (In social capital theory, access to networks refers to parents’ networks.) In my view, parents’ promoting peer relations is better interpreted as an aspect of parental socialization social capital (column 4 and row B), albeit one provided by parents indirectly. That is, what is critical about this parental activity is that it places the child in peer contexts promoting additional proximal process interaction, rather than that it leads to greater integration into the community. Finally, in the parental capital model, two other forms of social indirect care, advocacy and provision of network access (rows C1–C2) are interpreted as fostering good developmental outcomes because they provide the child

Implications for Research and Practice 87

with these two important types of social capital. Here, the social capital perspective contributes to the further development of the concept of social indirect care. Social capital theory reinforces broadening the focus of social indirect care beyond only promoting children’s peer relations to include encouraging the child’s broader community integration. Finally, the linkage of process responsibility (column 5) to child outcomes is an indirect one. Process responsibility per se is not expressed via any specific form of parental capital. Rather, it refers to the father’s monitoring whether the child’s needs for the forms of parental capital conveyed in the other four components of involvement are being met. Thus, the effect of process responsibility is mediated by the other involvement components. (Process responsibility may have direct theoretical linkages, however, with fathers’ own psychosocial outcomes.) To summarize, the parental capital model’s integration of social capital theory, authoritative parental style, and proximal process potentially offers increased theoretical understanding of how all five paternal involvement components may foster positive development in children. The three primary involvement domains offer possible developmental benefits because they entail elements of authoritative parental style as well as proximal process. Fathers manifest the core involvement behaviors primarily in direct socializing interaction with their children. However, they also can do so in sharing their knowledge about entering the adult world with their adolescent and young adult children. Material indirect care benefits children because it is the crucial link between a family’s having income and using that income on behalf of the child. Social indirect care that fosters a child’s peer relations assists in development because in this way the parent indirectly provides the child with additional opportunities for development-promoting proximal process. Other aspects of social indirect care concerning advocacy and sharing of adult social networks can lead to positive developmental outcomes via the processes delineated in social capital theory. IMPLICATIONS FOR RESEARCH AND PRACTICE This chapter proposed a reconceptualization of paternal involvement as comprised of three primary components, positive engagement activities, warmth-responsiveness, and control; and two auxiliary domains, indirect care and process responsibility. Data were reviewed on the interrelationships among these components, their current levels, and the extent to which they have changed in recent years. The methodological issues and substantive results of current research on the direct influence of paternal involvement components on child outcomes were then examined. Finally, using social capital theory and employing the additional concepts of authoritative parental style and proximal process, I proposed a parental capital framework for theorizing how and why these components of paternal involvement might have direct positive effects on children’s development. In light of the chapter’s focus, more recommendations can be offered for future research than for future practice. Some recommendations include:


1. Many researchers will continue to focus their investigations on the three primary components of paternal involvement. This is appropriate for many research purposes. Nonetheless, much more study is needed of indirect care (both material and social) and of process responsibility. 2. The parental capital model offers a more explicit and detailed discussion of why paternal involvement components may benefit child development than has heretofore been available. However, future research is needed to operationalize and test the model’s theoretical linkages further, so that theory development can advance. 3. Whether construed as an aspect of paternal involvement or not, more research on fathers’ breadwinning and how it influences developmental outcomes is also needed. 4. The question of the extent to which fathers’ roles have been changing in recent decades continues to be great interest. Although considerable information is available documenting trends in fathers’ positive engagement activities, there is a data gap about change in all the other involvement components. 5. Scholars should continue to improve the quality of research on paternal influences on children by the adoption of advanced analytical procedures. 6. Scholars should also develop more explicit theoretical models about the mechanisms by which paternal involvement may influence mothers, and may have consequences on fathers themselves. 7. Practitioners should always have in mind of the multi-faceted nature of paternal involvement. Because there is no ‘‘one way’’ for fathers to be involved, there is necessarily no ‘‘one way’’ to promote increased father involvement. 8. Practitioners should also be mindful that fathering includes other important activities besides paternal involvement, especially breadwinning and making responsible fertility decisions, and that promoting these also benefits children. REFERENCES Adamsons, K., & Buehler, C. (2007). Mothering versus fathering versus parenting: Measurement equivalence in parenting measures. Parenting, 7(3), 271–303. Amato, P. (1995). Single-parent households as settings for children’s development, wellbeing and attainment: A social network/resources perspective. In A.-M. Ambert (Ed.), Sociological Studies of Children (Vol. 7, pp. 19–47). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press. Amato, P. (1998). More than money? Men’s contributions to their children’s lives. In A. Booth & A. C. Crouter (Eds.), Men in families: When do they get involved? What difference does it make? (pp. 241–278). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Amato, P., & Gilbreth, J. G. (1999). Nonresident fathers and children’s well-being: A meta-analysis. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 557–573. Amato, P., Meyers, C., & Emery, R (2009). Changes in nonresident father contact between 1976 and 2002. Family Relations, 58, 41–53. Amato, P., & Rivera, F. (1999). Paternal involvement and children’s behavior. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 375–384. Bailey, W. T. (1991). Fathers’ involvement in their children’s health care. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 152, 289–293.

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References 93 Sandberg, J. F., & Hofferth, S. L. (2001). Changes in children’s time with parents: United States, 1981–1997. Demography, 38, 423–436. Sarkadi, A., Kristiansson, R., Oberklaid, F., & Bremberg, S. (2008). Fathers’ involvement and children’s developmental outcomes: A systematic review of longitudinal studies. Acta Pædiatrica, 97, 153–158. Schoppe-Sullivan, S., McBride, B.A., & Ho, M. (2004). Unidimensional versus multidimensional perspectives on father involvement. Fathering, 2, 147–164. Skinner, E., Johnson, S., & Snyder, T. (2005). Six dimensions of parenting: A motivational model. Parenting: Science and Practice, 5, 175–235. Small, S. A., & Eastman, G. (1991). Rearing adolescents in contemporary society: A conceptual framework for understanding the responsibilities and needs of parents. Family Relations, 40, 455–462. Stolz, H., Barber, B., & Olsen, J. (2005). Toward disentangling fathering and mothering: An assessment of relative importance. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 1076– 1092. Stueve, J. L., & Pleck, J. H. (2003). Fathers’ narratives of arranging and planning: Implications for understanding paternal responsibility. Fathering, 1, 51–70. Sullivan, O., & Coltrane, S. (2008, April). Men’s changing contribution to housework and child care. Council on Contemporary Families, Chicago.www.contem / subtemplate.php?t=briefingPapers&ext=menshousework. Retrieved June 23, 2009. Sullivan, O., Coltrane, S., McAnnally, L., & Altintas, E. (2009). Father-friendly policies and time-use data in a cross-national context: Potential and prospects for future research. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 624: 234–254. Tamis-LeMonda, C., Shannon, J., Cabrera, N., & Lamb, M. E. (2004). Fathers and mothers at play with their 2- and 3-year olds: Contributions to language and cognitive development. Child Development, 75, 1806–1820. U.S. Census Bureau (2008a). Who’s minding the kids? Child care arrangements: Spring 2005. Retrieved June 22, 2009. U.S. Census Bureau (2008b). Who’s minding the kids? Child care arrangements: Spring 2005: Historical tables. html. Retrieved June 22, 2009. Vaughn, B. E., & Bost, K. K. (1999). Attachment and temperament. In J. Cassidy (Ed.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications (pp. 198–225). New York: Guilford Press. Walzer, S. (1996). Thinking about the baby: Gender and divisions of infant care. Social Problems, 43, 219–234. Wang, R., & Bianchi, S. (2009). ATUS fathers’ involvement in childcare. Social Indicator Research, 93, 141–145. Yeung, W. J., Sandberg, J. F., Davis-Kean, P. E., Hofferth, S. L. (2001). Children’s time with fathers in intact families. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63, 136–154.


The Development and Significance of Father–Child Relationships in Two-Parent Families MICHAEL E. LAMB and CHARLIE LEWIS


LL ACCOUNTS OF socialization and personality development, following Freud’s lead, have emphasized the crucial importance of early experiences, the complex ways in which children’s experiences, memories, and fantasies have enduring influences on their development and the importance of parent–child relationships. All of these beliefs have affected subsequent research on child development in general and on parent– child relationships in particular, helping create a voluminous literature that we can only sample in this brief chapter. Two of Freud’s ideas have had a particular influence in the past 40 years of research on father–child relationships: The beliefs that fathers play unique roles in their children’s development and that their influences must be viewed in the context of a broader array of social relationships. The notion that fathers play a unique role in their children’s development was especially prominent in earlier phases of research on fatherhood, although it continues to attract attention, as we recognize in our abbreviated discussion of these pioneering studies. Further, although fathers are notoriously difficult to study because they are hard to reach and tend more than mothers to drop out of longitudinal studies (Mitchell et al., 2007), many scholars have recently shifted their attention to the ways in which children’s development occurs within a network of changing and interlinked relationships. Particularly noteworthy have been their attempts to achieve a systemic understanding of fathering (e.g., Cabrera, Fitzgerald, Bradley & Roggman, 2007; McHale, 2007). The study of systemic processes and their changes over time requires longitudinal research involving systematic analyses of different levels of influences, including the actions of individual family members as well as the influences of subsystems, like the effect of parental relationships on parent–child relationships. Fortunately, statistical approaches using


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structural equations (e.g., Schudlich & Cummings, 2007), multilevel (O’Connor, Dunn, Jenkins & Rasbash, 2006) and hierarchical (e.g., Elgar, Mills, McGrath, Waschbusch, & Brownridge, 2007; Frascarolo, Favez, Carneiro, & Fivaz-Depeursinge, 2004) modeling have become much more commonplace in recent years, and this has made possible types of research that were not hitherto attempted. We will describe some of these conceptual developments later in the chapter, as we review current thinking about the nature and importance of father–child relationships. We begin by describing fathers’ responses to parenthood and to their infants, the processes by which infants become attached to their fathers, and differences in the nature and impact of mother– and father–child relationships. In the second section, we switch the emphasis from normative developmental processes to individual differences, discussing the factors that influence father–child interactions and relationships, and noting how men’s interactions with their children need to be understood within the context of a network of family relationships. Studies of infants and young children have predominated, and these thus continue to dominate our examination, in the third section, of studies concerned with the characteristics of father–child relationships, including the amount of time that fathers spend with their children, and differences between maternal and paternal styles of interaction. We attempt to show how we need to take into account both the complexity of relationships within the family and how these fit into a plethora of extrafamilial factors and influences. Changes in the nature of relationships between children and their parents in childhood and adolescence are discussed in the final substantive section. Here, we describe the mechanisms by which parent– child relationships are gradually transformed over this period and the roles that fathers play in the lives and socialization of their adolescent sons and daughters. We focus particularly on development in two-parent families, because fathers in other family constellations are discussed elsewhere in this book, notably by Amato and Darius (Chapter 6), Carlson and McLanahan (Chapter 8), and Marsiglio and Hinojosa (Chapter 9).




Even though new mothers experience more life changes and report getting more satisfaction from their new roles than fathers do (Dulude, Wright, & Belanger, 2000), most men adapt positively to parenting, albeit in diverse ways (Henwood & Procter, 2003). For example, men in many countries report being elated when their infants are born (Bader, 1995; Greenberg, 1985; Greenberg & Morris, 1974), frequently visit hospitalized newborns (Marton & Minde, 1980; Levy-Shiff, Sharir, & Mogilner, 1989), and feel emotionally connected to their infants. These feelings are profound, even moving fathers whose children have been placed for adoption (Clapton, 2004). When fathers continue to live with their infants, there appears to be substantial continuity over time in the extent to which fathers report feeling attached to their infants (Condon, Corkindale, & Boyce, 2008). Biological and in vitro fertilization




(IVF) fathers in Sweden reported feeling equivalently attached prenatally, and the stronger the attachment prenatally, the less anxious and irritable the men reported being postnatally (Hjelmstedt & Collins, 2008). Fathers and mothers are equivalently anxious about leaving their babies and toddlers in someone else’s care (Deater-Deckard, Scarr, McCartney, & Eisenberg, 1994; Hock & Lutz, 1998; though see Wille, 1998, for contrasting results). New fathers behave just as mothers do when introduced to their newborn infants (R€ odholm & Larsson, 1982), and are effective sources of heat and protection for their neonates (Christensson, 1996). The nurturant attentiveness of new fathers may reflect the fact that mothers and fathers experience similar changes in hormonal levels (increasing levels of prolactin and cortisol and decreased levels of testosterone and estradiol) around the birth of their infants (Storey, Walsh, Quinton, & Wynne-Edwards, 2000). Men also experience postnatal mood swings that may be of biological origin (Ramchandani, Stein, Evans, O’Connor, & the ALSPAC Study Team, 2005). In addition to the hormonal changes experienced by pregnant women and their partners, however, the female hormone estrogen appears to make younger women more sensitive to infantile cuteness than either men or menopausal women (Sprengelmeyer et al., 2009). Indeed, how expectant parents interact with a doll during pregnancy predicts later interactions with their infants and toddlers (Favez et al., 2006). Men quickly learn about the uniqueness of their own newborn children, although they may not be as perceptive as mothers. When blindfolded and denied access to olfactory cues, for example, Israeli and American fathers were able to recognize their infants by touching their hands after only 60 minutes of exposure (Bader & Phillips, 1999; Kaitz, Lapidot, Bronner, & Eidelman, 1992; Kaitz, Shiri, Danziger, Hershko, & Eidelman, 1994). Fathers could not recognize their infants by touching their faces, however, whereas mothers could do so (Kaitz, Meirov, Landman, & Eidelman, 1993; Kaitz et al., 1994), perhaps because the mothers had spent twice as much time with their infants prior to testing. Interestingly, both mothers and fathers were better at identifying their own newborns by touching their hands than by touching their faces. Kaitz, Chriki, Bear-Scharf, Nir, and Eidelman (2000) reported that Israeli mothers soothed their newborns more effectively than new fathers did, regardless of parity, whereas American fathers and mothers both responded appropriately to infant cues when observed feeding their infants (Parke & Sawin, 1977). Fathers and mothers both adjust their speech patterns when interacting with infants—speaking more slowly, using shorter phrases, imitating, and repeating themselves more often when talking to infants rather than adults (Blount & Padgug, 1976; Dalton-Hummel, 1982; Gleason, 1975; Golinkoff & Ames, 1979; Kokkinaki & Kugiumutzakis, 2000; Lewis et al., 1996; Rondal, 1980). Infant-directed singing has more exaggerated features than simulated singing or normal singing (Trehub, Unyk, et al., 1997; Trehub, Hill, & Kamenetsky, 1997) and Warren-Leubecker and Bohannon (1984) reported that fathers increased their pitch and frequency range even more than mothers did when speaking to 2-year-olds. Although they can discriminate among male voices, however, 4-month-olds do not show preferences for their

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fathers’ voices (Ward & Cooper, 1999), perhaps because their daily exposure to paternal speech is often very low (Korman & Lewis, 2001). Microanalyses of infant–father ‘‘dialogues’’ involving 2- to 6-month-old Greek infants showed both infants and fathers closely attending and responding sensitively to their partners’ emotional expressions (Kokkinaki, 2008). Some researchers have found no differences between levels of maternal and paternal sensitivity during the first year. In the face-to-face and still-face paradigms, for example, mothers and fathers were equally sensitive with their 4-month-olds, while infants showed equivalent patterns of affect and self-regulation with their mothers and fathers (Braungart-Rieker, Garwood, Powers, & Notaro, 1998), although boys may behave more negatively with their fathers when their mothers are employed (Braungart-Rieker, Courtney, & Garwood, 1999). Both parents are sufficiently sensitive to developmental changes in their children’s abilities and preferences that they adjust their play and stimulation patterns accordingly (Crawley & Sherrod, 1984), although Israeli fathers of 6-month-olds expect cognitive maturity and social autonomy to be acquired more slowly than mothers do (Mansbach & Greenbaum, 1999). In addition, French fathers appeared highly attuned to their toddlers’ interests when playing with them, although their tendencies to tease were disruptive (Labrell, 1994). Notaro and Volling (1999) reported no differences in the sensitivity and responsiveness of American mothers and fathers who were observed interacting with their 1-year-olds for 3 minutes while the parents were preoccupied completing questionnaires. Others have reported contrasting results, however. When observed playing with their 8-month-olds, American fathers were less sensitive to cues regarding their infants’ interests and activities than mothers were (Power & Parke, 1983), prohibited their infants’ activities and talked more (Brachfeld-Child, 1986), and were somewhat less likely to retrieve their crying infants than mothers were (Donate-Bartfield & Passman, 1985). Likewise, Heermann, Jones, and Wikoff (1994) reported that fathers were rated lower than mothers on several multifactorial measures of parenting skill at every age studied. Schoppe-Sullivan et al. (2006) reported that father and mothers were equivalently sensitive to their 1-year-old sons, but that mothers were both more sensitive to daughters than fathers were and less sensitive to sons than to daughters. Interestingly, fathers were notably more sensitive to sons whose mothers were less sensitive. In another study, fathers of both full- and preterm infants appeared less sensitive than mothers when their infants were 3 and 12 months old (Harrison & Magill-Evans, 1996). Because most men interact with their children so much less than mothers do, we cannot distinguish the relative importance of biological and social causes of these differences: We need to explore individual differences as well as changes in men over time, noting that these differences themselves suggest that social and personal factors both play important roles. INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES



Belsky, Gilstrap, and Rovine (1984) reported that, although fathers were less actively engaged in interaction with their 1-, 3-, and 9-month-old infants than mothers were, the differences narrowed over time. Individual differences in




paternal engagement were quite stable over time, especially between 3 and 9 months, and it is obviously important to determine why fathers differ in their sensitivity and engagement. Fathers’ recollections of their own childhood relationships play an important role in shaping paternal sensitivity: Researchers have shown that men who had loving and secure relationships with their parents were more sensitive, attentive, and involved than fathers who recalled poor relationships (Bretherton et al., 2006; Cowan, Cohn, Cowan, & Pearson, 1996; Shannon, Tamis-LeMonda, & Cabrera, 2006). Some men are motivated by a desire to be ‘‘better’’ than their own fathers (Bretherton et al.; West et al., 2009), while others’ adaptations to parenthood seem to be influenced adversely by memories of their own mothers’ poor caring (Mayes & Leckman, 2007). Paternal responsiveness also appears to vary, depending on the degree to which fathers assume responsibility for infant care: Caretaking experience appears to facilitate parental responsiveness (Donate-Bartfield & Passman, 1985; Zelazo, Kotelchuck, Barber, & David, 1977), and fathers who are more involved in the treatment of their medically compromised infants appear to interact with them more positively than those who are more distressed by their infants’ ill-health (Darke & Goldberg, 1994). This may explain why low-income American fathers who lived with their infants appeared more sensitive than those who did not (Brophy-Herb, Gibbons, Omar, & Schiffman, 1999). There is also an intriguing association between paternal reactivity to infant signals and the magnitude of the hormonal changes experienced by new fathers (Storey et al., 2000). Because most fathers interact with their infants less and assume less responsibility for child care than mothers do, we might expect paternal sensitivity to decline over time relative to that of mothers, but the available evidence does not reveal a clear developmental pattern of this sort. Variations and developmental changes notwithstanding, most fathers are sufficiently responsive to their infants that attachments should form provided that a sufficient amount of father–infant interaction takes place. Fathers who have additional contact with their infants seem to adapt to parenting more easily. For example, Feldman, Sussman, and Zigler (2004) found that men who took leave after the birth of their infants became more involved with them and that this was related to more positive evaluations at work. THE DEVELOPMENT



The establishment of attachment relationships between children and parents constitutes one of the most important aspects of human social and emotional development, and Bowlby’s (1969) attachment theory has guided most research on this topic in the last four decades. One crucial aspect of attachment formation is that infants come to focus their bids for attention on a small number of familiar individuals. When adults respond promptly and appropriately to infant signals, infants come to perceive them as predictable or reliable and secure infant–parent attachments result, whereas insecure attachments may develop when adults do not respond sensitively (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978; Lamb, Pleck, Charnov, & Levine, 1985; Thompson, 1998; DeWolff & Van IJzendoorn, 1997). When adults respond rarely, no

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attachments at all may develop, and it was thus crucially important to determine whether fathers were appropriately responsive to their infants. The research reviewed in the previous subsection suggested that most were. An early interview study with mothers suggested that infants begin to protest separations from both parents at 7 to 9 months of age and that by 18 months of age, 71 percent protested separation from both parents (Schaffer & Emerson, 1964). Babies formed attachments to those with whom they interacted regularly regardless of their involvement in caretaking. Likewise, Pedersen and Robson (1969) found that 75% of the mothers reported that their infants responded positively and enthusiastically when their fathers returned from work, with the intensity of greeting by boys particularly correlated with the frequency of paternal caretaking, paternal patience with infant fussing, and the intensity of father–infant play. Among daughters, however, intensity of greeting was correlated only with reported paternal ‘‘apprehension’’ about girls’ well-being. Separation protest was the preferred measure when observational studies of father–infant attachment began in the 1970s. Kotelchuck (1976) reported that 12-, 15-, 18-, and 21-month-old infants predictably protested when left alone by either parent, explored little while the parents were absent, and greeted them positively when they returned. Few infants protested separation from either parent when the other parent remained with them. A majority of the infants were more concerned about separation from their mothers, but 25 percent preferred their fathers and 20 percent showed no preference for either parent. Later research confirmed, not surprisingly, that infants and toddlers also protested being left by either parent in nursery school settings (Field et al., 1984). Somewhat unexpectedly, however, Guatemalan babies who experienced a great deal of interaction with their fathers started to protest separation later (not earlier) than those whose fathers were uninvolved (Lester, Kotelchuck, Spelke, Sellers, & Klein, 1974) and the phase during which protest occurred was briefer when involvement was greater (Kotelchuck, 1976; Spelke, Zelazo, Kagan, & Kotelchuck, 1973). These counterintuitive correlations suggest that the intensity of separation protest may not index the intensity of attachment.However, low paternal involvement in caretaking was associated with reduced interaction and proximity seeking in the laboratory (Spelke et al.), and when paternal involvement increased at home, there was a concomitant increase in the amount of father–infant interaction in the laboratory (Zelazo et al., 1977). Measures of separation protest were unaffected. Feldman and Ingham (1975), Lamb (1976b), and Willemsen, Flaherty, Heaton, and Ritchey (1974) all reported no preferences for either parent in different laboratory procedures focused on responses to separation and reunion by American infants. Distress did not discriminate between mothers and fathers in a study by Cohen and Campos (1974) either, but on measures such as the frequency of approach, speed of approach, time in proximity, and use of parents as ‘‘secure bases’’ from which to interact with strangers, 10-, 13-, and 16-month-old infants showed preferences for their mothers over their fathers, as well as clear preferences for fathers over strangers. Likewise, Ban and Lewis (1974) reported that 1-year-olds touched, stayed near, and




vocalized to mothers more than fathers in 15-minute free-play sessions, whereas no comparable preferences were evident among 2-year-olds. By the mid-1970s, therefore, there was substantial evidence that most American children developed attachments to their fathers in infancy. It was, however, unclear whether infants formed these attachments between 6 and 9 months of age, when they form attachments to their mothers (Bowlby, 1969). Lengthy home observations subsequently revealed that 7-, 8-, 12-, and 13-month-old infants in traditional Euro-American families showed no preference for either parent over the other on attachment behavior measures although all showed preferences for the parents over relatively unfamiliar adult visitors (Lamb, 1977c), suggesting that babies formed attachments to both parents at the same time. Similar patterns were evident in a later study of 8- and 16-month-old infants on Israeli kibbutzim (Sagi, Lamb, Shoham, Dvir, & Lewkowicz, 1985). Patterns of separation protest and greeting at home also showed no preferences for either parent in the North American study, but the situation changed during the second year of life when many of the infants began to show preferences for their fathers (Lamb, 1977a). There was controversy at this time concerning the existence of preferences for mothers over fathers and there were no data available concerning father–infant interaction in naturalistic settings. According to attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969), preferences among attachment figures may not be evident when infants do not need comfort or protection from attachment figures, but infants should focus their attachment behavior more narrowly on primary attachment figures when distressed. When infants are distressed, the display of attachment behaviors increases, and infants organize their behavior similarly around whichever parent is present (Lamb, 1976a, 1976e). When both parents are present, however, distressed 12- and 18month-olds turn to their mothers preferentially (Lamb, 1976a, 1976e), whereas 8- and 21-month-olds show no comparable preferences (Lamb, 1976b). Especially between 10 and 20 months of age, therefore, mothers appear to be more reliable sources of comfort and security, even though fathers are more desirable partners for playful interaction, especially with boys (Clarke-Stewart, 1978; Lamb, 1977a, 1977c). In a longitudinal study of less involved and highly involved Swedish fathers and their partners, Lamb, Frodi, Hwang, and Frodi (1983) found that 8- and 16-month-olds showed clear preferences for their mothers on measures of both attachment and affiliative behavior, regardless of the fathers’ relative involvement in child care. One reason for this unexpected result may have been that these Swedish fathers were not especially active as playmates; Lamb et al. speculated that playfulness may serve to enhance the salience of fathers, and that in the absence of such cues infants develop clear-cut preferences for their primary caretakers (for a related argument, see Paquette, 2004). Frascarolo-Moutinot (1994) reported that Swiss fathers and mothers were both used as secure bases and sources of security, but only when the fathers were unusually involved in a variety of everyday activities with their infants. According to Frascarolo (2004), the 1-year-old children of nontraditional Swiss fathers were more sociable both with parents and with a stranger, although they treated parents as attachment figures and strangers with a little

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‘‘distance.’’ By contrast, Swiss infants with traditional fathers clearly obtained more comfort and security, even at home, from their mothers than from their fathers (Frascarolo-Moutinot). Increased paternal involvement thus does seem to strengthen infant–father attachment but when mothers assume primary responsibility for child care, they are likely to be the preferred attachment figures. Most infants, however, clearly form attachments to both their fathers and mothers at the same age. The extent of involvement in early care may have long-term effects on the family. THE SECURITY



Researchers later switched focus from whether or not infants form attachments to both parents (plainly, they do) to the quality or security of those relationships, perhaps reasoning that infant–father attachments might tend to be more insecure because fathers were less involved in or adept at child care. In fact, regardless of cultural context, just under two-thirds of the attachments to either parent are rated secure (e.g., Ahnert, Pinquart, & Lamb, 2006; Diener, Mangelsdorf, McHale, & Frosch, 2002; Fox, Kimmerly, & Schafer, 1991; Lamb, Hwang, Frodi, & Frodi, 1982) with no differences in the average levels of infant–mother and infant–father security on the Attachment Q-set (Monteiro et al., in press). Attachment theorists believe that maternal sensitivity determines the security of infant–mother attachment and thus of subsequent psychological adjustment (Ainsworth et al., 1978), and it seems reasonable to assume that individual differences in paternal sensitivity influence the security of infant– father attachment as well. Cross-sectional studies provide contradictory results. Notaro and Volling (1999) reported no significant associations between assessments of American mother– and father–infant attachment in the Strange Situation and near contemporaneous measures of parental responsiveness in a brief (3-minute) session. These findings were consistent with an earlier report that measures of father–infant interaction at home when infants were 6 and 9 months of age were unrelated to the security of infant–father attachment in the Strange Situation (Volling & Belsky, 1992), with Rosen and Rothbaum’s (1993) observation that measure of both maternal and paternal behaviour were weakly associated with Strange Situation assessments of attachment security and with Braungart-Rieker et al.’s (2001) report that 4month paternal sensitivity was not associated with the quality of infant– father attachment. By contrast, Goosens and Van IJzendoorn (1990) reported that the sensitivity of fathers in a free-play session was correlated with near contemporaneous assessments of infant–father attachment in a sample of Dutch fathers, and Lundy (2002) reported significant associations among paternal mind-mindedness (describing the infant’s thoughts and feelings), synchronous behavior, and attachment security. A meta-analysis of eight studies concerned with the association between paternal sensitivity and the quality of infant–father attachment in the Strange Situation revealed a small but statistically significant association (Van IJzendoorn & DeWolff, 1997) that was significantly weaker than the modest but reliable association between maternal sensitivity and the security of infant-mother attachment. It is not yet




clear whether this pattern of results reflects poorer or less appropriate measurement of paternal than maternal sensitivity, or the more limited nature of the relevant research. Father–infant attachments are more likely to be insecure when fathers report high levels of stress (Jarvis & Creasey, 1991), as attachment theory would predict, and longitudinal studies also reveal some important continuity. For example, Steele, Steele, and Fonagy (1996) reported that British mothers’ perceptions of their attachments to their own mothers during pregnancy predicted the security of their infants’ attachments to them at age 1, while fathers’ perception of their childhood attachments predicted the security of their infants’ attachments to them. Consistent with this, Van IJzendoorn (1995) reported an association between the security of infant– father attachment and the Dutch fathers’ representations of their own childhood attachments. The same holds for behavioral measures. Cox, Owen, Henderson, and Margand (1992) found that American fathers who were more affectionate, spent more time with their 3-month-olds, and had more positive attitudes were more likely to have securely attached infants 9 months later. Caldera, Huston, and O’Brien (1995) likewise reported that American infants were more likely to appear insecure in the Strange Situation at 18 months when their fathers appeared more detached in a semistructured laboratory setting 12 months earlier. Two recent studies provide evidence for the role of paternal involvement. The first, of Portuguese families, showed that toddlers were more securely attached to their fathers when the latter were more involved in both care/organization as well as play/leisure activities. Fathers’ participation in play/leisure activities was also associated with the security of the toddler–mother attachments (Monteiro et al., in press). The second study, of Canadian families, showed a closer association between the fathers’ own attachment representations and those of their children when they had custody following divorce than in a matched married sample (Bernier & Miljkovitch, 2009). The effects of infant–father attachment on subsequent behavior have also been studied quite intensively. Brown, Mangelsdorf, Wong, Shigeto, and Neff (2009) reported that age-appropriate measures of father–child attachment were quite stable (r = 0.47) from 12 months to 3 years of age, and there is some evidence that infant–mother attachments have greater and more consistent predictive power than infant–father attachments. Main and Weston (1981) found that the security of both mother–infant and father– infant attachments affected American infants’ responses to an unfamiliar person (dressed as a clown). Unfortunately, it was not possible to determine which relationship had the greater impact because the clown session took place at the same time as the assessment of the mother–infant attachment— 6 months before assessment of the father–infant attachments. Main, Kaplan, and Cassidy (1985) reported that earlier and concurrent assessments of mother–child attachment had greater impact on American children’s attachment-related responses than earlier and concurrent assessments of child–father attachment. Similar results were reported by Suess, Grossmann, and Sroufe (1992), who studied associations between parent–infant attachment security and the quality of German children’s later interaction

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with peers. Interestingly, although the parents’ sensitivity toward their 12-month-olds did not predict later behavior problems in one study (Benzies, Harrison, & Magill-Evans, 1999), Verschueren and Marcoen (1999) reported that the security of child–mother attachments had a greater effect on the positive self-perceptions of Belgian 5- and 6-year-olds than did child– father attachments, whereas child–father attachments protected the children from anxiety and withdrawn behavior more effectively. In both studies, secure attachments to one parent partially but not completely offset the effects of insecure attachment to the other, and we might expect the same to be true in infancy. By contrast, Steele, Steele, Croft, and Fonagy (1999) found that the ability of British 6-year-olds to read affective expressions in cartoons was predicted by the security of infant–mother attachments 5 years earlier, but not by infant–father attachments at 18 months or by the parents’ feelings of attachment during pregnancy. Belsky, Garduque, and Hrncir (1984) reported that the security of both attachment relationships, but especially the infant– mother attachments, affected executive capacity, an index of cognitive performance, in a sample of American toddlers. Other studies suggest that father–child relationships can be at least as important as mother–child relationships. In Fagot and Kavanagh’s (1993) study, both parents found interaction with insecurely attached infants less pleasant, and both tended to become less involved in interactions with insecurely attached boys, a factor that may explain the greater likelihood of behavior problems among boys. Interestingly, fathers had unusually high levels of interaction with insecure–avoidant girls, who received the fewest instructions from their mothers. In a study of 20-month-olds, Easterbrooks and Goldberg (1984) found that the children’s adaptation was promoted by both the amount of paternal involvement and, more importantly, the quality or sensitivity of their fathers’ behavior. Among infants on Israeli kibbutzim, the security of both mother– and father–infant attachment were associated with indices of the infants’ sociability with strangers (Sagi, Lamb, & Gardner, 1986): Securely attached infants were more sociable than insecure–resistant infants. However, the security of neither infant–mother nor infant–father attachment influenced the adjustment at age 5 of infants raised on traditional kibbutzim (those with central dormitories for children), although the security of the infant–caretaker relationships did predict later behavior (Oppenheim, Sagi, & Lamb, 1988). Lamb, Hwang, Frodi, and Frodi (1982) had found that Swedish infants who were securely attached to their fathers were more sociable with strangers, although there was no association between the security of infant–mother attachment and sociability in their sample. As in an earlier study by Bridges, Grolnick, and Connell (1997), Diener et al. (2002) reported similarities between the emotion-regulating strategies employed by infants when accompanied by mothers or fathers as well as similar associations between the strategies adopted and the security of infant–parent attachment, with infants who were securely attached to both parents showing more consistent parent-focused (as opposed to self-) soothing strategies. Most of the evidence thus suggests that we should take into account infants’ attachments to both of their parents when evaluating the factors shaping their adjustment, but these attachments cannot be treated in isolation




of other factors, particularly the relationships between the parents, as we show next. THE MOTHER–FATHER–CHILD SYSTEM AND BEHAVIORAL SKILLS



Over time, all members of the mother–father–child triad shape and adapt to one another. In her observational study of 15- to 30-month-olds, for example, Clarke-Stewart (1978) found that intellectual competence was correlated with measures of maternal stimulation (both material and verbal), intellectual acceleration, and expressiveness, as well as with measures of the fathers’ engagement in play, their positive ratings of the children, the amount they interacted, and the fathers’ aspirations for the infants’ independence. However, examination of the correlational patterns over time suggested that the mothers affected the children’s development and that this, in turn, influenced the fathers’ behavior. In other words, paternal behavior appeared to be a consequence, not a determinant, of individual differences in child behavior. Similarly, Hunter, McCarthy, MacTurk, and Vietze (1987) reported that, although the qualities of both mother– and father–infant interaction in play sessions were individually stable over time, the paternal variables were not associated with differences in the infants’ cognitive competence whereas the indices of maternal behavior were predictively valuable. Not only do patterns of influence not always run directly from parents to children, but the impact of the two parents is often not equivalent as well: In two-parent households, mothers’ enhanced levels of responsibility make them more influential. For example, in triadic interaction with 11- to 15-month-olds, mothers do more to keep the interaction going, while fathers display more emotion (Lindsey & Caldera, 2006). Paternal behavior appears influential as well, however. Yarrow et al. (1984) reported that paternal stimulation had an especially important role to play in the development of American boys’ (but not girls’) mastery motivation in the first year of life. Wachs, Uzgiris, and Hunt (1971) found that increased paternal involvement was associated with better performance on the Uzgiris–Hunt scales. Magill-Evans and Harrison (1999) reported that the sensitivity of both mothers and fathers to their 3- and 12-month-olds predicted individual differences in the linguistic and cognitive capacities of the children when they were 18 months old, while Yogman, Kindlon, and Earls (1995) found that infants with more involved fathers had higher IQs than those whose fathers were less involved, even after controlling for socioeconomic differences. Finnish fathers who read more often to their 14- and 24-month-old infants had children who were later more interested in books (Lyytinen, Laakso, & Poikkeus, 1998). In addition, Labrell (1990) reported that paternal scaffolding (i.e., providing indirect rather than direct help) promoted independent problem solving by French 18-month-olds. Symbolic activity by 30- and 42-month-olds was predicted by maternal but not paternal distancing strategies in a later study (Labrell, Deleau, & Juhel, 2000), however. Although mothers and fathers both adjust their speech characteristics when talking to young children, maternal and paternal communicative styles

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differ. Gleason (1975) and Rowe, Coker, and Pan (2004) have suggested that, because fathers use more imperatives, attention-getting utterances, and utter more complex sentences than mothers do, they contribute in unique, though still poorly understood, ways to linguistic development. Infants clearly view both parents as potential sources of information: In ambiguous settings, they look to either parent for clarification and they are equally responsive to information from mothers and fathers (Dickstein & Parke, 1988; Hirshberg & Svejda, 1990). Nevertheless, Rondal’s (1980) research suggests that the different communicative styles adopted by mothers and fathers force children to learn a greater variety of linguistic conventions. For example, the Belgian 2year-olds he studied addressed their mothers using the informal tu, whereas they addressed their fathers using the more formal vous. Youngblade and Belsky (1992) found no significant associations between the security of infant–father attachment and the quality of father–child interaction when these American children were 3 years old, although those children who had more positive interactions with their fathers at age 3 interacted more positively with peers 2 years later. Interestingly, the security of infant–father attachment at age one was inversely associated with indices of peer play at age 5, leading Youngblade and Belsky to speculate that unsatisfying parent–child relationships led children to look outside their families for more rewarding relationships. These associations were not replicated when infant–father attachment was assessed using the Attachment Q sort rather than the Strange Situation, however: Secure infant–father attachments were associated at that time with more positive interactions with peers (Youngblade, Park, & Belsky, 1993), leaving some confusion about the pattern of predictive associations.




Although our focus in this chapter is on the relationships between children and their fathers, these must be viewed in the context of the complex web of relationships that children experience, especially within the family. Fathers are traditionally viewed primarily as breadwinners, with mothers assigned primary responsibility for child care and household maintenance. Of course, fathers have long juggled responsibilities other than breadwinning, as many commentators have noted, while women have assumed increasingly responsibilities as cobreadwinners alongside their continued prominence in the child and home care domains, leading to a reliance on many types of child care, varying by culture and ethnicity (Radey & Brewster, 2007). The emergence of fatherhood research in the 1970s in part reflected increased attention to the complexity of family relationships and the patterns of influence within the family system (Lamb, 1976d; Lewis & Weinraub, 1976; Pedersen, 1980) and this has become a dominant theme in contemporary research (McHale, 2007; chapter 5, this volume). Over the past 30 years, researchers have shown that fathers not only influence children by interacting with them, but also affect maternal behavior, just as mothers influence




paternal behavior and involvement (Cummings & O’Reilly, 1997; Lamb, 1997) and children influence their parents (Bell, 1968). Thus, for example, Davis, Schoppe-Sullivan, Mangelsdorf, and Brown (2009) found that the infant’s temperament influenced the quality of parenting, particularly those aspects shared between the two parents, over the first year of life. The quality of marital relationships appears to be a key marker of the way that parents interact with their children from an early age. Fathers are consistently more involved in interaction with their infants when they are highly engaged in interaction with their partners (Belsky, Gilstrap, & Rovine, 1984) and when both they and their partners have supportive attitudes regarding paternal involvement (Beitel & Parke, 1998). Gable, Crnic, and Belsky (1994) reported robust associations among marital quality, the quality of parent–child relationships, and child outcomes in a study of American 2-year-olds. Infants characterized by negative emotionality early in the first year tended to become more positive when they had active, sensitive mothers in good spousal relationships, whereas some infants became more negative when their fathers were dissatisfied with their marriages, insensitive, and uninvolved in their children’s lives (Belsky, Fish, & Isabella, 1991). In the year after the birth of the first child, Grych and Clark (1999) reported that marital quality predicted the amount of appropriate stimulation that fathers gave their 4- and 12-month-olds, while Lundy (2002) reported that marital dissatisfaction adversely affected paternal synchrony and thus the security of infant–father attachment. Likewise, Goldberg and Easterbrooks (1984) found that high marital quality was associated with both more sensitive maternal and paternal behavior as well as higher levels of functioning on the part of the toddlers. By contrast, infants whose fathers abused alcohol tended to have insecure attachments to their mothers (DasEiden & Leonard, 1996), and they show problems in self-regulation and externalizing at the age of 3 (Eiden, Edwards, & Leonard, 2007). Such patterns are not only evident in Anglo-American families. For example, Durrett, Otaki, and Richards (1984) found that the Japanese mothers of securely attached infants reported greater levels of spousal support than did the mothers of insecurely attached infants. Harmony between the parents thus seems to be a key predictor of father– child relationships. This pattern seems to hold even when the father’s own psychological makeup is taken into account. After controlling for individual differences in the fathers’ psychological adjustment, for example, Cox et al. (1989) reported that American men in close, confiding marriages had more positive attitudes toward their 3-month-old infants and toward their roles as parents than did fathers in less successful marriages, whereas mothers in close, confiding marriages were warmer and more sensitive. Similar results were obtained in Israel by Levy-Shiff and Israelashvili (1988). Meanwhile, Heinicke and Guthrie (1992) reported that couples who were well adapted to one another provided better care than parents whose spousal adaptation was poor or declining, and similar findings were reported by researchers in a variety of cultures (Durrett, Richards, Otaki, Pennebaker, & Nyquist, 1986; Engfer, 1988; Jouriles, Pfiffner, & O’Leary, 1988; Meyer, 1988). Interestingly, Belsky, Gilstrap, and Rovine (1984) and Lamb and Elster (1985)

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both reported that American fathers’ interactions with their infants were influenced by the ongoing quality of interaction with their partners much more profoundly than mothers’ behavior was. This may be because paternal behavior and engagement are somewhat discretionary or at the behest of mothers (Allen & Hawkins, 1999), whereas maternal behavior is driven by clearer conventions and role definitions. In any event, marital conflict consistently has harmful effects on socio-emotional development and child adjustment (Hetherington & Stanley-Hagan, 1999; Kelly, 2000; Chapter 5), presumably because it adversely affects the parents’ interactions with their children. However, the quality of the relationship between parents does not always predict children’s development (Belsky, Jaffee, Sligo, Woodward, & Silva, 2005). DISRUPTION



The psychological adjustment of either parent can affect other relationships, revealing changing family dynamics over time. For example, Bronte-Tinkew, Scott, Horowitz, and Lilja (2009) examined the transitions to parenthood of more than 1,000 couples. They found that having a mistimed or unwanted pregnancy was a key predictor of higher levels of paternal depression as well as lower mother–father relationship happiness, lower supportiveness, and greater conflict between the parents. Such patterns set the scene for later interactions. Paternal dysphoria postpartum is correlated with maternal dysphoria (e.g., Bielawska-Batorowicz & Kossakowska-Petrycka, 2006; Pinheiro et al., 2006; Roberts, Bushnell, Collings, & Purdie, 2006), and this is often associated with deficient mothering (Murray & Cooper, 1999). Perceived psychological well-being on the part of fathers is associated with paternal sensitivity (Broom, 1994), but it is not clear whether and how symptoms of depression affect paternal sensitivity. Some studies show that the depression of one parent is associated with compensatory behavior by the other. When mothers become depressed postnatally, for example, their husbands/partners often engage in more positive interactions with the babies than men with nondepressed partners (Hossain, Field, Gonzalez, Malphurs, & Del Valle, 1994). Ruth Feldman’s (2007) observations of 4-month-olds with their parents suggested that paternal involvement had a beneficial effect on maternal distress and was associated with more ‘‘family cohesion,’’ as defined by cooperation, positive affect, and mutual gaze between parents during a short episode of mother–father– infant triadic interaction. However, other analyses (e.g., Goodman, 2008) suggest that fathers do not fully compensate for their partner’s depression. Most research suggests that problems in the family system, like the depression of one parent, tend to have negative effects. Depression reduces the amount of involvement with infants and is linked with cognitive delay (Wanless, Rosenkoetter & McClelland, 2008). For example, Kaplan, Sliter, and Burgess (2007) found that depressed fathers interacted with their 4-montholds using a flatter tone of voice, and that their infants showed slightly less ability to learn in a face–voice conditioning paradigm. Likewise, McElwain and Volling (1999) found that depressed fathers were less intrusive when




observed playing with their 12-month-olds, whereas depressed fathers studied by Field, Hossain, and Malphurs (1999) did not interact with their infants more negatively than nondepressed fathers did. Of course, both maternal and paternal depression have long-term consequences, too: When fathers were depressed 8 weeks after the delivery, their children, particularly their sons, were more likely to have conduct problems or hyperactivity almost 3 years later, even when later paternal and maternal depression were taken into account (Ramchandani et al., 2005). This effect was independent of maternal depression but related to the father’s history of depression before the birth (Ramchandani et al., 2008), although it is likely that the long-term correlation is a marker of chronicity rather than of the effects of postpartum depression per se. In the late preschool period, major depression in men was associated with an eightfold increase in the likelihood of behavior problems and a 36-fold increase in the likelihood of difficulties with peers (Dave, Sherr, Senior, & Nazareth, 2008). We have focused on parental postnatal depression here because it illustrates the ways in which one individual’s pathology can affect the family as a whole. We could have chosen other aspects of parental adjustment to demonstrate similar effects. In particular, research shows long-standing influences of the parents’ relationships on their children. Where parents are in conflict, both resident and nonresident fathers tend to provide less care and to have less positive interaction with their children (e.g., Coley & Hernandez, 2006), sometimes even turning to young preschoolers for emotional support (Macfie, Houts, Pressel, & Cox, 2008). LINKS BETWEEN





Although the connection between spousal and parent–child relationships is clear, it has to be understood within the context of a network of factors outside the home. For a start, parental employment patterns influence the amount of paternal care and the closeness of father–child relationships, although sometimes in unexpected ways. For example, Crouter, PerryJenkins, Huston, and McHale (1987) reported that, at least in dual-earner families, increased paternal involvement in child care often occurred at the expense of marital happiness. In addition, fathers in dual-earner families sometimes appear less sensitive toward their young sons, who are thus more likely to develop insecure attachments to their fathers than to their mothers (Braungart-Rieker et al., 1999). Similarly, Grych and Clark (1999) found that fathers with wives who were unemployed or worked part-time were more sensitive when they were involved, whereas fathers whose wives were employed full-time behaved more negatively when they were more highly involved. Beyond infancy, the relationships among maternal employment, paternal involvement, and positive father–child relationships became more positive, however. Thus, maternal employment is associated with increased paternal involvement in the preschool (Berry & Rao, 1997) and school-age (Crouter, Helms-Erikson, Updegraff, & McHale, 1999) periods of development, ensuring that these fathers also know more about their children’s daily experiences. Such findings underscore the need

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to view the relationships with both parents in the context of other important characteristics and experiences of the families. In part because women have assumed increasing responsibility for provisioning themselves and their families in the last 4 decades, the tight identification of fathers with breadwinning has been attenuated. Nevertheless, when asked to identify the features of parental roles with which they most closely identified, many fathers still listed financial provisioning even when they were not the main earners (Warin, Solomon, Lewis, & Langford, 1999). Policy makers, too, have maintained a focus on paternal breadwinning as a key role demand, although other more psychological roles—notably nurturance, emotional support, companionship, play, and tutelage—have also been emphasized in affluent postmodern societies (Burgess, 1997; Hawkins & Dollahite, 1997; Palkowitz, 2002) and this has helped prompt increases in the amounts of time children spend with their fathers (see chapter 3). Hewlett (1992, 2004) points out that, as a rule, men seem to spend more time with children in societies that are less differentiated on the basis of age, gender, wealth, or status. Economic factors also affect fathers’ involvement in the family. In many parts of the world, particularly southern Africa and Asia, men work several hundreds of miles away from their homes to provide sufficient income for their families. Many other men have to work long hours, often in two jobs, to keep their families afloat. Under such circumstances, hands-on involvement with children is impossible. By the same token, as indicated above, much of the increase in men’s domestic involvement has been the result of shifting labor force patterns that include a massive expansion of the female labor force and increasing opportunities that allow both mothers and fathers to be active as carers and breadwinners (Presser, 1989). Second, some factors are so powerful that they influence all fathers in a culture or across cultures. In the report quoted earlier, for example, two worldwide processes leading men to take more active roles in their families were identified: Both increasing female participation in the labor force and economic instability have made traditional ‘‘men’s jobs’’ more unstable, prompting men to take more active roles in their families (e.g., northern England: Warin et al., 1999, Wheelock, 1990; Santiago, Chile: Olavarrı´a, 2003). Such trends support the broader secular shift toward greater male domesticity described by Pleck and Masciadrelli (2004; Chapter 3) and are consistent with Fisher, McCulloch, and Gershuny’s (1999) analyses of two national databases showing a greater increase in British fathers’ involvement than in British mothers’ involvement since the 1960s. Although fathers in dualearner households still do less with their children than mothers do (3 and 4.5 hours per day, respectively), a trend toward greater equity is clearly evident (O’Brien, 2005). Further analysis of these databases suggests that the sharpest increase in parenting activities has occurred among fathers of preschoolers (O’Brien & Shemilt, 2003). As O’Brien (2005) concluded: ‘‘British fathers are now expected to be accessible and nurturing as well as economically supportive to their children’’ (p. 1). Of course, all attempts to quantify the extent of paternal involvement need to consider carefully the sources of information, in light of the fact that fathers tend to report higher levels of involvement than their partners acknowledge (Mikelson, 2008).









Because dual-earner families now predominate around the world, ongoing changes in working and family roles have important psychological effects. Men who worked fewer hours and whose wives/partners worked more hours were reliably more involved with their children in the study conducted by the NICHD Early Childcare Research Network (2000), but the association in dual-earner families between the number of hours worked and the amount of parent–child contact was not direct or straightforward in that study. Gottfried, Gottfried, and Bathurst (1988) and Crouter et al. (1987) likewise reported that fathers in dual-earner families were more involved in child care than were fathers in single-earner families, although the mothers’ employment status did not affect paternal involvement in leisure activities, and fathers’ sex role attitudes did not predict the types of paternal involvement (McHale & Huston, 1984). Work demands also played an important role in determining how involved the Swedish fathers in Lamb et al.’s (1988) study were, just as they did in a later study conducted in the United States (Hyde, Essex, & Horton, 1993). More recently, Goodman, Crouter, Lanza, and Cox (2008) reported that less supportive work environments for low-income American men were associated with lower sensitivity and engagement on the fathers’ part. Higher levels of father involvement in child care are related to the hours and status of maternal employment (Sidle Fuligni, & Brooks-Gunn, 2004), but increased involvement by men is not always correlated with increased harmony between the involved partners. Indeed, in at least some dual-earner families, increased paternal involvement in child care was related to lower marital satisfaction (e.g., Crouter et al., 1987). Fathers with less sensitive partners appear to be less sensitive toward their children (Grych & Clark, 1999), however, so perhaps the depressed marital satisfaction reported by Crouter et al. reflected general family stress rather than poor-quality paternal involvement. Furthermore, other findings are not wholly consistent with Crouter et al.’s findings. Indeed, Brennan, Barnett, and Gareis (2001) reported that greater paternal participation in child care was related to increased maternal satisfaction with their partners, and the issue is important because the quality of parental relationships can affect children’s well-being. In the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), British children’s developmental progress was delayed when mothers returned to work before the children were 18 months old, except when the fathers were highly involved in child care (Gregg & Washbrook, 2003). As Lewis (2000, p. 8) observed, ‘‘Fathers, as well as mothers, find the combination of family responsibilities and a demanding job can be stressful.’’ Further research on more diverse samples might help identify why apparently discrepant results have been reported. For example, emphasis on the breadwinner role may be greater in some social and ethnic groups (Radey & Brewster, 2007), including some immigrant groups (Este & Tachble, 2009, regarding Sudanese immigrants to Canada; Chuang & Su, 2009, regarding Chinese immigrants to Canada; Cabrera, Shannon, Mitchell, & West, 2009,

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and Tamis-LeMonda, Kahana-Kalman, & Yoshikawa, 2009, regarding Latin immigrants to the United States; and Hatten, Vinter, & Williams, 2002, Warin et al., 1999, Salway, Chowbey, & Clarke, 2008, regarding Punjabi British fathers). Atzaba-Poria and Pike (2008) found that job ‘‘spillover’’ affects parenting in White British households, but not in British-Indian families. The intensity of what Allen and Hawkins (1999) term maternal gatekeeping may vary depending on social, cultural, and ethnic factors, although it is important to remember, as emphasised by Salway et al. (2008), that fathers are often involved in many different ways even when breadwinning is emphasized. Gatekeeping processes are often evident in parents’ accounts of the ways in which parental responsibilities are negotiated (Backett, 1982), however, with both mothers and fathers creating and maintaining the ‘‘gates’’ (Zacharostilianakis-Roussou, in preparation) because mother–father relationships appear to be central predictors of the roles played by men in families. Dunn (2006) has argued that maternal gatekeeping is central to our understanding of fathering and its effects and Clarke et al.’s (in press) recent research suggests that mothers play a crucial role in determining whether men in prison (a growing proportion of fathers) remain psychologically and emotionally involved in their children’s lives. The rapid increase in paternal involvement reported by O’Brien and Shemilt (2003) needs to be examined closely because they may reflect the temporary reactions of parents to outside forces, like downturns in the economy, rather than shifts in the nature of parent–child relationships. However, the fact that contemporary men are more likely than either their partners or men in earlier generations to seek increasing involvement in their children’s lives (Yaxley, Vintner, & Young, 2005), suggests that an enduring shift is occurring (see Chapter 3). WIDER SOCIAL INFLUENCES In the main, the same factors predict paternal relationships throughout the first 18 years of parenting. For example, in their recent analysis of parenting in ‘‘middle childhood,’’ Pike, Coldwell, and Dunn (in press) found that a range of factors predicted paternal involvement. For example, the warmth of men’s relationships with their children was greater when they had good relationships with the children’s mothers, when the homes were ‘‘well organized,’’ and when the families regularly engaged in activities together. Such data echo the results of research on the early months of parenting in the United States in the 1970s (Parke & Sawin, 1977, 1980) and parallel patterns in families in which fathers are nonresident (Flouri, 2005), but further research exploring each family member’s conception of the family dynamics more generally, and of the father’s role more particularly (Langford, Lewis, Solomon, & Warin, 2001), is still needed. Paternal roles and involvement are also likely to vary depending on whether the parents are married and live together. The number of cohabiting couples in the United Kingdom increased from 11% in 1979 to around 29% of all households in 2000 (Office for National Statistics, 2000). Many cohabiting parents appear unaware that cohabitation typically offers or demands few




paternal responsibilities (Pickford, 1999), and researchers have shown that parents’ engagement in their cohabitating relationships ranges from mutual commitment, in which some formal arrangements are made, to contingent commitment, in which it is assumed that the relationships will not last (Smart & Stevens, 2000). Interestingly, Smart and Stevens reported that, even when the latter types of relationships dissolved, there was often a commitment to maintenance of father–child relationships, unless there had been a history of violence. Lewis, Papacosta, and Warin (2002) suggested that the mothers’ gatekeeping role was paramount in such family forms because, after separation, ‘‘ex-cohabiting’’ fathers had responsibilities enforced by the Child Support Agency but no rights to have contact with their children. In the United Kingdom, the Blair/Brown government sought to allocate parental responsibility to some cohabiting fathers, introduced paternal leave (see O’Brien, 2004), and restructured the Child Support Agency in an effort to communicate a positive view of fathers (see also Scourfield & Drakeford, 2002), and similar (as well as more generous) policies are being developed and implemented throughout the European Union (O’Brien & Moss, 2005; Chapter 19). Most European governments are clearly committed to facilitating active paternal involvement with children by revising their directives on working hours and paid paternity leave, but contemporary couples continue to face dilemmas that would be familiar to their parents (Day, Lewis, O’Brien, & Lamb, 2005): They can enhance their family circumstances economically by working more only at the cost of reduced involvement in child care. Many British fathers continue to work much longer hours than their European counterparts. More than 33% are regularly engaged in paid employment for more than 48 hours per week, and 12% continue to work for over 60 hours, although there are signs of a slight reduction in the numbers of men working such long hours (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2003). The extent of paternal involvement may also differ depending on the fathers’ personalities as well as on the amount of encouragement and support fathers receive: Lind (1974), for example, reported long ago that Swedish fathers who were taught how to care for their newborns and were encouraged to do so were more involved with their infants 3 months later, while the greater burdens imposed on families by the birth of preterm babies appears to facilitate paternal involvement (Parke & Beitel, 1986). More recently, a randomized study revealed that young African-American and Hispanic men in the United States developed more positive attitudes toward coparenting with their adolescent partners and higher later levels of paternal engagement, regardless of residence (Fagan, 2008). However, other research suggests that short-term interventions for new fathers do not influence paternal behavior or involvement (Belsky, 1985; Pannabecker, Emde, & Austin, 1982; Parke & Beitel, 1986) although Myers (1982) reported that fathers became more knowledgeable and were more involved when they were shown how to conduct standardized assessments of their newborns. Israeli fathers who were more involved with their 9-month-olds perceived them as more competent (Ninio & Rinott, 1988), suggesting that perceptions of infant competence and paternal involvement reinforce one another.

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McHale and Huston (1984) reported that fathers who perceived themselves as more skillful were more involved later, but knowledge affected involvement differently among Mormon and non-Mormon fathers in another study, leaving uncertainty about the association between involvement and knowledge of child development (Roggman, Benson, & Boyce, 1999). Other paternal characteristics surely affect involvement, too: Levy-Shiff and Israelashvili (1988) found that Israeli fathers who were rated prenatally as warm and interested played more with their 9-month-olds, whereas prenatal perceptiveness, sensitivity, and a tolerance for external intrusions were correlated with greater involvement in caretaking. Grossmann and Volkmer (1984) reported that the predelivery desire of German fathers to be present during delivery had a greater impact on their reported involvement than did actual presence during childbirth. This outcome was not surprising in light of Palkovitz’s (1985) conclusion that birth attendance, in and of itself, does not appear to have consistent, clear, or robust effects on paternal involvement or behavior. However, birth attendance followed by extensive postpartum father–infant interaction in the hospital may stimulate greater paternal involvement and engagement (Keller, Hildebrandt, & Richards, 1985). The child’s gender also affects the extent to which fathers interact with their infants. Many researchers have shown that fathers interact preferentially with their sons from shortly after birth (Cox et al., 1989;Gewirtz & Gewirtz, 1968; Kotelchuck, 1976; Lamb, 1977a, 1977b; NICHD Early Childhood Research Network, 2000; Parke & Sawin, 1980; Rendina & Dickerscheid, 1976; Weinraub & Frankel, 1977; West & Konner, 1976; Woollett, White, & Lyon, 1982). Beyond infancy, however, this effect appears hard to detect and/or relatively small (Lytton & Romney, 1991; Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2004). Whatever factors influence fathers’ tendencies to be more or less involved in interactions with their children, there appears to be substantial stability, at least during the period from birth through the first 30 months (Hwang & Lamb, 1997; Lamb et al., 1988; Nugent, 1987; Pruett & Litzenburger, 1992). According to Lamb, Chuang, and Hwang (2004), the amount of time that Swedish fathers spent interacting with their children declined as the children grew older, although the amount of time that they were accessible (both awake and in the home) increased as the children moved from infancy into childhood and adolescence. Stability over the 15-year period was quite low, however. Quinton and Pollock (2002) found that 60% of young fathers in Bristol remained highly involved with their children, whereas 37% had no contact. These contrasting responses were best predicted by the couple’s relationship during pregnancy and not, as expected, by family reactions to the men’s involvement. It is important to interpret data about ethnic minority groups in context, paying attention to other possible influences on the parents’ behavior. In an intensive qualitative analysis, for example, Williams (2004) reported similar effects of financial hardship, social connections, and health among AfricanCaribbean and White working class fathers, with no ethnic differences. In a more quantitative study, Fouts and her colleagues (2008) reported similar social class differences in Euro- and African-American parents’ behavior in relation to their young infants, while Roopnarine, Fouts,




Lamb, and Lewis-Elligan (2005) emphasized major differences between upper-, middle-, and lower-income African-American infants’ early social experiences, with lower-income infants much more likely to have limited contact with their fathers, but more likely to interact with a variety of social figures. Even when differences between ethnic groups are found, these are complexly determined by a range of factors, including gender and the fathers’ residence (Guishard, 2002). Studies of ethnicity and fathering need to explore the complexities of fathering in all social and ethnic groups and beware of simple, often ethnocentric, assumptions. In the United States, for example, many social commentators have made sweeping statements about AfricanAmerican fathers, particularly when they are non-resident. Careful ethnographic research (e.g., Waller, 2002) has identified much greater nonresident father–child contact than the stereotypes would suggest. As just noted, other research shows that many ‘‘ethnic’’ differences are better viewed as socioeconomic in nature (e.g., Roopnarine et al.). Similarly, some characteristics of ‘‘young unwed fathers’’ may reflect the influence of economic deprivation on family obligations, rather than the direct effect of paternal immaturity (Speak, Cameron, & Gilroy, 1997). CHARACTERISTICS





How do the patterns of involvement of men and women in the home and ‘‘outside world’’ influence the nature of their interactions with their children? Because mothers and fathers assume different roles in relation to their children from early in the first trimester of their children’s lives, fathers and mothers often appear to engage in different types of interactions with their infants. When videotaped in face-to-face interaction with their 2- to 25week-old infants, for example, fathers tended to provide staccato bursts of both physical and social stimulation, whereas mothers tended to be more rhythmic and containing (Yogman, 1981). Mothers addressed their babies with soft, repetitive, imitative sounds, whereas fathers touched their infants with rhythmic pats. This idea is given support in the research of Borke, Lamm, Eickhorst, and Keller (2007), suggesting that fathers tend to engage in a more ‘‘distal’’ style of interaction, whereas mothers are more proximal (i.e., they used bodily contact). When they used such distal contact, their children showed more mirror self-recognition skills, possibly because distal contact involves holding the child ‘‘out’’ toward the world, including mirrors. Similar patterns are in evidence in a range of settings. During visits to hospitalized premature infants, mothers were responsive to social cues, fathers to gross motor cues (Marton & Minde, 1980), and although Israeli mothers visited and interacted with hospitalized preterm infants more than fathers did (Levy-Shiff, Sharir, & Mogilner, 1989), fathers were consistently more likely to stimulate and play with their infants, but less likely to engage in caretaking. Although both parents encourage visual exploration, object manipulation, and attention to relations and effects (Power, 1985; Teti, Bond, & Gibbs, 1988), American fathers tend to engage in more physically stimulating and unpredictable play with infants and toddlers than mothers do (ClarkeStewart, 1978; Crawley & Sherrod, 1984; Dickson, Walker, & Fogel, 1997;

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Lamb, 1977c; Power & Parke, 1979; Teti et al., 1988), although rough physical play becomes less prominent as children grow older (Crawley & Sherrod), and secular increases in the extent to which men are involved in child care almost certainly mean that these ‘‘differences’’ between maternal and paternal styles are decreasing (see below). Because physically stimulating play elicits more positive responses from infants, young children who have more traditional fathers often prefer to play with their fathers when they have the choice (Clarke-Stewart, 1978; Lamb, 1976b, 1977c). Early studies showed that mothers were more likely to hold their 7- to 13-month-old infants in the course of caretaking, whereas fathers were more likely to do so while playing or in response to the infants’ requests to be held (Belsky, 1979; Lamb, 1976b, 1977c). It was thus not surprising that infants responded more positively to being held by their fathers than by their mothers (Lamb, 1976b, 1977c). However, Frascarolo-Moutinot (1994) and Labrell (1994) reported that French and Swiss fathers were also more intrusive than mothers were, and all researchers agree that most of the differences between mothers and fathers are not large. Fathers and mothers in ‘‘traditional families’’ do not simply play differently; play is often an especially salient component of father–infant relationships. According to Kotelchuck’s (1976) informants, mothers spent an average of 85 minutes per day feeding their 6- to 21-month-olds, 55 minutes per day cleaning them, and 140 minutes playing with them. The comparable figures for fathers were 15, 9, and 72 minutes. According to parental diaries (Yarrow et al., 1984), similarly, the average father spent 6 and 7.3 hours per week playing with his 6- and 12-month-old, respectively (43% and 44% of the time spent alone with the infant) compared with 17.5 and 16.4 hours by the average mother (16% and 19%, respectively, of the time she spent alone with the infant). Clarke-Stewart (1978) and Rendina and Dickerscheid (1976) also suggested that fathers were consistently notable for their involvement in play and their lack of involvement in caretaking. It is not only affluent Euro-American fathers who specialized in play: Middle-income African-American (Hossain, Field, Pickens, Malphurs, & Del Valle, 1997; Hossain & Roopnarine, 1994) and Hispanic-American (Hossain et al., 1997) fathers were also more likely to play with their infants than to feed or clean them despite claiming (like many Euro-American fathers) that parents should share child care responsibilities (Hyde & Texidor, 1988). English fathers were also more likely than mothers to play with rather than care for both normal and handicapped infants and toddlers (McConachie, 1989), and similar differences were evident in India, regardless of whether or not mothers were employed (Roopnarine, Talukder, Jain, Joshi, & Srivastav, 1992), as well as in France, Switzerland, and Italy (Best, House, Barnard, & Spicker, 1994; Frascarolo-Moutinot, 1994: Labrell, 1996). By contrast, Taiwanese fathers reported that they rarely played with their children (Sun & Roopnarine, 1996), and fathers on Israeli kibbutzim did not play with their 8- and 16-month-olds more than mothers did, although the mothers were much more actively involved in caretaking and other forms of interaction than the fathers were (Sagi et al., 1985). Likewise, German (Best et al.), Swedish (Lamb et al., 1983; Frodi, Lamb, Hwang, & Frodi, 1983; Lamb,




Frodi, Hwang, & Frodi, 1982) Aka hunter-gatherer (Hewlett, 1987), and Portuguese (Monteiro et al., in press) fathers were not notably more playful than mothers. Interestingly, Zaouche-Gaudron, Ricaud, and Beaumatin (1998) argued that French fathers who differentiated between maternal and paternal roles tended to have a more positive impact on their children’s development than those whose roles were less distinctive, but there is no evidence suggesting that this is so. Research conducted in the 1970s further suggested that, in industrial cultures, patterns of parental behavior differed when both parents worked full-time during the day (Pedersen, Cain, & Zaslow, & Anderson, 1982). Working mothers stimulated their infants more than nonworking mothers did, and they were far more active than their husbands were. As expected, fathers with nonworking wives played with their infants more than mothers did, but this pattern was reversed in families with working mothers. Likewise, Field, Vega-Lahr, Goldstein, and Scafidi (1987) reported that employed mothers were much more interactive in face-to-face interactions with their infants than employed fathers were. Maternal employment does not necessarily change the nature of father–child relationships, however, as more recent studies document. The relationship between employment and the quality of child–father interaction was moderated by the fathers’ attitudes and ages in the large NICHD Early Child Care Study (2000), with younger men and those committed to equal parenting more sensitive in their play styles. Such belief systems are very important. In New Delhi, for example, a strong ‘‘traditional’’ culture is maintained, and fathers in dual-earner families are indistinguishable from men in single-earner families (Suppal & Roopnarine, 1999). VARIATIONS WITHIN



What happens when fathers are highly involved in infant care? Field (1978) reported that primary caretaking fathers and mothers behaved more similarly than primary and secondary caretaking fathers, although fathers engaged in more playful and noncontaining interactions than mothers did regardless of their involvement in child care. Pruett (1985; Pruett & Litzenberger, 1992) studied only fathers who were highly involved in infant care but repeatedly remarked on the distinctive playfulness of these fathers. Frascarolo-Moutinot (1994) reported no differences in playfulness between ‘‘new fathers’’ and ‘‘traditional’’ fathers, although the wives of the new fathers were less intrusive and controlling than the wives of traditional fathers. Lamb and his colleagues (Lamb, Frodi, Hwang, Frodi, & Steinberg, 1982a, 1982b; Lamb, Frodi, Frodi, & Hwang, 1982) reported that mothers were more likely than fathers to vocalize, display affection to, touch, tend to, and hold their infants whether or not their partners took a month or more of paternity leave. Unfortunately, most of these studies were conducted decades ago, when ‘‘traditional’’ conceptions of fathers’ role predominated, maternal employment was still relatively uncommon and was viewed negatively, and fathers were much less involved in the day-to-day care of their infants. There is an urgent need for descriptive research on the characteristics of maternal and

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paternal behavior in ‘‘modern’’ families. In one such study, Lewis et al. (2009) found that contemporary primary and secondary caretaker British fathers were largely similar (including the key measure, ‘‘sensitivity’’), although more involved men engaged in more positive interactions. Overall, the earlier studies suggested that the distinctive maternal and paternal styles were quite robust, with fathers tending to adopt a more playful interaction style than mothers do, especially when there was a clear division of labor. These patterns were not ubiquitous, however, as noted above, and there are cultures (e.g., Northern Thailand; Tulananda & Roopnarine, 2001) with a clear division of labor in which fathers and mothers did not differ with respect to playfulness or sensitivity. In any event, sharply defined differences between maternal and paternal roles are being softened by secular changes, with men increasingly involved in the types of activities—feeding, cleaning, nurturing, soothing—and behaviors that were previously seen as the exclusive province of women and mothers (Parsons & Bales, 1955; Walker & Walker, 1928). Decades ago, men were predominantly viewed in many cultures as playmates, sources of stimulation, and excitement. These role definitions almost certainly reflected the absence of clearly defined paternal responsibilities (apart from breadwinning) and the limited amount of time that fathers spent with their children rather than the parameters of a clearly defined paternal role. Differences between maternal and paternal roles in that era were clearly secondary to culturally defined male and female roles; furthermore, the better defined those roles, the clearer the distinction between maternal and paternal roles and, in almost every case, the more poorly defined— almost by negation—the relevant paternal roles. In light of the changes taking place, however, there is less and less justification for viewing the identification of fatherhood with play and companionship as something with unique psychological significance (say, to foster gender identification and sex role adoption) as was once thought (Lamb, 1976b, 1977b). Nevertheless paternal playfulness may still be influential, to the extent that it allows children and fathers to discover the pleasures of meaningful relationships and it increases the affective salience of relatively small amounts of time in mutual interaction (e.g., Lamb, Frodi, Hwang, & Frodi, 1982), both factors that foster the formation of the bonds that make mothers and fathers significant psychological forces in their children’s lives. The assumptions and presumptions that kept fathers from greater involvement in their children’s care until recently were and still are rooted in differentiated male and female roles more generally—the sharper the perceived line between men and women, the sharper the lines between maternal and paternal roles, the smaller the role fathers are expected to play in the direct care and nurture of their children, and the greater the expectation that they will assume primary responsibility for provisioning both women and children. Among hunter-gatherers, such as the !Kung, Bofi, or Aka, the amount of child care performed by fathers varies depending on the availability of other care providers (Hewlett, 1987, 2004; Fouts 2005, 2005; Konner, 2005). More generally, Hrdy’s (2005a, 2005b, 2009; see also Lamb, 1998;Lamb & Ahnert,




2006) examination of ‘‘allo mothering’’ underscores not only the extent to which allo-mothering is nearly universal but also how the identity of ‘‘allomothers’’ varies as individuals opportunistically exploit the human resources available to them. Forest dwelling hunter-gatherers like the Aka and the Bofi are characterized by extremely egalitarian norms and minimal gender differentiation, whereas hunter-gatherers like the Hadza of East Africa are more gender stratified and, not coincidentally, not characterized by equivalently high levels of paternal participation in child care (Marlowe, 2005). Paternal participation in infant care is also lower among agricultural groups in Africa than among the forest hunter-gatherers like the Aka and Bofi, although fathers in these cultures begin providing care, guidance, and tutelage to their offspring much earlier in development than Western fathers became involved in child care in the middle part of the 20th century (see Chapter 14). The physical and social ecologies occupied by these African groups and by parents in industrialized societies are dramatically different, yet the relevant research shows that variability, change, adaptability, and opportunism are key features when we examine parenting (perhaps especially fathering) and child care in cross-cultural and/or historical perspective (see also Chapter 14). Indeed, the variability within cultures and subcultures is much more impressive than the cross-cultural differences, especially when these are specified in terms of mean differences. CHILDHOOD AND ADOLESCENCE The preschool years represent a peak in levels of father–child interaction, at least in public situations (Amato, 1989), with a slow decline in the elementary school period (Mackey, 1985). Seven areas of change—including physical and locomotor growth, language, impulse control, social–cognitive understanding, conception of the self, cognitive executive processes, and the desire for autonomy—characterize the years between infancy and school and have significant effects on the nature and quality of parent–child relationships (Maccoby, 1984). Importantly, the transition from infancy to early childhood brings dramatic changes in the roles of parents because physical, mental, and language development make new behavioral capacities possible and facilitate the comprehension of more complex parental communication. From the end of infancy, the amount of child care performed by parents also declines progressively (DeLuccie, 1996; Galinsky, 1999). Toward the end of the second year of life, therefore, parents increasingly attempt to shape their children’s social lives by directly encouraging children to behave in appropriate ways and discouraging them from inappropriate and socially proscribed behavior. The ability to conceptualize symbolically facilitates another important process—observational learning—because the observer must be able to store a model’s behavior in memory and then recall it for subsequent performance in order for this form of learning to be effective (Bandura, 1969, 1977). Prior to this age, continuing egocentricism and the social–cognitive immaturity of preschoolers imposes restraints on their

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interaction skills and, presumably, on the extent to which they can benefit from complex (e.g., observational) learning experiences. CHILDHOOD As in infancy, data from a range of cultures show that mothers continue to spend more time with their children than fathers do (Collins & Russell, 1991; Chapter 3), although Ferri and Smith’s (1995) analysis of the relationship between the nature of parents’ occupations and their family life showed that blue-collar British fathers in the National Child Development Study (NCDS) were more likely than white-collar workers to care for their children while their partners worked. Despite increasing focus on fatherhood by policy makers in the United Kingdom, preschool services for families seldom provided services for fathers or men taking advantage of generally available provision (Ghate, Shaw, & Hazel, 2000; Lloyd, O’Brien, & Lewis, 2003). Of course, male workers at day nurseries and playgroups in Sure Start comprise, respectively, 2% and 1% of the total (Kahn, 2005), but about 40% of fathers have contact with preschools, albeit for very short periods, presumably when dropping their children off in the morning. Lloyd et al. found that Sure Start programs had successfully accommodated fathers where the directors were keen to do so and particularly when the programs had dedicated ‘‘fathers’ workers,’’ but that fathers were absent from many programs. In a small qualitative study of Sure Start users, Cavanaugh and Smith (2005) found that half of the children’s fathers were nonresident, and that half of these fathers felt socially isolated. They perceived Sure Start services as being run by women for women, and thus did not feel that the available services could help overcome their isolation. A linked survey of programs for men found that these tended to aim at problems, like drug abuse, rather than focusing on more positive topics, such as the benefits of parenting. COMPARISONS BETWEEN PARENTS How do mothers and fathers differ with respect to their parenting styles and their ability to serve as role models for their children? Most researchers have examined the parents’ functions as role models—especially sex role models— and few have examined and compared their parenting styles or the quality of the attachments systematically. As in infancy, mothers and fathers appear to adopt quite similar interaction styles, although they may do so for very different reasons. Social learning theorists have long assumed that the different interactional styles of mothers and fathers must somehow help boys and girls acquire gender appropriate behavioral repertoires (e.g., Block, 1976). Consistent differences between parents have been hard to identify, however (Lytton & Romney, 1991; Russell & Saebel, 1997; Siegel, 1987). For example, Lytton and Romney’s metaanalysis of 172 studies involving over 27,000 children revealed only one consistent difference between mothers and fathers—a significant, but small, tendency for fathers to encourage the use of sex-typed toys more than




mothers did. Otherwise, there were insufficient data to support the claim that mothers and fathers differentially affect their children’s sex role development, although Lindsey and Mize (2001) reported that mothers engaged in more pretend play with their daughters while father–son dyads specialized in physical play, and patterns of parent–child pretense and physical play predicted the amounts of the same type of play with peers. Lytton and Romney further reported that, beyond the preschool years, the similarities between the behavior of mothers and fathers increased. Consistent with this, Labrell et al.’s (2000) more recent research suggested that, by 42 months, French fathers were no longer more challenging than mothers. Similarly, each parent’s language comes to resemble the other’s, especially when they interact in mother–father–child triads (Pellegrini, Brody, & Stoneman, 1987), and the communicative balance between parent and child appear comparable for mothers and fathers (Welkowitz, Bond, Feldman, & Tota, 1990). Collins and Russell’s (1991) review suggested that, when observed together, mothers and fathers initiated activities with equal frequency, with broad similarities in their reactions to their children’s play and cognitive styles (Bronstein, 1984; Noller, 1980), although there is continuity within individual patterns of paternal closeness over time during middle childhood, suggesting that there are discernible parental styles in this period (Herman & McHale, 1993). However, these findings do not mean that fathers are redundant. In one recent study, Tamis-LeMonda, Shannon, Cabrera, and Lamb (2004) found that maternal engagement, paternal interaction styles, family background factors all affected one another, as well as the preschoolers’ cognitive and language development. Unfortunately, researchers typically observe mothers and fathers in the same context. Well-educated American mothers and fathers interviewed by Bretherton, Lambert, and Golby (2005) both spoke about the importance of play and companionship with their 3- to 6-year-olds and though they tended to agree that fathers were more active than mothers, few considered fathers more playful. Different settings typically impose different constraints on parents (Lewis & Gregory, 1987), and most researchers do not sample contexts in such a way that different parental styles might be expressed. This tendency is likely to obscure any differences between the behavior of mothers and fathers. One excellent demonstration of the need to study particular contexts in which parents interact with their children concerns how parents assist their children on a balance beam. Hagan and Kuebli (2007) found that fathers were particularly protective of their daughters in this context, while mothers were equally attentive to children of either sex. Interestingly, children as young as preschoolers clearly differentiate between the stereotyped roles of mothers and fathers in a variety of cultures. For example, Raag and Rackliff (1998) introduced preschoolers to a laboratory play room in which a range of sex-neutral and sex-stereotyped toys were laid out, and then asked the children which toys they and their parents thought it was appropriate to play with. Many boys, particularly those who had chosen sex-stereotypical toys, stated that their fathers would consider cross-sex toy play to be ‘‘bad.’’ Thus, fathers were believed by sons (but not daughters) to have more restrictive rules of conduct than mothers did. By the time of their

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entry into school, furthermore, children appear to have highly stereotyped views of parental roles. Domestic work is widely described as the mother’s prerogative, while breadwinning is seen as the province of fathers throughout the school years (Hartley, 1960; Langford et al., 2001; Williams, Bennett, & Best, 1975), and interviews with over 800 five- to 15-year-olds in four societies revealed that these beliefs persisted into middle childhood and adolescence (Goldman & Goldman, 1983). Although a recent study showed that 7- and 10-year-old American children thought it was appropriate for mothers or fathers to work full-time, however, they were more suspicious of fathers staying home (Sinno & Killen, 2009) suggesting that children share the implicit values of contemporary adults about changing gendered expectations. Interestingly, the children also accepted nontraditional arrangements more when their own families were more nontraditional. PARENTING STYLES Focusing on broader aspects of socialization than gender-role acquisition, Baumrind and her colleagues began in the 1960s to examine the associations between specific childrearing patterns and particular child outcomes (Baumrind, 1967, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1991; Baumrind & Black, 1967). These researchers distinguished four patterns of parenting, which they labeled authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and nonconformist. According to Baumrind, authoritarian parents value obedience and recommend forceful imposition of the parents’ will, permissive parents believe that they should be nonintrusive but available as resources, while nonconformist parents, although opposed to authority, are ‘‘less passive and exert more control than permissive parents’’ (Baumrind, 1975, p. 14). Between the extremes represented by authoritarian and permissive parents fall authoritative parents, who encourage independence and attempt to shape their preschoolers’ behavior using rational explanation. According to Baumrind, authoritative parents are sensitive to and facilitate their children’s changing sense of self. Furthermore, by allowing themselves to learn from their children, authoritative parents maximize their positive impact, teaching their children, as authoritarian and permissive parents do not, that social competence emerges within a context of interpersonal give and take. Although authoritative parents strive to foster independence, they also inculcate a value system characterized by conformity to cultural and societal norms by balancing the use of both reasoning and punishment. Attempts to compare mothers’ and fathers’ approaches to parenting have yielded inconclusive findings. Baumrind’s analysis underscores the need to study parents’ philosophies of child rearing, but it has been hard to discern much about the effects of fathers’ styles on child development using this general blueprint and Baumrind’s own research focused on parents rather than mothers and/or fathers. Studying the parents of 305 Australian preschoolers, Russell and his colleagues (1998) found that mothers were more likely to identify with the authoritative style of parenting, whereas fathers were more likely to describe themselves as either authoritarian or permissive. Parents were also more often identified with the authoritarian




perspective when the child under discussion was a son. Similar gender differences were not apparent in Bretherton et al.’s (2005) study of welleducated American parents, who agreed by a slim margin that fathers tended to be stricter and less patient (more authoritarian?) than mothers of preschoolers. Such contrasts suggest that we need to consider both the children’s impact on the parents’ child-rearing beliefs and the reasons why mothers and fathers may have differing philosophies, as these may well be colored by the domestic roles that they assume. Of course, this assertion needs to be explored empirically in a wide variety of cultural and subcultural settings. In addition, as Darling and Steinberg (1993) pointed out, Baumrind has yet to document the developmental processes by which authoritative parents shape their children’s development. However, mothers and fathers may differ in their expectations of boys’ and girls’ academic achievement. Thus, for example, fathers appear to expect more of sons than daughters when the material involves physics or mathematics (Crowley, Callanan, Tenenbaum, & Allen, 2001; Tenenbaum & Leaper, 2003), while mothers do not discriminate as much. Whatever the differences between maternal and paternal behavioral styles, there is impressive evidence that mothers and fathers may have different effects on child development. Such influences are moderated by external factors like parental employment patterns (Gottfried, Gottfried & Bathurst, 2002). For example, Hoffman and Youngblade (1999) found that American fathers’ involvement in routine child care was associated with higher school grades and with less stereotypical views about adult sex roles on the part of daughters. Such data suggest that fathers may play a special role as intermediaries between the family and the outside world. However, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that there are continuing links between paternal styles and the child’s educational performance. Martin, Ryan, and BrooksGunn (2007) found that supportiveness by both mothers and fathers at age 2 independently predicted the children’s language and arithmetic scores just before school entry at the age of 5. In a sample of 641 children, Belsky et al. (2008) found that, although both parents’ support for children’s (especially boys) independent thinking was related to 6- to 8-year-olds’ reading and arithmetic, fathers’ support for autonomy was related particularly to changes between grades 1 and 3. Other research on educational attainment suggests that the amounts of parental conversation and parental limit setting affect achievement, with no clear differences between mothers and fathers (e.g., Scott, 2004). Such studies suggest that both parents are influential, of course, and this conclusion is supported by findings indicating that paternal involvement in the educational process is associated with greater achievement even after controlling for maternal involvement (and vice versa). These findings were confirmed in a more recent study of low-income American families, in which paternal book reading to children predicted children’s cognitive outcome but not language development (Duursma, Pan, & Raikes, 2008). Similarly, Flouri and Buchanan (2004) reported that British children with more involved fathers had higher IQs at 7 years of age, while Nettle (in press) reported a link between early paternal involvement and IQ at 11 years. Bhanot and Jovanovic (2009) found

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that American fathers’ perceptions of their children’s ability was associated with the children’s perceptions of both task value and ability. In addition, the level of maternal involvement is correlated not only with child outcomes, but also with the quality of the father–mother relationship, and the extent of paternal involvement (Goldman, 2005). McBride, Schoppe-Sullivan, and Ho (2005) attempted to distinguish paternal influence on education from the effects of wider familial and neighborhood influences, in a sample of over 1,300 elementary school children. They found that paternal involvement in schooling predicted variations in the children’s performance even after maternal contributions were taken into account. Across the preschool years, at least, fathers who are supportive in their interactions appear to help children do better on language and cognitive measures (Cabrera, Shannon, & Tamis-LeMonda, 2007). Data like these suggest that men have a particular influence on their children’s prosocial development. As Parke and his colleagues (2004) argued, fathers and mothers have distinct influences on the development of peer relationships. Specifically, physically playful, affectionate, and socially engaging father–son interaction predicts later popularity, just as mothers’ verbal stimulation predicts popularity. Parke and his colleagues suggested that father–child interactions teach children to read their partners’ emotional expressions and that these skills are later displayed in interactions with peers. Similarly, fathers who are more sensitive to their 5-year-olds’ emotional states have children with more competent peer relationships 3 years later (Gottman, Katz, & Hooven, 1997). Rah and Parke’s (2008) data suggest that paternal involvement influences the school-aged child’s understanding of vignettes about peer relationships, which in turn affects their peer acceptance. How do fathers influence the development of social skills? One recent study suggested that mothers and fathers play complementary roles that are not gender specific (McElwain, Halberstadt, & Volling, 2007). Another suggested specific roles for each parent: LaBounty Wellman, Olson, Lagattuta, and Liu’s (2008) longitudinal analysis of 3.5- to 5-year-olds found that there were dissociations between parental styles during conversation at 3.5 and the children’s current and subsequent social–cognitive development. Mothers’ emotional expression was related to the children’s grasp of emotions, while fathers’ ‘‘causal explanatory’’ language was related to the child’s concurrent and later ‘‘theory of mind’’ competence. This recent result adds to the plethora of studies showing connections between children’s social understanding and the nature and complexity of social relationships (Carpendale & Lewis, 2006). Because attachment theory has so dominated research on infant–parent relationships, it is striking how little attention has been paid to the security or quality of child–parent relationships, which seem more likely to form a hierarchy at this time, with the child–mother relationship more significant (Kobak, Rosenthal, & Serwik, 2004). However, closeness, affection, and attachment were emphasized by both the mothers and fathers interviewed by Bretherton et al. (2005), who agreed that a slim majority of children were closer to their mothers, but that many were equally close to both parents.




Several researchers have reported that the security of child–father attachments can affect children’s adjustment, particularly their relationships with other children. Diener, Isabella, Behunin, and Wong (2008) reported that 6-, 8-, and 10-year-old American girls reported more secure attachments to mothers than to fathers, whereas the reverse was true of their male counterparts. Similarly, Booth-LaForce et al. (2006) found that 10-year-olds reported more secure attachments to their mothers than to their fathers. Secure attachments were associated with superior perceived special and academic competence, and the strength of the association increased with age. Children who reported secure attachments to both parents felt more competent than those who felt securely attached to only one parent. Similarly, Lieberman, Doyle, and Markiewicz (1999) reported that the security of attachments to both parents were associated with various indices of positive friendship qualities among the 9- to 14-year-olds. Rubin et al. (2004) reported that maternal and paternal support was independently related to perceived self-competence and peer-reported interviewing and externalizing behavior among American 10-year-olds. At the same time, there is evidence that negative aspects of fathering influence children in the same way as they do infants. For example, Cummings, Schermerhorn, Keller and Davies’s (2008) longitudinal study suggested that paternal and maternal depressive symptoms when the children were 5 exerted independent influences on the latter’s subsequent attachment representations and externalizing symptoms. Paternal harsh discipline is also correlated with child behavior problems (Lewis, Newson, & Newson, 1982). However, recent longitudinal research suggests that such relationships may not be simple. For example, Capaldi, Pears, Kerr, and Owen (2008) analysed the precursors of paternal discipline strategies in relation to 2- to 3-year-olds in longitudinal analyses involving an ‘‘at-risk’’ sample. They found that maternal adjustment problems and disciplinary strategies predicted the father’s disciplinary strategies, even when controlling for factors like the father’s own adjustment problems. This suggests that patterns of interaction within families are influenced by a network of family relationships in which the maternal contribution is more influential. Similar findings are also seen in the origins of behavior problems in preadolescents (Underwood Beron, Gentsch, Galperin, & Risser, 2008) and young adolescents (Fanti, Henrich, Brookmeyer, Kuperminc, 2008). This by no means rules out direct influences by fathers, however. For example, Foster, Reese-Weber and Kahn (2007) reported that men who were reported to be more negative in their behavioral expression had preschool sons (they did not study girls) who were reported to be more disruptive and aggressive by their teachers. Reports that paternal withdrawal and the quality of mother–child relationships are related to problems like delinquency (Das Groot et al., 2008) need further investigation, however. Although there are intriguing findings regarding the negative effects of paternal behavior on some children (see Phares, 1996, and Chapter 15 for a detailed analysis), the literature generally shows that paternal involvement has positive effects on children. A systematic review of 24 longitudinal studies involving 22,300 children reported that 21 of 22 studies revealed positive and only one negative effects of paternal involvement on children’s

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development (Sarkadi, Kristiansson, Oberklaid, & Bremberg, 2008). Although some of the paternal effects were no longer significant when socioeconomic status (SES) was controlled, and factors like cohabitation were important, the authors concluded that lack of paternal involvement was related to both the frequency of behavioral problems in boys and the level of psychological problems in girls once they mature. Involvement was also associated with enhanced cognitive development. How do these effects come about? Sophisticated models that take into account the complexities of family and social systems have been most helpful, especially when they consider the two parents’ psychosocial adjustment, their relationship, wider social processes, and the children’s own developmental status. In keeping with Sarkadi et al.’s conclusions, Tither and Ellis (2008) examined the joint influence of paternal coresidence and parental psychosocial adjustment, finding that younger sisters reached menarche earlier than their older sisters in disrupted families, but not when children lived with their biological parents, although this effect was less important than a large moderating effect of ‘‘paternal dysfunction.’’ Younger sisters from disrupted families who were exposed to serious paternal dysfunction in early childhood attained menarche almost a year earlier than either their older sisters or other younger sisters from disrupted families who were not exposed to such dysfunction. Another intriguing analysis by Boyce et al. (2006) showed that the effects of the father’s involvement in infancy on behavior problems at the age of 9 appeared to be moderated by the children’s psycho-physiological sensitivity at the age of 7. Lower father involvement in infancy coupled with later autonomic, adrenocortical, and behavioral reactivity together predicted later mental health symptoms. Children with high autonomic reactivity who had experienced low father involvement and maternal depression in infancy had the most pronounced problems. FROM CHILDHOOD INTO ADOLESCENCE The longer term influences of parents on their child’s adjustment are somewhat surprising, however. Maternal ‘‘inputs’’ are not consistently correlated with indices of their children’s development once they enter secondary school, whereas paternal inputs are so correlated. Indeed, there is some indication that teenagers’ sense of self-worth is predicted by the quality of their play with their fathers some 13 years earlier (Grossmann et al., 2002), and there are more consistent associations between father–teenager relationships and the latter’s adjustment to adult life than there are between adjustment and mother–teenager relationships. The most detailed of the relevant findings have come from a series of analyses of the longitudinal data in the U.K. National Child Development Study. Flouri (2005; Flouri & Buchanan 2002a, 2002b) has demonstrated links between parental reports of paternal involvement at the age of 7 and lower levels of later police contact as reported by the mothers and teachers (Flouri & Buchanan, 2002a). Similarly, father and adolescent reports of their closeness at age 16 are correlated with measures of the children’s depression and marital satisfaction at age 33 (Flouri & Buchanan, 2002b). The teenagers’ reported closeness to their mothers at




age 16 predicted marital satisfaction 17 years later, but not the children’s satisfaction with life. These data might indicate that fathers make some magical contribution that mothers cannot match, but it may simply be that the quality of father–child relationships is a marker of the quality of all relationships in the families. We would, of course, make the same point if mother–child relationships were more predictive of child adjustment than father–child relationships—all family relationships are highly interrelated, and it is difficult, if not unwise, to single out individual relationships as unique determinants of child development. It is also important to take the children’s perspectives into account (e.g., Dunn, 2008; Gilles, Ribbens McCarthy, & Holland, 2001; Langford et al., 2001; Morrow, 1998). In an early study, for example, Sturgess, Dunn, and Davies (2001) asked children to place all of their family members on a diagram comprising five concentric circles, with an X representing themselves in the inside of the innermost circle. Two thirds of the 4- to 7-year-old children who lived with their biological fathers placed him in the two innermost circles. By contrast, only 30% of the relevant children placed stepfathers in these circles, although 62% placed their [nonresident] biological fathers there. ADOLESCENCE The relationships between fathers and their adolescent children have been documented empirically (e.g., Holmbeck, Paikoff, & Brooks-Gunn, 1995; Shulman & Seiffge-Krenke, 1997), although this research literature is relatively atheoretical and descriptive (Hosley & Montemayor, 1997). Research comparing mothers and fathers reveals few differences between mothers’ and fathers’ interactional styles (Russell & Saebel, 1997; Silverberg, Tennenbaum, & Jacob, 1992). In early adolescence, children shift their dependence first to same-sex and then to opposite-sex peers, while continuing the processes of self-differentiation and individuation, which become the major themes of development in adolescence (Grotevant, 1998). The biological changes associated with puberty also foster change and promote distance between parents and children in early adolescence (Collins, 1990; Hill & Holmbeck, 1987; Steinberg, 1987, 1990) with the parent–child relationship increasingly marked by self-assertion, distance, and conflict as children develop. The effects of puberty are frequently confounded with the effects of other age-related changes such as the transition from elementary to junior high or from junior high to high school (Collins & Russell, 1991; Simmons & Blyth, 1987), unfortunately, but whatever their relative importance, the biological, social, and cognitive changes associated with puberty all make early adolescence a critical transitional period during which youngsters are expected to consolidate their knowledge of the norms and roles of adult society and, at least in Western industrialized societies, begin to become emotionally and economically independent of their parents (Grotevant, 1998). Steinberg (1987) found that early-maturing sons and daughters reported more conflict with their mothers than later-maturing children, although these processes may take different forms and have different meanings in mother– child and father–child relationships. Adolescents believe that their mothers

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know them better than their fathers do, and although they care about both mothers and fathers, daughters are more likely than sons to differ with parents regarding the degree of closeness (Hosley & Montemayor, 1997; Langford et al., 2001; Youniss & Ketterlinus, 1987). Large-scale surveys show that the vast majority of adolescents continue to rely on their parents for advice, support, and emotional intimacy (Maccoby & Martin, 1973; McGrellis, Henderson, Holland, Sharpe, & Thomson, 2000; Noller & Callan, 1988; Offer, Ostrov, & Howard, 1981), suggesting that parent–adolescent relationships are marked by increasing interdependence and mutuality rather than by detachment and conflict. Langford et al. (2001) explored the paradoxes and contradictions in parent–adolescent relationships as the parties strived for such mutuality. Researchers have also described some interesting differences in the ways in which mothers and fathers relate to their adolescent sons and daughters (Collins & Russell, 1991; Steinberg, 1987, 1990). Collins and Russell focused on three dimensions of parent–child relationships in middle-class families: interactions (measured by frequency, extent, and structure), affect (indexed by the degree of positive affect, closeness, and cohesion), and cognition (indexed by discrepancies between parents’ and children’s perceptions of their relationships). They concluded that, as in infancy, mothers engage in more frequent interaction with children in middle childhood and adolescence (especially interactions involving caretaking and routine family tasks) than fathers do and that most father–child interactions during this developmental period involve play, recreation, and goal-oriented actions and tasks (see also Lamb, 1997;Montemayor & Brownlee, 1987; Russell & Russell, 1987). However, mothers and fathers are equivalently involved in activities related to their children’s and adolescents’ scholastic and extracurricular performance and achievement (Youniss & Smollar, 1985), and both parents frequently engage in nurturant caretaking in middle childhood (Russell & Russell). Nevertheless, adolescents in North America (Hosley & Montemayor, 1997) and Britain (Langford et al., 2001) consistently report being closer to their mothers than to their fathers. When dyadic and systemic aspects of parent–adolescent relationships are examined (Larson & Richards, 1994; Steinberg, 1990), mothers appear to engage in more shared activities with daughters than with sons, although both relationships are marked by relatively high levels of both closeness and discord. Fathers, by contrast, tend to be more engaged with their sons, have less contact with daughters, and generally have more distant relationships with their children than mothers do (Hosley & Montemayor, 1997; Montemayor & Brownlee, 1987; Youniss & Ketterlinus, 1987). Such patterns are found in diverse cultural contexts. For example, Korean daughters see their fathers as distant and controlling (Rohner & Pettengill, 1985). Because fathers spend less time with and have fewer conversations with their adolescent children, one might expect them to be less influential, and the literature suggests that daughters report being relatively uninfluenced by their fathers (Larson & Richards). Even sons feel that mothers provide more support than fathers do (Youniss & Smollar, 1985). However, there is clear evidence that some fathers have positive influences on their children’s academic




performance (Chen, Liu, & Li, 2000) and achievement, particularly in sports (Jodl, Michael, Malanchuk, Eccles, & Sameroff, 2001). In addition, Phares (1996, 1997) concluded a review of the literature on child psychopathology by noting that fathers have powerful direct and indirect effects on their children’s adjustment. For example, Brennan, Hammen, Katz, and Le Brocque (2002) reported that maternal depression had a more reliable effect on adolescents when the fathers were substance abusers, whereas maternal and paternal depression had additive effects. As in earlier years, of course, some patterns of influence in adolescence are quite complex and indirect. In an observational study, for example, Gjerde (1986) found that mother–son interactions were less stormy when fathers were present than when mothers and sons were observed alone, whereas father–son interactions were of poorer quality in triadic than in dyadic settings. Parents and adolescents may view their interaction quite differently as well. Noller and Callan (1988) videotaped 41 mother–father–adolescent triads discussing the adolescents’ behavior and then had trained observers, the interactants, and members of other mother–father–child triads rate the degree of anxiety, dominance, involvement, and friendliness shown by each of the interactants. The ratings made by the experts were very similar to those made by members of other families. Interactants rated other members of their families more negatively than they rated themselves, although the ratings by participating and nonparticipating parents were more divergent than ratings by adolescents who were and were not involved. PATERNAL INFLUENCES



Because the two parents’ behaviors, attributions, and attitudes are complexly interrelated, it is hard to identify paternal effects (Ogletree, Jones, & Coyl, 2002), but studies focused on adolescents’ perceptions of their parents’ influences and a small number of longitudinal investigations provide valuable insight into patterns of influence over time. The evidence to date suggests that there is a long-term association between reported paternal involvement and the psychosocial adjustment of adolescents. For example, Burns and Dunlop (1998) reported that adults’ feelings about their relationships and peer interactions were positively correlated with their experiences of parental care in the adolescent years. Such continuities might be important for understanding father–child relationships because earlier paternal involvement predicts their adult children’s feelings of satisfaction in spousal relationships and self-reported parenting skills (Franz, McClelland, & Weinberger, 1991). Likewise, fathers’ expressions of hostility toward their 16-year-olds and the extent to which they undermined their teenagers’ autonomy predicted the degree of hostility and low ego resiliency reported in the children by close friends at age 25 (Allen, Hauser, O’Connor, & Bell, 2002). Measures of teenager–mother hostility also predicted adjustment at age 25. A few researchers have examined paternal involvement in children’s lives in relation to both concurrent parent–child measures and the children’s later psychosocial functioning. For example, Lewis, Newson, and Newson (1982)

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found that the reported involvement of British fathers in two-parent households at ages 7 and 11 predicted the children’s performance in national examinations at age 16, as well as whether they had criminal records by age 21. In their analyses of data from the U.K. National Child Development Study, furthermore, Flouri and Buchanan (2002a, 2002b) reported a variety of positive predictive associations between patterns of paternal involvement and later indices (until the children were 33 years of age) of psychosocial adjustment even when possible mediating factors (e. g., gender, parental SES, family structure, parental mental health, maternal involvement) were controlled for in the statistical analyses. Maternally reported father involvement at age 7 predicted the children’s self-reported closeness to fathers at 16 and lower levels of police contact as reported by the child’s mothers and teachers (Flouri & Buchanan, 2002a). This, in turn, predicted marital satisfaction and diminished psychological distress at age 33 (Flouri & Buchanan, 2002b), whereas self-reported closeness to mothers at age 16 predicted only marital satisfaction 17 years later. When fathers and sons were separated by paternal imprisonment during the first 10 years of the boys’ lives, however, the boys had higher levels of internalizing problems from age 14 to 48 (Murray & Farrington, 2008). Koestner, Franz, and Weinberger (1990) reported significant associations between paternal involvement at age 5 and the children’s feelings when they were in their early 30s—some 26 years later. Similarly, Franz, McClelland, Weinberger, and Peterson (1994) reinterviewed children initially studied by Sears, Maccoby, and Levin (1957), reporting that ‘‘over a period of 36 years, the children of warm, affectionate fathers, and boys with warm mothers and less stressful childhood years were more likely to be well adjusted adults who, at age 41, were mentally healthy, coping adequately, and psychosocially mature’’ (p. 141). Results such as these suggest that, in the long term, patterns of father–child closeness might be crucial predictors of later psychosocial adjustment although the patterns of influence remain to be explored in depth. Other forms of childhood adversity (including the social and physical deprivation prevalent in post–World War II Britain) can also have long-term effects, leading to lower paternal warmth and poorer attachments to subsequent children (Stansfeld, Head, Bartley, & Fonagy, 2008). These longitudinal studies relied predominantly on maternal reports of early paternal involvement and warmth, however, and we must be cautious inferring paternal influences from these data, particularly as marital closeness is a strong predictor of psychological well being as well (Cummings, Goeke-Morey, & Raymond, 2004; Davies & Cummings, 1994; Grych & Fincham, 1990). It could be that maternal reports of high paternal involvement reflect something else, like family harmony or the mother’s own psychological well-being, and this would explain why levels of paternal involvement are often unrelated to contemporaneous indices of adjustment. For example, Israeli teenagers’ academic performance was related to their descriptions of maternal, but not paternal, involvement (Feldman, Guttfreund, & Yerushalmi, 1998). Longitudinal studies help us to explore such correlations further. When pieced together, the evidence is now clear that paternal ‘‘influences’’ on children are discernible, but less clearly in the areas of research, like




attachments, that have so preoccupied researchers. The data suggest that maternal attachments have clear predictive validity into the primary school years but that maternal influences may wane by the time children enter secondary school. Several recent reports further suggest that aspects of paternal relationships with children appear to have more predictive power than similar measures of mother–child relationships and that their impact continues into adulthood. Thus, paternal involvement in childhood predicts the children’s feelings of security in late adolescence (Grossmann et al., 2002), as well as their social interaction styles (Allen et al., 2002), their adjustment to spousal relationships, and their self-reported parenting skills (Burns & Dunlop, 1998; Franz, McClelland, & Weinberger, 1991) in adulthood. Over the past 5 years, Eirini Flouri has conducted key research exploring these longitudinal patterns in the National Child Development Study, which followed 13,000 children from their births in 1958 up to the age of 33, as well as in studies of current parent–teenager relationships (Flouri, 2005). In several papers, she has found clear associations between paternal factors and later child adjustment, even when possible mediators (e.g., family structure, gender, maternal involvement, parental mental health, and parental SES) were taken into account. For example, father involvement at age 7 predicted closeness to fathers and a lower likelihood of police involvement in their lives at 16 (Flouri & Buchanan, 2002a). Closeness to fathers at 16 predicted marital satisfaction and lower psychological distress at age 33, while closeness to mothers at age 16 predicted only later marital satisfaction (Flouri & Buchanan, 2002b). Flouri’s more recent analyses have suggested such other links as those between paternal involvement and teenagers’ academic motivation and general feelings of happiness (Flouri, 2005). Perhaps more importantly, she has also shown that paternal ‘‘effects’’ may be mediated by the children’s gender and family social backgrounds. For example, fathers’ participation is related to daughters’, but not sons’, educational achievements in adult life, appears to protect all sons from delinquency, and protects sons in impoverished families from homelessness in adulthood. Much current research is exploring the complexities of paternal influences within a global context. One focus has been on transnational migration (Antonucci, 2006). East Asian girls living in the United States were less likely than boys to be influenced by their parents’ values orientations (Koh, Shao, & Wang, 2009), perhaps because East Asian parents find it a challenge to socialize daughters rebelling against traditional values. Family conflict in immigrant families may also affect boys and girls differently; in its presence, adolescent Hmong girls drank more, while males performed better at college and smoked less (Lee, Jung, Su, Tran, & Bahrassa, 2009). Of course, this may also reflect differences in the specific types of family conflict involved. Updegraff, Delgado, and Wheeler (2009) reported that father–adolescent conflict affected risk taking by Mexican immigrant females more than males in one study, whereas parental harshness was associated with classroom misbehavior by adolescent boys of Mexican origin and maternal harshness with problematic peer relationships, yet better school performance by girls in another study (Dumka, Gonzales, Bonds, & Millsap, 2009). By contrast, Qin (2009) reported no salient gender differences in the reactions to immigration

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by Chinese boys and girls, suggesting that these patterns are not characteristic of all immigrants groups or at all points after migration. Koh et al. (2009) reported that East Asian immigrant mothers affected their adolescents’ relationship identity, whereas fathers affected their adolescents’ identity in the achievement domain. FINAL THOUGHTS As indicated earlier, most researchers have focused on early development, particularly infancy. Studies have revealed that men develop strong attachments to their infants, but that these relationships and their effects on childhood functioning have to be understood in the context of children’s other relationships and cultural experiences. Research on fathers over the past 40 years has shifted toward multilevel analyses. The diverse ways in which children’s experiences and memories influence later personality is in part a reflection of the complexity of family and other interactions to which children are exposed. In the context of this shift, father–child relationships appear to have a significant impact on later psychosocial development. Most attempts to tease apart men’s influences on their children have involved analyses of the security of attachments. While interesting, this enterprise seems to continue a long tradition (Richards, 1982) of examining men using measures that may place them in a poor light relative to mothers. Only recently have researchers attempted to establish more patricentric research themes (Palkowitz, 1997, 2002; Warin et al., 1999). For example, Grossmann et al. (2002) have explored the relative influences of early attachments and parent–child sensitivity in play—a more traditionally ‘‘paternal’’ activity in many cultures. They found that security of infant–mother attachment was a better predictor of the child’s feelings of security at age 6 and 10 than was the security of infant–father attachment, but that by age 10, the father’s sensitivity during 10 minutes of free play at age 2 also predicted security, and by 16 only this measure of father–toddler play significantly predicted adjustment. Such patterns of influence underline the need to recognize the limited range of measures used in research and the strong possibility that many paternal influences may have been overlooked by researchers. REFERENCES Ahnert, L., Pinquart, M., & Lamb, M. E. (2006). Security of children’s relationships with nonparental care providers: A meta-analysis. Child Development, 77, 664–679. Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. Allen, J. P., Hauser, S. T., O’Connor, T. G., & Bell, K. L. (2002) Prediction of peer-rated adult hostility from autonomy struggles in adolescent–family interactions. Development and Psychopathology, 14, 123–137. Allen, S. M., & Hawkins, A. J. (1999). Maternal gatekeeping: Mothers’ beliefs and behaviors that inhibit greater father involvement in family work. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 199–212.




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Fathers, Marriages, and Families Revisiting and Updating the Framework for Fathering in Family Context E. MARK CUMMINGS, CHRISTINE E. MERRILEES, and MELISSA WARD GEORGE


ARITAL CONFLICT AND quality are associated with children’s functioning and adjustment (e.g., Cummings & Davies, 1994; Grych & Fincham, 1990). That is, a substantial literature supports the links between interparental processes, including marital quality and interparental conflict, and child and adolescent adjustment. Moreover, recent processoriented research on marital conflict and child adjustment is beginning to untangle the complexities of how, why, and under what circumstances the interparental relationship affects multiple domains of child development (Davies & Cummings, 1994; Cummings, Davies, & Campbell, 2000; Grych & Fincham, 2001). Illustrating these advances in approach, for example, Cummings, Schermerhorn, Davies, Goeke-Morey, and Cummings (2006) studied emotional security about marital conflict as a mediator of the effects of marital conflict on child adjustment in two independent longitudinal studies based on relatively large samples. The findings were that emotional security about the marital relationship consistently mediated relations between marital conflict and child adjustment, with children ranging in age across the two investigations between early childhood and middle adolescence. However, the influence of marital processes on children has typically been viewed from a dyadic level of analysis, that is, the marital relationship considered as a unit, without study of the particular role of fathers. In fact, marital relations, including marital dissolution (Emery, 1988), reflect an important category of the influence of fathers in their children’s lives. The effects of marital quality on children illustrate the pertinence of a broader perspective on fathering than simply father–child interactions. That is, the importance of a family-wide perspective on fathering is indicated (Lamb & Tamis-LeMonda, 2004; Parke, 2002).


Fathers, Marriages, and Families 155 Father Characteristic

Child Characteristic

Fathering and Father-Child Relationships

Marital Quality

Child Coping Processes and Mechanisms

Child Exposure to Father Martial Discord

Child Adjustment

Father Psychological Functioning Time

Figure 5.1 A Framework for Fathers in the Context of Marital Quality. Source: Reprinted with permission from John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

This chapter revisits the examination of paternal influences on child development in the context of this broader family-wide conceptualization of fathering, emphasizing the context provided by marital relationships. Cummings and O’Reilly (1997) proposed an initial framework for multiple influences on children and families, calling attention to the pivotal role of the marital relationship. This model was further developed by Cummings, Goeke-Morey, and Raymond (2004), which is presented in Figure 5.1. In this model, ultimately, fathers are seen as contributors to complex social systems, reciprocally affecting and affected by other family members (Goeke-Morey & Cummings, (2007); see Schermerhorn, Cummings, DeCarlo, & Davies, 2007). In this chapter we update the framework for fathering in the family context presented in Cummings, Goeke-Morey, and Raymond (2004). Multiple pathways of influence of fathering in the family context are outlined, focusing on fathering in the context of marital relations. Specific hypotheses for fathers contributing to various domains of family functioning and child development are advanced. This framework includes consideration of mediating and moderating processes, addressing the question of how to conceptualize how these pathways function (Lamb & Tamis-LeMonda, 2004). The major pathways of the influence of fathering in the marital context merit consideration (see Figure 5.1). One pathway concerns the interrelations of marital relations and fathering, and father–child relationships (Cabrera, Tamis-LeMonda, Bradley, Hofferth, & Lamb, (2000); Cox, Paley, & Harter, 2001). The accumulation of evidence to support relations between marital conflict and parenting is impressive (Erel & Burman, 1995; see also many more recent studies, including Davies, Sturge-Apple, & Cummings, 2004; Davies, Sturge-Apple, Woitach, & Cummings, in press; ShoppeSullivan, Schermerhorn, & Cummings, 2007). The issue for the study of




this pathway is the examination of the relations between marital conflict, fathering, and child adjustment, including the relative effects of marital discord and conflict on fathers’ in comparison to mothers’ parenting and parent–child relationships. A second pathway considers interrelations between fathers’ mental health and marital functioning in contributing to family functioning and child adjustment (Cummings & Davies, 1994; Downey & Coyne, 1990). Marital conflict and parental depression are causally related (see review in Whisman, 2001), with children of depressed parents at elevated risk for adjustment problems (Cummings, Davies, & Campbell, 2000). Moreover, marital conflict and parental depression are interrelated as predictors of children’s adjustment problems (e.g., Davies, Dumenci, & Windle, 1999). However, maternal depression has been studied much more often than has paternal depression. Relatively little is known about relations between marital conflict and fathers’ depressive symptomatology or, more broadly, fathers’ psychological functioning with regard to implications for child development (Cummings et al., 2000). A third pathway in the figure examines the direct impact of fathers’ interparental conflict behaviors on children, and the potential differential reactivity of children in response to fathers’ compared to mothers’ negative and positive marital behaviors (Crockenberg & Langrock, 2001; Cummings et al., 2004). The evidence for direct effects of exposure to marital conflict on child adjustment is cogent (Cummings & Davies, in press; see Ha, Overbeek, Vermulst, & Engels, 2009). The concern is identifying the influences of fathers on children through exposure to fathers’ marital discord (Cummings, GoekeMorey, Papp, & Dukewich, 2002). Although effects on children of exposure to destructive marital conflict at a dyadic level of analysis are well documented (Cummings & Davies, 2002), until recently few studies compared children’s reactions to fathers’ in comparison to mothers’ marital conflict behaviors. Moreover, the personal characteristics of the father (Papp, Goeke-Morey, & Cummings, 2004) or child (Davies & Lindsay, 2001) may moderate these effects. Furthermore, each pathway is assumed to be ultimately related to children’s adjustment via influences on children’s coping processes and mechanisms (Cummings & Davies, 2002). Although various mediating and moderating variables (e.g., parenting variables, parental psychopathology, physiological functioning and processes) have been identified in recent longitudinal studies of relations between marital conflict and child adjustment (El-Sheikh et al., 2009; Kouros, Merriless, & Cummings, 2008; Sturge-Apple, Davies, Cicchetti, & Cummings, 2009), understanding of the distinct role that fathers play in the link between the marital relationship and child outcomes remains a gap. This is despite continuing calls for father-focused theory and empirical studies dedicated to more comprehensive models for the influence of fathers on child development (Parke, 2002; Phares, Fields, Kamboukos, & Lopez, 2005; Phares, Lopez, Fields, Kamboukos, & Duhig, 2005). Finally, the model calls attention to the significance of examining effects over time. A notable advance in recent years is many more studies considering the influence of fathering in the marital context longitudinally. In the

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framework described by Cummings et al. (2004) a major element of the model was ‘‘time’’ (see Figure 5.1), but few studies had, to that point, considered time. The few extant papers were limited in considering effects over time, especially with regard to adequate controls for cogently testing hypotheses about causal processes operating over time. For example, these studies lacked formal statistical tests for the existence of mediated or moderated pathways or the inclusion of advanced criteria for testing or confirming causal pathways (e.g., autoregressive controls). This chapter updates the analysis of fathers’ influence in the marital context, reviewing very recent studies relevant to this topic. Addressing all of these component processes and assessing their change over time is a complex task that requires advanced methodological tools and analysis. At the same time, utilizing multiwave, longitudinal samples allows for more informative tests of the components of fathering in the family context over time, including the possibility of testing multiple components within the same study. These advanced analyses can also accommodate tests of the processes that link marital relations to child adjustment, specifically within the focus of the role of the father. Although no one study may be able to fully address all of the possible paths and hypotheses explicated within the fathering framework, assessing and testing multiple constructs within the framework can provide a more accurate picture of how these processes unfold over time. Relatedly, both fathers and mothers continue to expand their number of roles and responsibilities, with fathers taking on more roles in the home and mothers adding increased responsibilities in their work environments (Pleck, 2004). These continuously shifting patterns of multiple roles that parents and marital partners fill require the continued focus of psychologists and others to understanding how role changes affect child development. Moreover, another gap noted by Cummings et al. (2004) was scant consideration of constructs in model testing that reflected ‘‘child coping processes and mechanisms.’’ As we will see, recent work has begun to address these questions. This level of analysis is essential for advancing a processoriented account of the mechanisms underlying effects of fathering in family contexts over time (see Figure 5.1). Relatedly, recent advances are studies testing specific and well-articulated theoretical models for the effects of fathering in family contexts, especially as guided by emotional security theory (EST; Cummings & Davies, (1996). Finally, reflecting a culmination of research pertinent to this framework, we will consider a recent report that evaluates the effects of multiple elements of this model on children’s development over time, including emotional security as a process mechanism contributing to explanations of change over time (Schacht, Cummings, & Davies, in press).

MARITAL QUALITY AND FATHERING THE FATHERING VULNERABILITY HYPOTHESIS A fathering vulnerability hypothesis has been advanced to describe the effects of marital conflict on fathering in relation to mothering (Cummings et al., 2004).




The hypothesis is that fathering and father–child relationships are more vulnerable to negative effects of marital discord than are mothering and mother–child relationships, with differentially more negative implications for children’s adjustment. In other words, it is expected according to this hypothesis that negative marital relations will have stronger negative effects on father–child relations compared to mother–child relations. With regard to the theory as to why father vulnerability may exist, one explanation for the increased vulnerability of fathers to the stress of marital discord is based on gender role theory, which suggests that the role of parent and child caretaker is more clearly defined for mothers than fathers (Thompson & Walker, 1989). This definition of roles facilitates mothers compartmentalizing the stress in their roles as mother versus spouse, whereas fathers have less direction for engaging in such compartmentalization. Others have speculated that the reason why men may be more vulnerable to deficits in multiple areas of functioning (e.g., marital dissatisfaction being associated with poor parenting for fathers) is reflected in their use of social withdrawal as a coping response (Story & Repetti, 2006). For example, men may be more prone to becoming emotionally overwhelmed when experiencing distress, resulting in a tendency to be more likely to respond by withdrawing. Research supports that men may become more physiologically distressed in the face of marital conflict, which may lead them to use tactics such as withdrawal (Levenson & Gottman, 1983). Social withdrawal may be an effort to alleviate the emotional distress men are feeling, and thus may occur in response to stress in the marital relationship, which may contribute to withdrawing from other contexts in the family, such parenting or parent–child relationships (Calzada, Eyberg, Rich, & Querido, 2004). Evidence for the fathering vulnerability hypothesis has a relatively long history. Based on studies from the 1980s and early 1990s, Cummings and O’Reilly (1997) concluded that differences between mother–child and father– child relationships increased as marital quality declined, with father–child relationships being more vulnerable to low marital satisfaction and high marital conflict than mother–child relationships (see also Frosch, Mangelsdorf, & McHale, 1998). Coiro and Emery (1998) concluded that when there were significant differences, greater effects were found for fathering than mothering. Similarly, Krishnakumar and Buehler’s (2000) meta-analysis of relations between interparental conflict and parenting provided support for a fathering vulnerability hypothesis, including relations with parenting control, acceptance, harsh discipline, and overall quality of parenting. Owen and Cox (1997) reported negative effects of marital conflict on attachments to both mothers and fathers but more pervasive negative effects of marital conflict on father–child attachments than on mother–child attachments. Relatedly, Frosh, Mangelsdorf, and McHale (2000) found that marital conflict was negatively related to insecure attachment to both mothers and fathers, with warm and engaged marital interactions associated with the security of father–child attachment relationships but not with the security of mother– child attachments.

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A QUALIFIED FATHERING VULNERABILITY HYPOTHESIS Cummings et al. (2004) stressed the need for qualifications of a fathering vulnerability hypothesis. Parenting vulnerability is the most consistent finding. Even when fathering is found to be relatively more affected than mothering, the impact of marital discord on both fathering and mothering is often indicated. Moreover, when differences are reported (e.g., differences in the size of correlations), they are often not directly tested. Thus, the pattern of supportive evidence may not be as pervasive as it may seem at first glance (Coiro & Emery, 1998). However, there is only limited and qualified evidence for a mothering vulnerability hypothesis. That is, typically, studies either have reported findings consistent with accentuated fathering vulnerability or found no differences between effects on mothering and fathering (e.g., Erel & Burman, 1995). As we will see, studies have continued to provide, for the most part, qualified support for a fathering vulnerability hypothesis, although a variety of factors and variables may modify these relations. Contextual Factors. Contextual factors may be important. For example, Clements, Lim, and Chaplin (2002) reported that lower marital quality was consistently related to greater parental negativity for fathers than for mothers. That is, for fathers, lower marital quality was associated with poorer parenting both in the presence of the spouse (i.e., triadic context) and in the spouse’s absence (i.e., dyadic context), whereas lower marital quality was linked with poorer parenting for mothers only in the triadic context. Child Gender. Another intriguing possibility is that fathers’ relationships with children are differentially affected by marital discord as a function of child gender. As shown in Figure 5.1, the characteristics of the child, including child gender, may factor into the way in which fathering and mothering are affected by marital quality and conflict. Some studies suggest that fathering of boys is more vulnerable than mothering of boys (Jouriles & Farris, 1992; Kitzmann, 2000) or fathering of girls (Neighbors, Forehand, & Bau, 1997), including parenting dimensions of democratic parenting and long-term relationships. Other studies provide support for the notion that fathering of daughters is more affected than fathering of boys (Cowan, Cowan, & Kerig, 1993; Kerig, Cowan, & Cowan, 1993) or mothering of girls (McHale, 1995), including parenting dimensions of authoritarian parenting and engagement. In summary, relations between marital conflict and fathering of sons and daughters vary across studies, suggesting that these effects may be complexly determined (Snyder, 1998). It may be the case that parent gender and child gender interactions are important for some aspects of parenting but not for others (Russell & Saebel, 1997). A Diversity of Parenting Processes. Expanding the study of dimensions of parenting processes may thus further advance understanding of fathering vulnerability. Kaczynski, Lindahl, Malik, and Laurenceau (2006) found relations between marital conflict and fathers’ parenting was significantly stronger than for mothers’ parenting. Furthermore, the association between




parenting and child adjustment supported that fathers’ parenting more strongly impacted boys’ internalizing symptoms. However, mothers’ parenting more strongly predicted boys’ externalizing symptoms. This study shows support for greater levels of marital hostility negatively impacting parenting; however, the findings suggest not a universal fathering vulnerability, but rather parenting vulnerabilities with regard to specific aspects of children’s functioning. Another notion of fathering vulnerability may relate to the extent to which marital conflict may affect fathers’ perceptions of family processes. In this regard, Merrilees, Goeke-Morey, and Cummings (2008) found that completing daily diaries about specific marital conflict tactics had a negative effect on fathers’ perceptions of marital quality, but not on mothers’ perceptions. While fathers’ marital behaviors did not change over the study, it appears their emotional or cognitive reactivity was affected, suggesting fathers may be more vulnerable to the increased awareness of their conflict interactions with their wives. However, fathering may also be especially affected by positive aspects of marital functioning. For example, Bradford and Hawkins (2006) found that greater emotional intimacy in the marital relationship was significantly predictive of fathering competence (i.e., involvement, role identity, and satisfaction as a father). Suggesting similar effects for mothers and fathers, Barnett, Deng, Mills-Koonce, Willoughby, and Cox (2008) found the marital relationship to contribute to the interdependency of mother– and father– infant interactions. While it was expected that father–infant interactions would be contingent upon mother–child interactions, in contrast, findings supported that positive marital processes may be related to more sensitive parenting in both mothers and fathers, with sensitivity by either parent directly affecting the sensitivity of the other parent. Attachment processes may also factor in these relations. Lindsey, Caldera, and Tankersley (2009) found support for attachment processes accounting for the association between marital conflict and peer relations, with differences as a function of parent gender. Specifically, the connection between interparental conflict and children’s positive peer relations was partially mediated by mother–child attachment. However, father–child attachment fully mediated the impact of marital conflict on negative peer interactions. Thus, differences in specific pathways through which mother–child and father–child attachment security mediated child outcomes were supported; however, other research has indicated no differences in attachment processes for mothers and fathers (Buehler & Welsh, 2009). MOVING TO THE LONGITUDINAL STUDY OF THE FATHERING VULNERABILITY HYPOTHESIS While research has continued to support fathering to be at greater risk than mothering when the marital relationship is distressed (Calzada et al., 2004), until recently there were few longitudinal studies (e.g., Harold, Fincham, Osborne, & Conger, 1997) and scant research examined the specific elements of marital relations and parenting in the context of parent gender to more fully explicate pathways contributing to child adjustment.

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Illustrating this point about the importance of specificity, a longitudinal investigation conducted by Sturge-Apple, Davies, and Cummings (2006) reported that interparental hostility and withdrawal were both associated with parenting (i.e., emotional availability) in explaining children’s adjustment over time. Interparental withdrawal compromised only fathers’ emotional unavailability with children and fathers’ emotional unavailability was more consistently linked with children’s psychological problems than maternal emotional unavailability. Paternal emotional unavailability was associated with internalizing, externalizing and scholastic problems in children, whereas mothers’ emotional unavailability only predicted scholastic problems over time, suggesting a unique and more pervasive impact in this context of fathers’ than mothers’ parenting on children’s socioemotional development. Thus, this study supports that pathways between marital conflict, parenting, and child adjustment are more robust for fathers than mothers. However, this study also calls attention to the importance of understanding how specific conflict tactics affect specific parenting dimensions in the context of parent gender. Schermerhorn, Cummings, and Davies (2008) examined mutual family influence processes at the level of children’s representations of multiple family relationships, including children’s emotional security about marital conflict, mother–child and father–child relationships. Findings indicated relations over time between emotional security about marital conflict and representations of father–child and mother–child relationships. Similar patterns of relations between representations of marital conflict and representations of father–child and mother–child relationships were found. However, at the same time, a reverse pathway from parent–child to marital relationships was found only for father–child relationships, suggesting that the security of father–child relationships are more closely interrelated with the security of broader family relationships than the security of mother–child relationships. Moreover, the evidence for directionality found from mother to father attachments suggested that attachments to fathers may be especially influenced by broader family relationships, consistent with another possible qualified version of a father vulnerability hypothesis. Finally, different processes may factor in the effects of marital conflict on parenting for mothers and fathers. Sturge-Apple et al. (2009) reported marital withdrawal during conflict was linked with adrenocortical reactivity in mothers but not fathers. Moreover, greater psychologically controlling parenting behavior and inconsistent discipline over time was associated with higher adrenocorticol reactivity in mothers but not fathers. Thus, the results suggest possible physiological factors, that is, amplified cortisol reactivity, may contribute to spillover from marital conflict to parenting for mothers. These results leave questions as to the physiological factors that may relate to spillover for fathers, again suggesting that different pathways may be leading to vulnerabilities in parenting. In sum, while research has supported fathering to be at greater risk than mothering when the marital relationship is distressed, support for more qualified and diverse pathways has emerged. Thus, recent findings underscore that a particular parenting vulnerability for fathers in the marital




context likely exists, but this vulnerability is limited to specific dimensions of family processes and specific domains of children’s functioning, rather than a universal fathering vulnerability. MARITAL CONFLICT AND FATHERS’ PSYCHOLOGICAL FUNCTIONING A PATERNAL MENTAL HEALTH HYPOTHESIS Another pathway concerns interrelations among marital quality, fathers’ psychological functioning and children’s functioning across multiple domains. Relations between marital conflict and mothers’ mental health, including depression and depressive symptoms, have long been the subjects of study (Cummings & Davies, 1994). New directions concern relations between marital conflict and fathers’ mental health. Specifically, the paternal mental health hypothesis is that, while recognizing that mothers’ mental health affects children’s functioning in the context of marital conflict (Cummings & Davies, 1994; Davies & Windle, 1997; Downey & Coyne, 1990), fathers’ mental health also has important implications for children’s adjustment, including relations in the context of marital conflict and broader family functioning. A strong version of this hypothesis is that fathers’ mental health in the marital context has implications for child development that are even more pronounced than mothers’ mental health in terms of the relations associated with the marital context. Initial studies reported in our previous review, specifically with regard to marital conflict, that fathers’ depressive symptoms and children’s development, supported relations between marital conflict and the impact of fathers’ mental health on children’s functioning and adjustment (McElwain & Volling, 1999). Moreover, tentative support, based on a small number of studies, was reported for the even more pronounced role of marital conflict processes in the impact of paternal compared to maternal depressive symptoms on child adjustment. For example, DuRocher Schudlich and Cummings (2003) found that marital discord, particularly depressive conflict styles, mediated the relationship between parental dysphoria and children’s internalizing problems. The link between maternal dysphoria and child internalizing problems was partially mediated by maternal depressive conflict tactics, but for fathers, depressive conflict styles fully mediated the link between dysphoria and child symptoms. PATERNAL DEPRESSIVE SYMPTOMS Increasing evidence has emerged in the past 5 years for the proposition that paternal depressive symptoms, in addition to maternal depressive symptoms, may be related to children’s adjustment problems. Recognizing the complexity of relations between depressive symptomatology and marital relations, Papp, Cummings, and Schermerhorn (2004) examined complementary models, testing the role of both marital conflict and parental symptoms as predictors and mediators of child adjustment problems.

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Paternal symptoms were found to be associated with child adjustment indirectly though disruptions in the marital relationship, whereas maternal symptoms directly impacted child symptoms, suggesting different processes for mothers and fathers in linking psychological symptoms, marital distress, and child functioning. At the same time, both paternal and maternal symptoms acted as mediators in the link between marital distress and child symptoms. There is increasing evidence that even subclinical levels of depressive symptoms in fathers may also be linked with child adjustment problems. In a community sample of families with kindergarten children, Cummings, Keller, and Davies (2005) found that increased parental depressive symptoms were related to child problems in pathways involving heightened marital conflict and insecure interparental attachment. Pathways were identified between (a) mothers’ or fathers’ depressive symptoms, respectively; (b) marital conflict or interparental attachment, respectively; and (c) child outcomes. Mothers’ dysphoria predicted children’s problems of internalizing or externalizing and children’s peer exclusion, respectively, whereas fathers’ depressive symptoms predicted children’s internalizing problems. Child gender was also a factor in a subset of the results: compared to boys, maternal symptoms were more strongly related to girls’ peer exclusion, and compared to girls, paternal symptoms were more strongly (negatively) related to boys’ prosocial behavior. These results thus underscore the significance of both paternal and maternal dysphoria for children’s adjustment in the context of marital conflict. The findings also further support that pathways of influence on children may be somewhat different for men and women (e.g., see also Du Rocher Schudlich & Cummings, 2003; Papp, GoekeMorey, & Cummings, 2004). Low and Stocker (2005) found that fathers’ depressed mood was linked with child adjustment in the family context. Fathers’ depressed mood was indirectly linked with child adjustment through father–child hostility; however, fathers’ depressed mood was also directly linked with children’s externalizing problems. Mothers’ dysphoria was not associated with children’s adjustment. These results thus once again support distinctive pathways through paternal and maternal mental health and child adjustment in the marital context. In addition, these findings provide further evidence for a strong version of a paternal mental health hypothesis (e.g., DuRocher Schudlich & Cummings, 2003). MOVING TO THE LONGITUDINAL STUDY OF THE PATERNAL MENTAL HEALTH HYPOTHESIS Longitudinal study of these relations for father’s depressive symptoms has been a gap and is an emerging direction in research in this area. Shelton and Harold (2008) longitudinally examined relations between maternal and paternal depressive symptoms, multiple pathways (i.e., adult attachment insecurity, marital conflict, parental rejection), and child adjustment. Both fathers’ and mothers’ depressive symptoms were linked with adult attachment insecurity and heightened marital conflict. In turn, controlling for initial levels of child symptoms, marital conflict was related to increased maternal




and paternal rejection, which was associated with child adjustment problems (i.e., internalizing and externalizing problems). Maternal, but not paternal, adult attachment insecurity was linked with marital conflict. Mother–child rejection was linked with girls’ externalizing problems, whereas father–child rejection was linked with boys’ externalizing problems. These results thus suggest similarities, and differences, between pathways from mothers’ and fathers’ depressive symptoms, respectively, and child adjustment. In another longitudinal study, Kouros et al. (2008) tested a moderated mediation model for relations between parental depressive symptoms, marital conflict, and child adjustment. The links between destructive marital conflict and child insecurity in the interparental relationship were stronger for children with fathers who reported higher depressive symptoms. Specifically, a moderated relationship was found such that marital conflict was associated with greater child emotional insecurity about marital conflict over time in the context of higher paternal depressive symptoms. At the same time, a mediational relationship was found for maternal depression such that children’s emotional insecurity about marital conflict mediated relations between maternal depression and children’s externalizing problems over time. These findings thus suggest marital conflict and children’s emotional security about marital conflict factored in the impact of both parents’ depressive symptoms on children. However, the precise nature of the pathways identified differed for mothers and fathers. Exploring the possible role of physiological factors, Cummings, ElSheikh, Kouros, and Keller (2007) examined children’s sympathetic nervous system (SNS) reactivity as measured via skin conductance level reactivity (SCLR) in response to family (i.e., marital conflict) and nonfamily (i.e., star tracing task) stressors as a possible moderator of children’s reactions to parental dyphoria over time. Notably, SCLR longitudinally moderated children’s risk for internalizing, externalizing, and social adjustment problems, especially for paternal dysphoria in comparison with maternal dysphoria. Notably, higher SCLR predicted adjustment problems in the context of paternal dysphoria. Main effects of relations between maternal dysphoria and children’s internalizing and externalizing problems over time were also found. One possible interpretation is that children are not as inherently distressed by paternal dysphoria, so that they tend to be affected when they are prone dispositionally to stress (i.e., heightened biologically based reactivity). PATERNAL PROBLEM DRINKING While research has tended to focus on depressive symptoms, with extensive study of depressive symptoms especially for mothers (Cummings et al., 2000), there is an emerging interest in advancing a broader examination of parental psychological symptoms affecting child development in the marital context. A recent advance is the study of fathers’ drinking as another component of psychopathology in the context of marital conflict (El-Sheikh & Flanagan, 2001), thereby broadening the investigation of the role that paternal psychopathology plays within the family system. Given that

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drinking may be especially problematic for fathers in relation to mothers, as an influence on family systems and child development (Keller, Cummings, Davies, & Mitchell, 2008), drinking behaviors and alcohol use may serve as a mental health problem in the context of marital conflict that is highlighted for fathers substantially more so than for mothers. That is, this variable may be specifically associated with problems related to fathering in family and marital contexts, further delineating fathers’ particular effects in relation to mothers. An initial cross-sectional study supported that family processes were similar when accounting for the impact of maternal and paternal problem drinking on children’s adjustment (Keller, Cummings, & Davies, 2005). However, a subsequent follow-up longitudinal investigation supported different pathways for the effects of mothers’ and fathers’ problem drinking (Keller et al., 2008). Examined from a longitudinal perspective, only fathers’ drinking problems were significantly related as a function of family functioning to children’s internalizing and externalizing symptoms. Over time, the pathway flowed from paternal alcohol problems to increased marital conflict, then to deficits in parenting, and, finally, child adjustment problems. Confidence in the results was increased by high standards met for model testing from a statistical perspective, including autoregressive controls to establish change over time and formal tests conducted to document indirect effects as statistically significant. This rigorous, longitudinal examination of family processes suggested that, even in community samples with low levels of drinking problems, fathers’ alcohol consumption negatively affects family functioning and thereby contributes to children’s maladjustment. A recent longitudinal study by Keller, El-Sheikh, Keiley, and Liao (2009) sheds further light on the processes that may underlie relations between marital aggression and alcohol problems in couples’ relationships. These investigators reported evidence that alcohol problems and marital aggression may have bidirectional effects on each other. In their discussion, Keller et al. suggested that problem drinking may undermine efforts to adequately handle marital disagreements and also foster problem drinking as a way of coping with family stress. Further supporting the special significance of fathers’ drinking problems for child and family functioning, the results suggested that couples in which husbands engaged in more problem drinking than wives are at increased risk in relation to other couples. The findings from the parental drinking literature thus further support a strong version of the paternal mental health hypothesis. In summary, although the extent of study remains limited, the significance of paternal mental health to children’s adjustment is significantly further supported by recent research. Findings on the effects of paternal mental health in the marital and family context suggest multiple possible pathways through which fathers’ mental health may have implications for child adjustment. Moreover, emerging evidence even supports a strong version of this hypothesis, that is, stronger relations for fathers than mothers, especially with regard to the role of marital conflict in the context of paternal mental health problems, and concerning the effects of paternal, in comparison to maternal, alcohol use (see also Papp et al., 2004).




CHILDREN’S EXPOSURE TO MARITAL CONFLICT BY FATHERS A DIFFERENTIAL REACTIVITY HYPOTHESIS Children’s exposure to interparental discord is another pathway of the effects on children of fathers’ behavior in the marital context (see Figure 5.1). Given the evidence that children are negatively affected by exposure to negative forms of marital conflict, it is important to determine the impact of fathers’ conflict behaviors in the marital context, including whether fathers’ conflict behaviors have effects on children that are similar to or different from these expressions by mothers. While differential reactivity has been supported (Crockenberg & Forgays, 1996; Crockenberg & Langrock, 2001), as indicated by children’s greater reactivity to fathers’ than mothers’ marital aggression, there have been inconsistent findings as a function of child gender. These differences, along with recent research examining the multidimensionality of marital conflict have yielded the necessity to understand these processes in the context of specific forms of marital conflict behaviors (Cummings et al., 2004). With regard to hypotheses concerning this pathway, the differential reactivity hypothesis proposes that children are more negatively reactive and distressed to comparable expressions of destructive conflict in marital disputes by fathers than mothers, and more positively reactive to constructive conflict expressions. Although destructive conflict expressions have negative effects, and constructive conflict has a positive impact, Cummings et al. (2004) concluded that the evidence provided tentative support for the differential reactivity hypothesis that children are more negatively reactive to fathers’ destructive conflict behaviors and more positively reactive to fathers’ constructive conflict behaviors. The proposition of the differential reactivity hypothesis is that children show more reactivity to fathers’ expressions of anger, but there is also evidence that these reactions may depend on the form of conflict expression (Goeke-Morey, Cummings, Harold, & Shelton, 2003). Consistent with this qualified perspective of a differential reactivity hypothesis, Shelton, Harold, Goeke-Morey, and Cummings (2006) found further evidence to suggest that child responses to marital conflict tactics may differ in meaningful ways based on the gender of the parent. Children’s efforts to mediate in marital conflict were more likely when fathers, rather than mothers, enacted overtly hostile marital conflict behaviors or marital conflicts about the children. Marital aggression, particularly fathers’ aggression, appears to be an especially important conflict behavior in contributing to children’s maladjustment (McDonald, Jouriles, Norwood, Ware, & Ezell, 2000). The context of fathers’ aggression in the home may also be an important factor in examining the context of children’s reactions to marital conflict. Margolin, Gordis, and Oliver (2004) examined the context of husband’s previous use of physical aggression in the home to understand the impact of current marital interactions on mother– and father–child interactions. Results suggested that the effect of marital hostility took a different form for mothers and fathers. In the context of previous physical aggression in the home, husbands’ and wives’ expression of hostility during marital interactions were associated

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with poor parent–child interactions for mothers and fathers. However, reflecting differences in effects of conflict expressions as a function of parent gender, marital hostility negatively impacted fathers’ empathy, while it was associated with mothers’ expressed negative affect toward their child. However, the differential reactivity hypothesis is most closely tied to the children’s reactions to parents’ marital conflict behaviors rather than parents’ reactions to these behaviors. Children’s cognitive understanding of conflict has important implications for the impact of marital conflict behaviors on children’s differential reactions to conflict (Grych & Fincham, 1990). Weston, Boxer, and Heatherington (1998) found that children made significantly more attributions about fathers in comparison to mothers in marital arguments, attributing negative behaviors to mothers’ temporal state, whereas fathers’ negative behaviors were believed to be a trait or part of their being. With regards to recent research, based on home diary reports and analog stimuli, Goeke-Morey, Cummings, and Papp (2007) examined children’s reactions to multiple forms of marital conflict endings and resolution as a function of parent gender. Although a complex pattern of findings was reported, for the most part, conflict endings elicited similar reactions regardless of the parent expressing these endings. For example, parents’ compromise increased children’s positivity at the end of conflicts, regardless of whether mothers or fathers expressed compromise. One difference was that when fathers expressed apology with positive affect the impact of destructive conflict was fully ameliorated. However, mothers’ positive affect during apology did not improve children’s responses. Negative affect indicated by either parent during apology led to more negative emotional reactions by the children. The heightened responding of children to fathers’ compared to mothers’ positive emotionality during these constructive conflict endings can be seen as consistent with the differential reactivity hypothesis, qualified by the observation that children, for the most part, responded similarly to mothers’ and fathers’ conflict endings. STUDY





Another important issue to address centers on the implications of marital conflict expressions by fathers and mothers for process models regarding child coping processes and mechanisms concerning the impact of marital conflict on children’s adjustment (see Figure 5.1). Based on a cross-sectional research design for a relatively diverse sample, El-Sheikh, Cummings, Kouros, Elmore-Staton, and Buckhalt (2008) tested the proposition of EST (Davies, Harold, Goeke-Morey, & Cummings, 2002) that children’s emotional security mediates relations between marital aggression (psychological and physical) and children’s psychological and physical health. Children’s emotional insecurity was found similarly to mediate links between aggression (against the mother by the father and aggression against the father by the mother) and multiple dimensions of children’s adjustment (e.g., internalizing problems, externalizing problems, and posttraumatic stress disorder). These relations were robust, that is, the child’s ethnic status (i.e., African-American or




European-American families), gender, and socioeconomic status did not moderate these relations. These findings thus advance the notion that emotional security is a viable explanatory mechanism for the effects of marital aggression against either the mother or father in terms of the implications for children’s adjustment. Moreover, the findings do not support a differential reactivity hypothesis in terms of process-oriented models and pathways for the effects of fathers’ compared to mothers’ conflict behaviors on children’s adjustment. That is, at least with regard to marital aggression, these behaviors would appear to constitute threats to children’s emotional insecurity and adjustment whether expressed by mothers or fathers. In the face of marital aggression, children’s emotional security plays a critical role in mediating effects on children’s adjustment regardless of parent gender. In summary, consistent with the differential reactivity hypothesis, the evidence continues to provide some limited support in specific circumstances for children being more negatively reactive to fathers’ destructive conflict behaviors and more positively reactive to fathers’ constructive conflict behaviors (for more details, see also the review provided by Cummings et al., 2004). However, for the most part, destructive conflict has negative effects, and constructive conflict has a positive impact, regardless of which parent expresses the behaviors. Moreover, even for marital aggression, which is sometimes reported to elicit more negative reactions when expressed by fathers than mothers (Goeke-Morey et al., 2003), differences in reactions of children to these behaviors by the gender of the parent is limited. For example, in the context of process-oriented models in which the larger family context and multiple pathways are examined, the impact on children of the use of destructive marital behaviors, such as marital aggression, may not differ at all as a function of parent gender. However, given the limited study, further work is needed before firm conclusions can be reached concerning the impact of fathers’ conflict behaviors and their effect on children in comparison to the same behaviors by mothers. A LONGITUDINAL TEST OF THE FATHERING IN FAMILY CONTEXT FRAMEWORK Although the question of the relative effects of fathers and mothers in marital and family context is an important issue to explore with regard to the multiple pathways of fathering in the family context framework, the key issue ultimately is to identify and establish the significance of fathers as influences on child development in the marital and family context. In this regard, direct tests of the fathering in family context framework, including examinations of possible explanatory processes for the impact of fathers on children’s adjustment, is another significant direction. Based on a three-wave longitudinal design, Schacht et al. (in press) examined a variation of the fathering in family context framework. Pathways tested included all of the elements discussed in the present review. These elements of fathering in the family context model (see Figure 5.1) included (a) paternal marital conflict behaviors; (b) paternal psychological functioning,

Future Directions for Research 169

represented by paternal problem drinking and paternal depressive symptoms); (c) paternal parenting, reflected by positive parenting; (d) child coping processes and mechanisms, represented by children’s emotional security about marital conflict; and (e) child adjustment, assessed in terms of internalizing and externalizing problems. Structural equation modeling was used to test the conceptual model. Autoregressive controls and bootstrapping to test indirect effects were among the statistical procedures employed to meet high standards for longitudinal model testing. Tested in the context of a fully articulated prospective model of all these influences, fathers’ problem drinking was linked with paternal marital conflict behaviors and decreased positive parenting, which was then associated with externalizing problems in children. Internalizing problems were predicted by fathers’ depressive symptoms. Children’s emotional security powerfully mediated relations between fathers’ multiple behaviors in the family context and child adjustment problems, including both internalizing and externalizing adjustment problems in children. That is, there were direct links from (a) paternal depressive symptoms, (b) paternal marital conflict, and (c) paternal positive parenting to children’s emotional security. Children’s emotional security, in turn, was significantly linked with the prediction of both internalizing and externalizing problems in children. The results thus comprehensively advance a model of the significant role of father’s behavior in marital and family context on children’s adjustment. Further support was also provided for children’s emotional insecurity as a central explanatory mechanism for relations between fathering problems and child adjustment difficulties. FUTURE DIRECTIONS FOR RESEARCH An important direction for future research is further study of fathering in other family contexts. Assessment of noncustodial fathers and how these relationships and changes in marital status and family structure affect children within the context of interparental conflict is a gap in the current marital conflict and family literature. For example, Fabricius and Luecken (2007) found that a positive relationship with fathers after divorce mediated the link between interparental conflict before the divorce and up to 5 years after and indicators of physical health in college students. This study also showed that more time spent with fathers after divorce was related to more positive relations in their long-term relationships with their fathers. A recent intervention program targeting noncustodial fathers (Dads for Life; Braver & Griffin, 2000) was found to be effective in decreasing interparental conflict between divorced parents (Cookston, Braver, Griffin, De Luse, & Miles, 2006). These findings are particularly persuasive as mothers and fathers both reported decreases in conflict, whereas only fathers participated in the intervention program. Finally, Sandler, Miles, Cookston, and Braver (2008) reported that among divorced couples both father and mother warmth were independently associated with reduced risk for children’s externalizing problems. However, relations with internalizing problems varied as a function of interparental conflict and the warmth of both the custodial and




noncustodial parents, with high conflict and low warmth with both parents linked with the highest levels of internalizing problems in children. Emerging evidence also suggests the value of assessing differences in interparental processes as a function of different family structures (e.g., the role of biological vs. social fathers; Berger, Carlson, Bzostek, & Osborne, 2008) as another important future direction. More generally, extending our understanding of how interparental conflict is expressed within diverse family structures and how the family structure affects children’s experience and responses to interparental conflict, including the role of fathers, is a next step in research (e.g., Cummings et al., 2009). Carlson and McLanahan (2006) found that supportiveness in partner relationships is a critical component that promotes positive parenting including positive engagement with children among low-income married and unmarried couples. Moreover, their findings suggest that support between partners predicts positive parenting regardless of family structure or parent gender, including marital status, although greater supportiveness was seen in married couples. CONCLUSIONS Research over the past 5 years thus has further established the importance of taking into account the father’s role in the relations between marital conflict and quality and (a) fathering and father–child relationships, (b) fathers’ psychological functioning, and (c) children’s exposure to fathers’ marital discord. Studies emerging since the Cummings et al. (2004) review substantiate that fathers exert multiple influences on children’s development as a function of multiple aspects of fathering in the marital and family context (see Figure 5.1). The work of the past several years has further advanced understanding particularly in terms of notions of fathering vulnerability and paternal mental health. Recent work suggests that fathering vulnerability in marital context may be somewhat more nuanced than suggested by early work (Cummings & O’Reilly, 1997). However, evidence is rapidly emerging for a salient role of marital and family contexts in relations between paternal mental health and child adjustment. Further insights and advances have been facilitated by the emergence of the exploration of these questions based on longitudinal data analyses’; more sophisticated tests of pathways, including autoregressive controls and tests of indirect effects (e.g., bootstrapping); inclusion of physiological measures and additional measures of paternal adjustment (e.g., alcohol problems); and beginning tests of hypotheses concerning theoretical mechanisms (e.g., emotional security theory). Concerning the hypotheses advanced in Cummings et al. (2004), qualified support continues to accumulate for these notions. At the same time, with all the evidence taken together, although fathers and fathering appear to be somewhat more affected by marital and family factors, and somewhat more vulnerable to these influences, than mothers and mothering, there are many instances in the literature of no differences reported between mothers and fathers, or simply different patterns of effects for mothers and fathers. Thus, the various hypotheses advanced are perhaps most valuable for (a) their heuristic significance, (b) the impetus for increased

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Fathers, Children, and Divorce PAUL R. AMATO and CASSANDRA DORIUS


on divorce and its implications for fathers and children. Because this literature has been reviewed previously (Amato, 2000; Amato & Sobolewski, 2004), we rely mainly (although not exclusively) on studies conducted during the past decade. To set a context for our chapter, we begin by describing recent changes in the divorce rate, along with factors that predict divorce. We then include a section on how divorce affects men and women, followed by a section on how divorce affects children. The chapter then turns to nonresident fathers and the roles they play in their children’s lives. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of existing research for future research and practice. In general, the research reviewed in this chapter indicates that divorce is a stressful experience for the majority of men and women. Nevertheless, a great deal of variability exists in adults’ adjustment to divorce. For example, spouses who initiate the divorce appear to adjust better than do other spouses. Similarly, ending a seriously troubled marriage is followed by improvements in the subjective well-being of men and women. Divorce is also a stressful experience for most children—an experience that increases their risk for a variety of problems over the life course. As with adults, however, a considerable degree of variation exists in how children cope with this transition. For example, when marriages involve frequent and overt conflict, children appear to be better off, in the long run, when these marriages end in divorce. Divorce also presents many challenges for fathers, who continue to make up the great majority of noncustodial parents. Following divorce, some fathers maintain frequent contact with their children and continue to be highly involved in their lives. In contrast, other fathers drop out of their children’s lives relatively quickly. Nevertheless, the frequency of contact between divorced fathers and their children has increased in recent decades. Studies consistently show that positive involvement on the part of nonresident fathers is associated with fewer emotional and behavioral problems and better school adjustment among children. HIS CHAPTER FOCUSES





THE DIVORCE RATE Data on divorce in the United States is limited because a number of states do not report vital statistics on marital dissolutions to the federal government. Nevertheless, the U.S. Census Bureau uses available data from participating states to report the number of divorces per 1,000 people in the population (the crude divorce rate). This measure is less than optimal because it is affected by the age structure of the population as well as the proportion of married adults in the population. Keeping this limitation in mind, the crude divorce rate more than doubled, from 2.2 in 1960 to 5.2 in 1980. The rate dropped after the early 1980s to 3.6 in 2006—a 31% decline (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008, Table 77). The rise in age at first marriage since the 1980s appears to be the most important factor responsible for this decrease (Heaton, 2002). That is, couples who marry at older ages have a lower risk of divorce, and delaying marriage also decreases the percentage of married couples in the population. Divorce rates in the United States vary with race, ethnicity, and immigration status. One study of first marriages found that by the 15th year, 42% of Whites and Hispanics had divorced, compared with 55% of African-Americans (Bramlett & Mosher, 2002). The comparatively high rate for AfricanAmericans is due to a complex set of historical, structural, and cultural factors that have not yet been clearly disentangled. Other research shows that Mexican-American women born outside of the United States have an especially low divorce rate. Mexican-American women born in the United States, however, have a divorce rate comparable to non-Hispanic Whites (Sweeney & Phillips, 2004).

UNION DISRUPTION AMONG UNMARRIED PARENTS During the past few decades, rates of nonmarital childbearing have increased substantially, more than doubling, from 18% in 1980 to 38% in 2006 (U.S. Census Bureau, 1985, 2008). The Fragile Families Study indicates that about half of unmarried mothers and fathers are living together when their children are born, and another one third is in some type of romantic (or visiting) relationship (McLanahan et al., 2003). These informal unions, however, tend to be unstable. The Fragile Families Study shows that 5 years after the child’s birth, 26% of cohabiting couples had married and 45% had separated. Correspondingly, 7% of visiting couples had married and 72% had separated (Center for Research on Child Wellbeing, 2007). (See the chapter by Carlson and McLanahan for a detailed discussion of these families.) If we count these informal union disruptions, then the percentage of children experiencing family disruption has continued to increase, despite the decline in the divorce rate. For example, The National Survey of America’s Families shows that the percentage of children living with two continuously married biological (or adoptive) parents declined from 62% to 60% during the relatively short period between 1997 and 2002 (Urban Institute, 2009).

Predictors of Divorce 179




Although the United States has one of the highest rates of divorce in the world, divorce rates have been rising in many countries in recent decades. For example, between 1970 and 2005, the crude divorce rate increased from 1.5 to 2.8 in England and Wales, from 0.93 to 2.50 in France, from 1.13 to 1.80 in Poland, from 0.32 to 0.80 in Italy, and from 0.95 to 2.4 in Norway. Similarly, the crude divorce rate between 1979 and 2005 increased from 0.33 to 1.40 in China, from 0.72 to 2.75 in Taiwan, from 0.39 to 2.60 in Korea, and from 1.20 to 2.10 in Japan. Correspondingly, between 1971 and 2002, the crude divorce rate rose from 0.21 to 0.70 in Mexico, from 0.17 to 1.90 in Costa Rica, from 0.36 to 1.2 in Trinidad, and from 0.28 to 0.70 in Jamaica. Although these are just a few examples, similar trends appear across many countries in different parts of the world (United Nations, 1999; Eurostat, 2008). Given these trends, explanations for the increase in divorce cannot be attributed to factors that are idiosyncratic to a particular society. Instead, explanations must be relevant to countries in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean. Many scholars view the widespread increase in divorce as part of the second demographic transition, which includes related trends such as delays in age at first marriage, rising nonmarital cohabitation, and increases in nonmarital births (Lesthaeghe, 1995; McLanahan, 2004). Presumably, these changes are driven by a variety of factors including modernization, women’s growing education and economic independence, a decline in religious influence, an increase in individualism, and a corresponding decline in communalism. PREDICTORS OF DIVORCE Research by demographers and sociologists in the United States during the past decade has shown that risk factors for divorce include marrying as a teenager, being poor, having a low level of education, having no children from the marriage, bringing children from a previous union into a marriage, being in a second or higher order marriage, cohabiting prior to marriage, having no religious affiliation, not sharing the same religion with one’s spouse, living in an urban area, and growing up in a household without two continuously married parents (Bramlett & Mosher, 2002; Bratter & King, 2008; Mahoney et al., 2001; Sayer & Bianchi, 2000; Schoen, Astone, Rothert, Standish, & Kim, 2002; South, 2001; Sweeney & Phillips, 2004; Teachman, 2002, 2008). These demographic and economic predictors of divorce have remained relatively stable during the past several decades. Studies from European countries generally yield comparable results, including Hungary (Bukodi & Robert, 2003), the Netherlands (de Graaf & Kalmijn, 2006), Italy (Vignoli & Ferro, 2009), Finland (Jalovaara, 2003), Sweden (Liu, 2002) and Europe in general (Wagner & Wei, 2006). One exception involves education. In a multicountry study, Harkonen and Dronkers (2006) found that education and the risk of divorce were positively associated in some countries (France, Greece, Italy, Poland, and Spain), negatively associated in other countries (Austria, Lithuania), and not associated in yet other




countries (e.g., Finland, Hungary, Sweden, and Switzerland). The authors concluded that education is positively associated with divorce when marital dissolution is relatively uncommon and the social and economic costs are high, and there is no relationship or a negative relationship when marital dissolution is relatively common and the costs are low. A historical study of changing divorce patterns in the Netherlands supports this conclusion (de Graaf, & Kalmijn, 2006). In addition to examining socio-structural variables, other researchers have used longitudinal data to identify relationship characteristics that predict marital dissolution. Most of this research has been conducted in the United States. Predictors of divorce include frequent arguments; repeated expressions of negative affect; domestic violence; infidelity; and low levels of emotional support, commitment, love, and trust between spouses (Previti & Amato, 2004; Huston, Caughlin, Houts, & Smith, 2001; Clements, Stanley, & Markman, 2004; DeMaris, 2000; Gottman & Levenson, 2000; Kurdek, 2002; Lawrence & Bradbury, 2001; Story, Karney, Lawrence, & Bradbury, 2004). Although it seems obvious that low marital quality predicts divorce, not all couples report an elevated number of relationship problems prior to divorce. Amato and Hohmann-Marriott (2007) found two clusters of married couples who subsequently divorced. The first included couples who reported frequent arguments, physical aggression, thoughts of divorce, and, correspondingly, low levels of marital happiness and interaction. The second cluster included couples with who reported few arguments, little or no physical aggression, few thoughts of divorce, and moderate levels of marital happiness and interaction. Despite these differences, the two groups shared a variety of risk characteristics for divorce, such as growing up in a divorced family, being in a second or higher order marriage, having liberal attitudes toward divorce, and perceiving positive alternatives to the present marriage. The authors concluded that an accumulation of risk factors can produce two pathways to divorce: (1) a high level of conflict and unhappiness with the marriage and (2) a low level of commitment to the marriage. CONSEQUENCES OF DIVORCE FOR MEN AND FATHERS As noted in earlier reviews, divorced individuals tend to score lower than continuously married individuals on measures of psychological well-being and physical health, and recent studies from the United States have continued to replicate this finding (Bierman, Fazio, & Milkie, 2006; Hetherington, 2003; Williams, 2003). Comparable findings also have been obtained in many European countries (Brockmann & Klein, 2004; Lorant et al., 2005; Thuen, 2000). In a comprehensive study based on a sample of American men in midlife, Zhang and Hayward (2006) reported that divorced men, compared with continuously married men, had significantly lower household incomes ($36,900 vs. $63,700), lower household wealth ($140,500 vs. $303,400), and a greater likelihood of having no health insurance (26% vs. 17%). Furthermore, divorced men, compared with married men, were twice as likely to be smokers (44% vs. 22%), nearly twice as likely to be heavy drinkers (13%

Consequences of Divorce for Men and Fathers 181

vs. 7%), twice as likely to be clinically depressed (1% vs. 0.5%), and three times as likely to report emotional problems (12% vs. 4%). Several explanations have been offered for these differences. The most commonly accepted explanation refers to protective factors and stress associated with different marital statuses. Marital dissolution is a stressful experience for most individuals, and stress can have adverse effects on mental and physical health. Moreover, stress does not necessarily dissipate after the divorce is concluded. Many custodial mothers face chronic strains due to the demands of solo parenting and raising children on a reduced budget. Similarly, many noncustodial fathers face chronic strains due to a decrease in contact with their children and the difficulties of maintaining close father–child relationships under conditions of limited access. Marriage, in contrast, provides many benefits, including emotional support and economic security, and the loss of these benefits is likely to erode well-being. Finally, spouses often encourage one another to adopt healthier lifestyles and to minimize potentially harmful behaviors, such as excessive alcohol use or smoking. An alternative explanation refers to selection—the notion that mental or physical health problems are causes, rather than consequences, of divorce. Recent research, however, has provided little support for the selection perspective (e.g., Simon, 2002; Williams & Dunne-Bryant, 2006). DIVORCED MEN COMPARED WITH DIVORCED WOMEN Disagreement exists as to whether the negative effects of divorce are more severe for men or women. Writing from a feminist perspective, Bernard (1972) was one of the first social scientists to argue that marriage benefits men at the expense of women. For this reason, Bernard believed that divorce was detrimental to the well-being of most men but beneficial to the well-being of most women. Although some early research appeared to support Bernard’s thesis, more recent research on this topic has produced conflicting results. Consistent with Bernard’s thesis, some studies have reported that men have more psychological and health problems following divorce than do women (Brockman & Klein, 2004; Hetherington, 2003; Williams & Umberson, 2004). Similarly, a Spanish study found that divorced men had a higher risk of mortality than did married men, and divorced women had a lower risk of mortality than did married women (Burgoa, Regidor, Rodriguez, & Gutierrez-Fisac, 1998). Contrary to Bernard’s thesis, other studies have reported that women have more adjustment problems following divorce than do men (Dupre & Meadows, 2007; Williams & Dunne-Bryant, 2006). Yet other studies have found no gender differences in postdivorce well-being (Amato & HohmannMarriott, 2007; Bierman et al., 2006; Williams, 2003). Although Wang and Amato (2000) found no significant gender differences across three domains of divorce adjustment (general adjustment, attachment to the ex-spouse, and positive life appraisals), they found that women were more likely than men to initiate divorce. Because initiators tend to adjust more quickly, women are advantaged relative to men in this respect. Due to differences in socialization (and perhaps biology), divorced men and women tend to react to stress in different ways. For example, some




studies show that divorced men are particularly likely to report externalizing problems, such as alcohol abuse, whereas divorced women are particularly likely to report internalizing problems, such as depression (Barrett, 2003; Simon, 2002; Williams & Dunne-Bryant, 2006). Simon argued that these gender-linked problems can be viewed as functionally equivalent. Consequently, men’s and women’s divergent problems may offset one another, leaving men no more or less disadvantaged than women following marital dissolution. If this is true, then studies may show that the negative outcomes of divorce are more severe for one gender than the other, but only because they have failed to incorporate multiple dimensions of adjustment. Other studies have examined gender differences in postdivorce financial well-being. As in previous decades, recent literature continues to show that women, compared with men, suffer more severe financial difficulties and accumulate less wealth following marital dissolution (Hirschil, Altobelli, & Rank, 2003; Wilmoth & Koso, 2002). European studies also show that women are more finally disadvantaged following divorce, although the extent of disadvantage varies with a particular country’s social policies (Andress, Borgloh, Brockel, Giesselmann, & Hummelsheim, 2006). McManus and DiPrete (2001) argued that the level of economic interdependence between husbands and wives has increased in recent years due to women’s increased labor force participation, the rise in women’s real wages, the decline in male earnings, and the greater sharing of household labor between spouses. Their analysis found that men are more likely now than in the past to lose financial ground following divorce, mainly because most men these days cannot fully compensate for the loss of their former wives’ income. The one exception occurred in households in which male breadwinners provided 80% or more of household income. Among these men, divorce was associated with a 17% increase in their standard of living. Nevertheless, when child support payments and taxes were accounted for, the ‘‘increase’’ declined to a nonsignificant 1%. Conversely, men who contributed between 60% and 80% of the predivorce household income saw declines of about 8% in their standard of living after accounting for child support payments and taxes. Along similar lines, Braver (1999) found that mothers had substantially lower household incomes than did fathers following divorce. The gender gap in standard of living closed, however, once taxes, government transfers, child support, and alimony were taken into consideration. Another economic analysis found that maintaining contact with a nonresident child is expensive (equivalent to 40% of the cost of maintaining a child in a two-parent middle class household), mainly due to the costs of providing a child-appropriate environment in the father’s home during visits (Henman & Mitchell, 2001). In fact, many poor fathers have a lower standard of living following divorce than do their ex-wives (Stirling & Aldrich, 2008). Because some low-income fathers have children spread across multiple households, economic obligations to nonresident children can accumulate and overwhelm the financial stability of these men (Meyer, Cancian, & Cook, 2005). These studies suggest that there are more similarities than differences in the financial well-being

Consequences of Divorce for Men and Fathers 183

of men and women following divorce—a conclusion that runs contrary to common perceptions. After divorce, men appear to have one clear advantage over women: They form new partnerships more quickly and at higher rates (Sweeney, 2002). For example, Wu and Schimmele (2005) found that within 5 years of divorce, 54% of men and 42% of women had formed a second union (counting marriages and cohabitations). Finding a new partner is one of the best predictors of mental and physical well-being following divorce (Johnson & Wu, 2002; Wang & Amato, 2000; Zhang & Hayward, 2006). Presumably, women require more time to find new partners because many have resident children (which makes them less desirable on the marriage market), earn lower incomes, and (especially at later ages) face a more restricted pool of available single partners. DIVORCED FATHERS COMPARED



For fathers, divorce involves stressors and strains that childless men do not encounter. Divorced fathers are often faced with several emotionally draining events at once—not only mourning a failed marital relationship, but also (in most cases) losing custody of a child, becoming a nonresident parent, and receiving orders to pay child support. For many men, the loss of time with children is emotionally painful. Many fathers complain that limited ‘‘visitation’’ agreements make it difficult to enact the parental role and maintain close ties with their children. As a result, many noncustodial fathers develop relationships with their children that are largely recreational in nature—an arrangement that is less than satisfying for fathers as well as for children (Amato & Sobolewski, 2004). Taken together, the emotional and financial strain associated with divorce may leave fathers worse off than their childless counterparts. Although the role of fatherhood in moderating the effects of divorce on men would appear to be a topic of considerable interest, relatively few studies have explored this issue. Williams & Dunne-Bryant (2006) presented mixed evidence for this conclusion. On the one hand, they found that divorce was followed by more increases in symptoms of depression among men with young children (age 5 or less) than among men without young children. On the other hand, divorce was associated with elevated alcohol use among all men, irrespective of whether they had young children. Several other studies provide indirect evidence that fatherhood exacerbates the negative effects of divorce on men. Umberson and Williams (1993) found that divorced fathers reported higher levels of parental role strain than did married fathers. This study also found that the estimated effects of divorce on men’s psychological distress and alcohol consumption were partly explained by elevated levels of parental role strain. Eggebeen and Knoester (2001) found that involvement with children was positively associated with the psychological well-being of married men but not of divorced men—suggesting that paternal involvement is not especially rewarding for divorced fathers. Taken together, this research appears to support the notion that divorce is more stressful for fathers than for childless men, although more research on this topic is warranted.




FACTORS THAT AFFECT MEN’S DIVORCE ADJUSTMENT A few recent studies have focused on factors that make divorce more or less problematic for adults. In general, these factors appear to be similar for men and women. Bierman et al. (2006) found that divorced men (and women) reported lower levels of psychological distress, less alcohol abuse, and a stronger sense of purpose in life if they were not experiencing economic strain, were employed, and had emotional support from friends and family. Another study by Wang and Amato (2000) found that adjustment to divorce was positively associated with postdivorce income, dating someone steadily, remarriage, holding favorable attitudes toward marital dissolution prior to divorce, and being the person who initiated the divorce. Amato and Hohmann-Marriott (2007) found that postdivorce global happiness was contingent on the quality of marriage prior to dissolution. When marriages were seriously troubled, former husbands as well as wives reported improvements in happiness. But when marriages were not seriously troubled, former husbands and wives reported declines in happiness. This finding is consistent with the notion that divorce can represent an ‘‘escape’’ from an aversive home environment. At the same time, individuals who leave marriages that are not seriously troubled may underestimate the stress inherent in divorce and adapting to a single lifestyle, as well as the benefits they enjoyed while married.

CHILDREN’S ADJUSTMENT TO DIVORCE Recent research in the United States continues to show that children with divorced parents, compared with children with continuously married parents, tend to score lower on a variety of emotional, behavioral, social, health, and academic outcomes. In addition, adults with divorced parents tend to obtain low levels of education, report more difficulties in forming intimate relationships, experience more problems in their own marriages, and are at greater risk of seeing their own marriages end in divorce. Most of these outcomes also appear for children who experience the dissolution of their unmarried parents’ unions. (For a review, see Amato, 2005). The effect sizes associated with divorce tend to be modest, however—a fact that reflects the diversity of outcomes among children in all types of family structures. Although some variation exists across countries, research conducted in European countries is generally consistent with research conducted in the United States. For example, parental divorce has been shown to be associated with internalizing and externalizing problems in children and young adults in England (Cherlin, Chase-Lansdale, & McRae, 1998), Bulgaria (Christopoulos, 2001), Finland (Aro & Palosaari, 1992), Norway (Strksen, Roysamb, Holmen, & Tambs, 2006), and the Netherlands (Spruijt & Duindam, 2005; van der Valk, Spruijt, Goede, Meeus, & Maas, 2004). Similarly, divorce is related to lower educational attainment among offspring in Italy (Albertini & Dronkers, 2009) and Sweden (Jonsson & Gaehler, 1997). In Denmark, parental divorce is associated with more delinquency and crime among male adolescents and young adults (Mednick, Baker, & Carothers, 1990). Finally, Dronkers and

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Harkonen (2008) found support for the intergenerational transmission of divorce in 16 out of 17 European countries. (See a meta-analysis by Wagner & Wei, 2006, for a similar result). Despite variations in history, culture, and policy contexts, the link between parental divorce and child problems is common throughout Europe—not just in the United States. ARE







An increasing number of studies have attempted to determine whether the effects of divorce on children are causal or spurious. Methods have included the use of fixed-effects models (Cherlin et al., 1998), genetically informed designs (D’Onofrio et al., 2006), and longitudinal analyses that compare children’s well-being prior to and following divorce (Sun, 2001; Sun & Li, 2002). Although not all studies are in agreement, the majority suggest that most of the links between divorce and children’s well-being cannot be accounted for by unobserved variables, genetic factors, or predivorce characteristics of the family of origin. One can make the argument, however, that these studies are somewhat misguided, given that they focus on measures of central tendency (e.g., mean differences between groups) rather than dispersion (or variability within groups). The accumulated evidence makes clear that divorce does not have uniform consequences for children. Indeed, some children adjust relatively quickly to divorce, whereas others show serious negative symptoms that persist across the life course. A more profitable focus of research, therefore, would be on the factors that produce variability in children’s reactions to divorce—not on whether a significant mean difference exists between children with divorced and continuously married parents. FACTORS THAT AFFECT CHILDREN’S ADJUSTMENT



Many studies have attempted to delineate the factors that mediate or moderate the link between parental divorce and child well-being. Variables that appear to be mediators of divorce include the child’s standard of living following divorce (Biblarz & Gottainer, 2000; Carlson & Corcoran, 2001), psychological distress among resident parents—usually mothers (Carlson & Corcoran; Tein, Sandler, & Zautra, 2000), positive parenting from resident parents—usually mothers (Cavanagh, 2008; King, 2002; King & Sobolewski, 2006; Sandler, Miles, Cookston, & Braver, 2008), positive parenting from nonresident parents—usually fathers (Ahrons & Tanner, 2003; Carlson, 2006; Fabricius, & Luecken, 2007; King & Sobolewski, 2006; Martinez & Forgatch, 2002), and the extent of conflict or cooperation between parents following divorce (Ahrons & Tanner; Fabricius & Luecken; Pruett, Williams, Insabella, & Little, 2003; Sandler et al., 2008). Although some studies have found that the estimated effects of divorce are stronger for children of one gender than the other (Hill, Yeung, & Duncan, 2001; Oldehinkel, Ormel, Veenstra, De Winter, & Verhulst, 2008), most studies have uncovered little evidence of gender differences in reactions to divorce (Sun, 2001; Sun & Li, 2002; Woodward, & Fergusson, 2000). With respect to race and ethnicity, one study found no racial or ethnic differences in




the estimated effects of family structure on adolescent drug use (Broman, Li, & Reckase, 2008). In contrast, Heard (2007) found that the links between family structure and adolescent school performance were weaker for Blacks and Hispanics than for Whites. Another study found that growing up in a divorced family had similar implications for the marital quality of Black and White adult offspring (Timmer & Veroff, 2000). Sun and Li (2007) found that following marital disruption, White, Asian, and African-American adolescents exhibited greater maladjustment than did their Hispanic counterparts. Overall, it is difficult to reach conclusions about racial and ethnic differences in divorce adjustment given the small number of studies. An important but understudied moderator is the quality of family relationships prior to divorce. Research in the 1990s indicated that children tend to show improvements (or relatively little change) in multiple forms of well-being if the divorce ends a high-conflict marriage but tend to show declines in multiple forms of well-being if the divorce ends a low-conflict marriage (e.g., Amato, Loomis, & Booth, 1995). Studies conducted during the last decade have continued to replicate this finding (Booth & Amato, 2001; Strohschein, 2005). Correspondingly, a study by Videon (2002) found that the more attached adolescents were to the same-sex parent prior to divorce, the more likely they were to engage in delinquent behavior if the divorce separated them from this parent. NONRESIDENT FATHERS AND THEIR CHILDREN Due to the rise in family disruption (marriages as well as cohabiting unions with children) during the past half-century, more children are living apart from their biological fathers than at any time in American history (Harris & Ryan, 2004). Research on nonresident fathers and the role that these men play in their children’s lives has developed alongside these demographic trends. (See Chapter 7 for additional information on nonresident fathers.) CONTACT BETWEEN NONRESIDENT FATHERS



In general, the perception that most nonresident fathers have little contact with their children appears to be widespread (Troilo & Coleman, 2007). Nevertheless, levels of father–child contact have increased substantially during the past several decades. In the most recent study to provide relevant data, Amato, Meyers, and Emery (2009) pooled data from four nationally representative samples collected over a 27-year period. Their findings indicated that the percentage of 6- to 12-year-old children who saw their nonresident fathers weekly rose from 18 in 1976 to 31 in 2002. During the same period, the percentage of children who had no contact with their fathers in the previous year declined from 37 to 29. Because these data were based on mothers’ reports, and because mothers tend to underreport contact (Braver, Wolchik, Sandler, Fogas, & Zvetina, 1991), the authors cautioned that these numbers should be treated as lower bound estimates of fathers’ actual involvement.

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Many researchers have focused on the factors that influence the frequency of contact. Divorced fathers tend to have more contact with their children than do fathers who were never married to their children’s mothers (Amato, Meyers, & Emery, 2009; Aquilino, 2006; Cheadle, Amato, & King, in press; Cooksey & Craig, 1998). Other factors that are positively correlated with the frequency of contact are the father’s religiosity (King, 2003), age (Landale & Oropesa, 2001; Manning, Stewart, & Smock, 2003), education (Cheadle, Amato, & King, in press; Cooksey & Craig, 1998; King, Harris, & Heard, 2004), and income (Swiss & Le Bourdais, 2009). In addition, fathers have more contact when they have a cooperative relationship with the child’s mother (Sobolewski & King, 2005). Some studies suggest that nonresident fathers have more regular contact with sons than daughters (Hetherington, 2003) and with older than younger children (Aquilino, 2006; Cheadle, Amato, & King, in press). Research on child characteristics is inconsistent, however, with many studies failing to replicate these findings. Several studies have shown that nonresident fathers see their children less frequently after they remarry or form cohabiting relationships (Stephens, 1996; Swiss & Le Bourdais, 2009). This trend is especially pronounced when these new unions are formed quickly, before fathers and children have established the structure of their postseparation relationships (Juby, Billette, Laplante, & Le Bourdais, 2007). Also important is whether fathers have children with their new partners (Manning & Smock, 1999; Manning, Stewart, & Smock, 2003; Seltzer, Shaeffer, & Charng, 1989). Presumably, men’s commitment to children in new unions consumes time and other resources that might otherwise have been devoted to children from previous unions. A number of studies have shown that father contact is most frequent when mothers are single and tends to decline after mothers remarry or cohabit with new partners (Amato et al., 2009; Juby et al., 2007; Landale & Oropesa, 2001; Manning et al., 2003; Seltzer et al., 1989). This decline may occur because some fathers feel that their presence is less necessary due to the addition of another male role model in the child’s home. Correspondingly, some mothers may discourage contact because they do not want it to interfere with their new relationships (England & Edin, 2007; Harris & Ryan, 2004). The geographical distance between children’s and fathers’ households is consistently and negatively associated with the frequency of contact (Cheadle et al., in press; Cooksey & Craig, 1998; Manning & Smock, 1999; Seltzer et al., 1989). This association may occur for two reasons. On the one hand, when mothers initiate the move, the additional time and money necessary to maintain frequent involvement is likely to decrease paternal contact. On the other hand, men with weak commitments to their children may experience few internal constraints on moving away from their children’s households, despite the fact that this makes contact more difficult. The latter interpretation is consistent with Cooksey and Craig, who found that fathers living more than 100 miles away engaged in fewer telephone calls with their children as well as fewer face-to-face visits. Father contact also may vary with race and ethnicity, although research findings are inconsistent. One study found that White adolescents reported higher levels of contact than did Black and Hispanic adolescents (King et al.,




2004). In contrast, Thomas, Krampe, and Newton (2008) reported that adult African-Americans who grew up with single mothers felt closer to their fathers than did their White counterparts. In a study of low-income families, nonresident White fathers had less contact with young children than did African-American and Hispanic fathers (Cabrera, Ryan, Mitchell, Shannon, & Tamis-LeMonda, 2008). This difference may have occurred because White fathers were the least likely to maintain romantic relationships with the mothers after separation and most likely to repartner in the following years. Other studies have shown that Hispanic children are visited less often by fathers than are children from other racial or ethnic groups (Amato et al., 2009; King et al., 2004; Seltzer & Bianchi, 1988). Although the patterns are less than clear, racial and ethnic differences in father contact presumably reflect a complex mix of structural, economic, and cultural factors. STABILITY





Many researchers have suggested that paternal contact tends to decline over time following separation or divorce (e.g., Clarke-Stewart & Brentano, 2006; Hofferth et al., 2007). New research, however, reveals multiple patterns of involvement over time, and declining involvement does not appear to be an accurate description of most fathers’ behavior (Juby et al., 2007; Fabricius & Hall, 2000; Manning & Smock, 1999). Using a nationally representative sample, Cheadle et al. (in press) used growth mixture models to reveal four patterns of nonresident father involvement over a 12-year period. This study suggested that most fathers have relatively stable levels of contact with nonresidential children. The largest group of fathers (38%) was highly involved with their children over the course of the study, seeing their children at least weekly in the first year following union dissolution and maintaining a high level of contact for up to 12 years. The second-largest group (32%) consisted of uninvolved fathers who saw their children once a year or less in the first year and showed no subsequent increase. The third-largest group (23%) consisted of fathers who were initially highly involved with their children and then became relatively uninvolved, with contact declining from about once a week to once every 2 to 6 months. Finally, a small group of fathers (7%) started with low levels of contact in the first year (with an average visitation rate of between one and six times a year) and then gradually increased the frequency of visitation over the next decade to about one to three times a month. Several tentative conclusions can be drawn from this study. First, many men are highly involved with their children following union disruption. Indeed, 61% of men in this sample visited their children once a week or more immediately following separation, and nearly half (45%) visited once a month or more after 12 years. Second, stability is the rule rather than the exception, and most fathers are stably involved, or stably uninvolved, with their children. Less than a third of fathers changed their frequency of contact during the 12-year period. Third, stability of contact is strongly linked to the father’s initial levels of visitation, which suggest that men who develop early patterns of involvement are likely to continue being involved and, conversely,

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initially uninvolved fathers are likely to remain uninvolved. Although many observers report that fathers tend to decrease their involvement with children over time, the majority of fathers maintain relatively consistent patterns of contact that neither increase nor decrease in frequency. CONTACT



One of the reasons father contact has been studied so frequently is its positive association with fathers’ economic involvement. Recent research is congruent with earlier studies in demonstrating that the more contact men have with their children, the larger and more consistent are their financial contributions to their children (Amato et al., 2009; Cheadle et al., in press; Huang, 2009; Juby, Le Bourdais, & Marcil-Gratton, 2005; Bartfeld, 2000). Although there is a strong connection between these two components of involvement, the causal direction is unclear. One possibility is that fathers who visit their children frequently are more aware of their children’s needs, so they increase support payments. A second possibility is that fathers who make consistent payments visit their children frequently to make sure their money is being spent properly. Alternatively, high-paying fathers may visit frequently because they feel they have earned the right, and their former wives may concur. In addition, contact and paying child support may reciprocally influence one another, or both behaviors may be caused by a third variable, such as fathers’ commitment to their children. One study attempted to sort out the direction of influence by applying cross-lagged models of paternal contact and economic support to longitudinal data (Nepomnyaschy, 2007). The author found that the causal order appeared to run primarily from child support payments to contact, with men who made regular payments at time 1 tending to increase their frequency of contact between times 1 and 2. THE QUALITY



Currently, family scholars know more about the frequency of nonresident father–child contact than the quality of these relationships. Nevertheless, most scholars recognize that the quality of the father–child relationship is more important for children than the quantity of time spent together (Amato & Gilbreth, 1999). At one extreme, if nonresident fathers are abusive toward their children, or if fathers have strong antisocial personality traits, then frequent contact is not in the children’s best interest (Blazei, Iacono, & McGue, 2008). More commonly, nonresidential fathers engage in ‘‘recreational parenting,’’ as reflected in activities such as going to restaurants, movies, or sporting events. Although these types of activities are not harmful to children, it is doubtful whether they contribute a great deal to children’s development. Authoritative parenting, which combines emotional warmth with rule setting and monitoring, is generally considered to be in children’s best interest (Amato & Sobolewski, 2004). Authoritative parents also provide practical assistance to children with everyday problems, encourage their children’s academic success, and teach children about moral issues. This form of




parenting requires not only availability, but also high levels of what Lamb, Pleck, and Levine (1985) have referred to as engagement and responsibility. Unfortunately, the time restrictions of many visitation arrangements make it difficult for even well-intentioned fathers to engage in authoritative parenting (Lamb, 1999; Amato & Sobolewski, 2004). The limited time that nonresident fathers see their children is qualitatively different from the extended time that residential fathers have with their children. Pasley and Braver (2004) noted that many fathers are restricted to face-to-face contact with their children on weekends—a time when leisure activities commonly occur in most families. Indeed, many nonresident fathers are reluctant to spend their time disciplining their children or even engaging in activities like assistance with homework. Research by Cashmore, Parkinson, and Taylor (2008) supports the notion that when nonresidential fathers expand the context of their visitation—even if they do not increase the amount of time spent with their children—children benefit. Specifically, the authors found that Australian adolescents who had overnight stays with their nonresident fathers reported stronger feelings of closeness and better relationship quality than did adolescents who saw their fathers only during the day, even after controlling for the amount of contact between the father and child as well as the level of conflict between the parents. NONRESIDENT FATHERS



A meta-analysis by Amato and Gilbreth (1999) reviewed 63 studies that included data on nonresident father involvement and children’s internalizing problems, externalizing problems, and academic attainment. Their analysis revealed that the frequency of contact was not significantly associated with any type of child outcome. In contrast, forms of father involvement that reflected aspects of authoritative parenting (such as offering praise, expressing warmth, talking with children about their problems, and providing supervision) were significantly associated with all three types of child outcomes in the anticipated direction. The meta-analysis demonstrated that positive forms of father involvement are more important than the simple frequency of contact in understanding children’s adjustment and development. More recent studies also are consistent with this conclusion (e.g., King & Sobolewski, 2006; Pruett et al., 2003). Although it is tempting to assume that authoritative parenting on the part of nonresident fathers has a positive effect on children, most prior studies in this literature have been cross-sectional. For this reason, an alternative explanation is equally likely. That is, fathers may be especially motivated to visit happy, well-behaved, academically successful children. Correspondingly, fathers may be disinclined to visit children who are depressed, poorly behaved, and failing at school. In other words, the causal direction may run primarily from children to fathers. A study by Hawkins, Amato, and King (2007) provided support for a child effects model. Conducting cross-lagged analyses with longitudinal data, the authors found that the causal direction appears to run from adolescent

Recommendations for Future Research 191

children to nonresident fathers. That is, if children were well adjusted at time 1, fathers became more deeply involved with their children between times 1 and 2. Correspondingly, if children were poorly adjusted at time 1, fathers tended to become less involved with their children between times 1 and 2. In married-couple families, in contrast, the authors found evidence of reciprocal effects between resident fathers and their adolescent children. The authors were cautious about generalizing these finding, however, until further replications have been published with other data sets, especially with children in other age groups. Of course, frequent and positive father involvement may have beneficial effects that are not captured by standardized measures of well-being and adjustment. Studies indicate that offspring who had high levels of contact following divorce, compared with offspring who had low levels of contact, reported a number of positive outcomes in adulthood, including feeling closer to their fathers, less abandoned by their fathers, more certain of their fathers’ love, less anger toward their parents, and more favorable about the postdivorce years (Fabricius, 2003; Fabricius & Luecken, 2007; LaumannBillings & Emery, 2000). Similarly, Fabricius found that most young adults with divorced parents endorsed postdivorce living arrangements that provide more time with fathers. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH Given the breadth of the current chapter, it is not possible to provide a comprehensive list of recommendations for future studies. Nevertheless, the following topics have the potential to advance our understanding of fathers, children, and divorce: 1. The divorce rate in the United States has declined since the 1980s, but this trend was offset by an increase in the number of children born to unmarried, cohabiting parents. These informal unions are less stable than marriages, however. Additional research on the implications of these union disruptions for children, as well as the roles that unmarried biological fathers play in the lives of their children following union disruption, is sorely needed. 2. Studies suggest that the effects of divorce on parents and children vary with race and ethnicity. Yet the number of existing studies is too small to reach definitive (or even tentative) conclusions about these differences. More studies that focus on racial and ethnic diversity are clearly needed. Similarly, although a few studies have addressed racial and ethnic differences in the roles that nonresident fathers play in their children’s lives, current knowledge is sparse. More studies that focus on racial and ethnic differences would be useful in understanding diversity in father involvement following divorce. 3. Although many studies have estimated the effects of marital disruption on the well-being of men, few studies have considered parental status as a moderating variable. Consequently, we know little about whether




divorce is a more difficult experience for men who have fathered children within the union than for men who have not. This topic would be relatively easy to address with existing data sets. 4. As noted earlier, most studies on nonresident father involvement and child outcomes have not addressed the possibility of reciprocal effects or child effects. More longitudinal studies using cross-lagged models would help to sort out the direction of influence between nonresident fathers and their children. 5. A growing research literature on the causes and consequences of divorce is emerging from European countries. More comparative research is necessary to understand the extent to which divorce-related phenomena are specific to certain countries and cultural settings or can be generalized across a range of settings. New research from other parts of the world, such as Asia and Latin America, would enrich our understanding considerably. IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE AND POLICY The breadth of material covered in this chapter makes it difficult to provide a comprehensive list of recommendations for practice and policy. Nevertheless, the following short list provides a sample of possibilities that practitioners and policy makers may wish to consider. 1. Divorced men and women, on average, have lower levels of mental and physical health than do married individuals. Moreover, these differences can persist for long periods of time due to chronic strains associated with single parenthood—for nonresident as well as resident parents. Practitioners should not assume that once parents have ‘‘survived’’ the crisis period that recovery is complete. Divorced fathers and mothers need to learn adaptive coping skills, especially with respect to chronic parenting strain, that will help them to function well over the long haul—which generally means until their children are grown. 2. Although frequent contact with nonresident fathers may not be appropriate for all children, increasing the level of father contact and improving the quality of father–child relationships would benefit many children as well as fathers. Consequently, policies and interventions designed to improve ties between fathers and children should be maintained and encouraged. These include the use of nonadversarial methods of dispute resolution, such as mediation, collaborative law, and parenting coordination; education classes for divorcing parents; and Responsible Fatherhood initiatives that help fathers to meet their child support obligations, increase fathers’ access to their children, and encourage better quality parenting. 3. As noted earlier, the frequency of nonresident father–child contact has increased in recent decades. Although this is a positive trend, a potential risk is that disputes between parents also may increase. As we move toward a postdivorce family system in which fathers are more involved, a key task is to help parents play useful roles in their children’s lives

References 193

while avoiding the tension that often persists between former spouses. An objective of education, therapy, and mediation should be to help parents separate the romantic and parental aspects of their relationships, avoid postdivorce conflict, and develop at least minimally cooperative coparental relationships. 4. Finally, as noted earlier, only about one-half of children in the United States will grow up with two continuously married parents. And the rate of divorce appears to be increasing throughout much of the world. Without doubt, for spouses and children who find themselves in hostile, dysfunctional, and abusive family settings, divorce provides an escape and a second chance for happiness. But given the high rate of divorce, as well as the high level of union dissolution among unmarried parents, it is reasonable to assume that too many families are disrupted every year, too many fathers and children are physically separated, and that many of these unions could be saved. Despite the best efforts of policy makers and practitioners to ‘‘soften the blow’’ of divorce, prevention is generally superior to—and more cost effective than—trying to fix a problem that has become intractable. Consequently, current efforts by the U.S. federal government, states, and communities to strengthen marriage and assist couples in developing healthy and stable relationships appears to be an appropriate and useful social policy goal. REFERENCES Ahrons, C. R., & Tanner, J. L. (2003). Adult children and their fathers: Relationship changes 20 years after parental divorce. Family Relations, 52, 340–351. Albertini, M., & Dronkers, J. (2009). Effects of divorce on children’s educational attainment in a Mediterranean and Catholic society: Evidence from Italy. European Societies, 11, 147–159. Amato, P. R. (2000). The consequences of divorce for adults and children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62, 1269–1287. Amato, P. R. (2005). The impact of family formation change on the cognitive, social, and emotional well-being of the next generation. Future of Children, 15, 75–96. Amato, P. R., & Gilbreth, J. G. (1999). Nonresident fathers and children’s well-being: A meta-analysis. Journal of Marriage and Family, 61, 557–573. Amato, P. R., & Hohmann-Marriott, B. (2007). A comparison of high and low-distress marriages that end in divorce. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 621–638. Amato, P. R., Loomis, L. S., & Booth, A. (1995). Parental divorce, marital conflict, and offspring well-being in early adulthood. Social Forces, 73, 895–916. Amato, P. R., Meyers, C. E., & Emery, R. E. (2009). Changes in nonresident father contact between 1976 and 2002. Family Relations, 58, 41–53. Amato, P. R., & Sobolewski, J. M. (2004). The effects of divorce on fathers and children: Nonresidential fathers and stepfathers. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of the father in child development (4th ed., pp. 341–367). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. Andress, H. J., Borgloh, B., Brockel, M., Giesselmann, M. & Hummelsheim, D. (2006). The economic consequences of partnership dissolution: A comparative analysis of panel studies from Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and Sweden. European Sociological Review, 22, 533–560. Aquilino, W. S. (2006). The noncustodial father–child relationship from adolescence into young adulthood. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68, 929–946.




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Custody and Parenting Time Links to Family Relationships and Well-Being After Divorce WILLIAM V. FABRICIUS, SANFORD L. BRAVER, PRISCILA DIAZ, and CLORINDA E. VELEZ

INTRODUCTION The father’s role in child development typically undergoes profound change when the parents divorce. Around much of the world, this eventuality became about twice as likely in the past 40 years as it ever was previously in our history (Shiono & Quinn, 1994). Although divorce rates have decreased since the peak in 1979–1981 (Fine & Harvey, 2006), by the time they reach age 16, the percentage of children who are anticipated to live in a divorced home is between 31% (Bumpass & Sweet, 1989) and 40% (Cherlin, 1992). Chapter 6 discusses many of the changes wrought by divorce in the father–child relationship. The goal of the current chapter, a new one for this series, is to survey what is known about how postdivorce parenting arrangements impact the family. In the past, these arrangements included determining which parent would be the child’s custodial parent, and how much visitation would occur between the child and the other parent. There is now a widespread movement to abolish the terms custody and visitation, and replace them with the more neutral terms parenting plans, parenting time, and decision-making responsibility (Emery, 2004; Kelly, 2004, 2007). As of 2005, 26 states had statutes addressing parenting plans (Douglas, 2006). In the European Union and the United Kingdom, the term parental responsibility predominates (Lowe, 2005), which both parents legally retain regardless of the residential order. In New Zealand, the 2004 Care of Children Act replaced the term custody with day-today care, and access or visitation with contact (Martindale-Hubbell Law Digest: New Zealand, 2008). Notwithstanding these attempts to reform nomenclature, many issues facing divorced families (e.g., determining child support, adjudicating relocation disputes, signing for a child’s driver’s license, taking the child out of the country) require designation of the parent with whom the child primarily lives or to whom the court grants legal decision-making authority. Thus, we 201




will use the corresponding terms residential custody and legal custody. We will use the term parenting time to refer to the distribution of the time the child resides with each parent. The form these arrangements take has a very strong overlay of law and policy, perhaps more so than other aspects of father–child relationships discussed in other chapters. Courts and legislatures take jurisdiction over custody and parenting time; what they decree is their primary point of entry or leverage over the divorced family, because they cannot control how (or even whether) parents use their parenting time. Often, courts accept or request advice from mental health professionals, such as custody evaluators. In exercising their authority, policy makers, judges, and custody evaluators (collectively, we refer to these as decision makers) implicitly or explicitly face the question of how custody and parenting time can be arranged to best serve divorcing families. We have therefore taken this question as the primary vantage point and goal for this review of the literature: what guidance the existing empirical research can give decision makers about the custody and parenting time arrangements that work best for children. Taking this perspective alerts us to gaps and methodological problems in the empirical literature. Thus, a second goal of this chapter becomes illuminating what directions future research needs to take to ultimately be more dispositive to such decisions. The chapter is organized into eight sections. First, we examine the current prevailing custody standard, the Best Interest of the Child standard (BIS), as well as contemporary proposed alternatives to this standard, in historical context. This section reveals that cultural norms about parenting shape custody policy. We argue that research into current public opinion about custody and parenting time is needed to inform the debates about alternative standards, and we present new findings on public opinion. Second, we examine current custody practice, in terms of both court awards and the processes of arriving at custody and parenting time provisions. This section reveals that while parents typically make these decisions themselves, they bargain within a complex social context, which includes, at a minimum, the law; the advice they receive about the court’s application of the law; and, as we illustrate with new data, their own beliefs about the lack of judicial fairness or bias. These social forces constrain their negotiations and affect the resulting distribution of parenting time arrangements. Third, we examine empirical research that directly compares various custody arrangements, which generally shows that joint custody benefits children most. An issue that arises, however, is the degree to which the research is useful to decision makers, since it may or may not generalize to situations in which the parents disagree about joint custody. We then segue to another discussion of how future research can yield information about likely outcomes from imposing joint custody. Fourth, we turn to the research on parenting time. We begin by noting that it is universally accepted—and generally honored in law—that a rich relationship with the father (as well as the mother) is in most cases beneficial for children. But there is less agreement about what policy will bring about that strong relationship. We next point out two problems with the research that have compromised the ability of researchers to give more definitive advice.

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One problem involves measurement. On the one hand, Kelly (2007) notes that we have had ‘‘no reliable measures to accurately record the numerous complexities and variations in contact patterns’’ (p. 37). We describe two new measures of parenting time. On the other hand, there is no consensus about how to measure the quality of father involvement. We illustrate a new measure that distinguishes between the quantity and quality of parent involvement from the young adolescent’s point of view. Another problem is conceptual. Researchers in the past tested simplified models that missed important processes by which the effects of parenting time are propagated. We propose a model in which the mediators of the effects of parenting time on long-term child outcomes are aspects of the father–child relationship, including the quantity and quality of father–child interactions and the child’s felt security in the relationship. We argue that the father–child relationship should be considered not only as a mediator of the effects of parenting time, but also as an important outcome in itself. Fifth, we review the recent studies on parenting time, the father–child relationship, and child outcomes that we feel are more definitive because they avoid some of these problems of the past. There is much evidence in these studies that the proximal effect of parenting time is on the father–child relationship, and that the quality of the ongoing father–child relationship is what propagates the effects of parenting time into the future on various aspects of wellbeing. Sixth, we evaluate the literature to provide answers to the questions of how much parenting time is necessary to achieve benefits for children in the usual case. Seventh, we do so in the case of especially high conflict between the parents. Finally, we conclude by summarizing the implications for policy and research, respectively, which stem from taking this broad perspective on custody and parenting time.

CHILD CUSTODY STANDARDS HISTORICAL TRENDS Child custody standards have historically reflected the gender roles prevailing at the time (Braver & O’Connell, 1998; Mason, 1994; Roth, 1976). Under Roman law, men had absolute control over their families and children were considered fathers’ property, whereas women had no legal rights. This patriarchal system of male ownership was continued into British common law, which added that fathers were also responsible for protecting, supporting, and educating children. British law, in turn, served as a foundation for early American law, which also mandated paternal custody throughout the 19th century. However, in the early 20th century, when the Industrial Revolution pulled fathers to work outside the home and mothers became children’s main caretakers, the trend reversed to maternal custody, especially for children of ‘‘tender years.’’ More recently, constitutional concerns about sex bias, cultural changes in parental roles, and the women’s movement prompted states to remove parent gender as a basis for custody and focus instead on the well-being of




the child. The Best Interest of the Child standard was introduced in 1970 as a Model Code under the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act. It was subsequently adopted by every state, and it remains the prevailing U.S. standard (Freed & Walker, 1986; Kelly, 1994). It also prevails internationally under Article 9.1 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). Under the BIS, as Kelly (1994) noted, ‘‘For the first time in history, custody decisions were to be based on a consideration of the needs and interests of the child rather than on the gender or rights of the parent’’ (p. 122). The BIS is generally considered to be an improvement over past standards because it accords primacy to children’s needs, and because it is egalitarian, flexible, and simple (Chambers, 1984; Warshak, 2007); nonetheless, it has been criticized for being vague and for allowing judges to rely on idiosyncratic biases (Chambers, 1984; Finley & Schwartz, 2007). Because rulings are unpredictable, some argue that it catalyzes parents to battle for custody (O’Connell, 2007). CONTEMPORARY PROPOSALS



Courts and legislatures have thus recently been urged to consider alternative standards to counter the alleged defects of the BIS. It is important to note that each of these alternatives purportedly upholds the child’s best interests as the focus of custody policy. Primary Caretaker. The Primary Caretaker standard (Chambers, 1984; Maccoby, 1999) presupposes that stability for the child is the factor most critical to the child’s well-being, and that the parent who provided the most child care during the marriage should be the one to obtain custody. Although this standard is ostensibly gender-neutral, in practice it promotes a preference for maternal custody, because the child care duties it credits (e.g., preparing meals, bathing, dressing, nurturing) are usually not provided primarily by fathers (Kelly, 1994). Only Minnesota adopted this standard, but repealed it 4 years later (Crippen, 1990). Approximation Rule. A modified version of the Primary Caretaker standard is the Approximation Rule, first proposed by Elizabeth Scott (1992), and later endorsed by the American Law Institute (ALI) in their influential Principles of the Law of Family Dissolution (2002). This standard, too, credits stability as the greatest contributor to child well-being, but recognizes that the secondary parent also has an important role to play. This standard is aimed at determining the distribution of parenting time with each parent: ‘‘The court should allocate custodial responsibility so that the proportion of custodial time the child spends with each parent approximates the proportion of time each parent spent performing caretaking functions for the child prior to the parents’ separation’’ (p. 1). Proponents (Emery, 2007; Kelly & Ward, 2002; Maccoby, 2005; O’Connell, 2007) contend that potential benefits include: (a) simplifying and expediting custody determinations, (b) offering a genderneutral criterion, (c) respecting decisions parents earlier made about childrearing patterns, (d) providing a means of measuring qualitative factors such

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as the strength of parent–child ties and parental competence, (e) reducing the incidence of custody litigation, (f) promoting stability of parent–child relationships, and (g) reducing the intrusion of the state into family matters. In contrast, opponents (Lamb, 2007; Riggs, 2005; Warshak, 2007) claim that its disadvantages include: (a) it does not consider that there will be changes to the parenting patterns after divorce; (b) it assumes the quantity of caretaking predicts the quality of the parent–child relationship, but evidence suggests that children typically become securely attached to both parents whatever their respective caregiving duties; (c) there are severe difficulties involved in measuring past caretaking time; (d) it does not consider other parenting functions such as providing a role model or moral guidance, and (e) in practice it is not likely to reduce the level of conflict between parents. Despite the imprimatur of the prestigious ALI’s endorsement, only West Virginia has adopted the Approximation Rule. Joint Custody. The Joint (or Shared) Custody standard is claimed by its proponents to be in the best interests of children because it credits factors even more critical to child well-being than stability: mutual parental responsibility and the children’s relationships with both parents. When considering this standard, joint physical or residential custody (specifying that the child will alternate residence with each parent) is generally distinguished from joint legal custody (specifying that both parents retain legal authority to make decisions about the child’s education, medical care, religious upbringing, etc.). In 1979, California became the first state to authorize joint custody (Folberg, 1991), but joint legal custody, joint physical custody, or both are currently permitted in 44 states (Family Law in the Fifty States Case Digests, 2008). There is a presumption in 7 to 10 states in favor of joint legal custody (which means it is customarily ordered even over the objection of one parent). In contrast, joint physical custody is typically authorized only when both parents request it. Only a few states (e.g., California) allow judges the discretion to order it over the objection of one parent, and only the District of Columbia has a joint physical custody presumption. Joint physical custody does not necessarily entail equal parenting time with each parent; splits as disparate as 30% vs. 70% often are called joint physical custody (Kelly, 2007; Venohr & Griffith, 2005). A limiting condition in most states is that joint custody (legal or physical) is treated as not appropriate when evidence of domestic violence is produced. In England and Wales, the 1989 Children’s Act gives courts the power to order ‘‘shared residence,’’ but it more typically grants instead a Sole Residence order, typically to the mother (Lowe, 2005). In Canada, the 1997 Divorce Act permits joint custody, which may involve equal decision making or equal residential time, or both, but sole maternal residential custody with the father granted access according to a detailed schedule is far more common (Douglas, 2001; Kruk, 2008). Australia currently is the only nation with presumptive equal physical custody, the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006 (see Chapter 20). Where reasonably practicable and unless shown not to be in the best interests of child, it requires courts to order that the child spend equal amounts of time with each parent.




In cases where equal time is determined to be not appropriate, the court must consider a parenting time arrangement that is substantial and significant for both parents (Bates, 2008). PUBLIC OPINION ABOUT CUSTODY



The preceding discussion illustrates that custody standards throughout history have reflected the prevailing cultural values and norms regarding parenting and gender roles. It is legitimate that these cultural standards should inform and even constrain custody standards, because parenting values and norms determine whether parents are willing and feel able to assume the custody that is granted to them. Likewise, the current impetus for a new standard reflects ongoing cultural evolution of parenting values and norms. For any new custody standard to accurately reflect contemporary cultural standards, however, the policy makers of today need to be acquainted with prevailing public opinion on custody issues. But, curiously, despite the popularity of polls and surveys in almost every other area of life, public opinion about postdivorce parenting arrangements has rarely been sought. In the next paragraphs, we review what is in fact known about public opinion concerning custody. The first attempt of which we are aware to assess public opinion about residential custody targeted a restricted slice of the public—young adults attending a large state university (Fabricius & Hall, 2000). The authors asked, ‘‘What do you feel is the best living arrangement for children after divorce?’’ Participants answered using a 9-point Likert scale ranging from ‘‘Live with mother and see father minimally or not at all’’ to ‘‘Live with father and see mother minimally or not at all,’’ with the midpoint being ‘‘Live equal amounts of time with both.’’1 Regardless of how the question was phrased over the course of several semesters, whether students were male or female, or from divorced or intact families, approximately 70 to 80% answered the midpoint category, ‘‘equal time’’ (Fabricius, 2003). In 2006, an advisory (i.e., nonbinding) ballot question appeared in Massachusetts: ‘‘There should be a presumption in child custody cases in favor of joint physical and legal custody, so that the court will order that the children have equal access to both parents as much as possible, except where there is clear and convincing evidence that one parent is unfit, or that joint custody is not possible due to the fault of one of the parents.’’ The proposition received 86% yes votes. Braver, Fabricius, and Ellman (2008) repeated that exact language on a public opinion survey to a representative sample of adult citizens in Tucson, Arizona, asking respondents to indicate how much they agreed with the statement on a 7-point Likert scale. Ninety percent responded

1. ‘‘Lived with mother, saw father (a) minimally or not at all; (b) some; (c) a moderate amount; (d) a lot; (e) Lived equal amounts of time with each; Lived with father, saw mother (f) a lot; (g) a moderate amount; (h) some; (i) minimally or not at all.’’

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on the ‘‘agree’’ side; 57% responded 7 (‘‘strongly agree’’) and another 30% responded 6. There were no significant differences by gender, age, education, income, political outlook, whether the respondents themselves were currently married, had ever divorced, had children, or had paid or received child support. To explore whether such a preference was only abstract and theoretical, or was in fact the preference citizens would like to see in practice, Braver, Fabricius, and Ellman (2008) developed a hypothetical custody case for use with a different representative sample of Tucson, Arizona, citizens. Mother and father were depicted as providing equal amounts of predivorce child care. The parents were further described as reasonably good parents who deeply loved their children, with a family life that was quite average, and children who were normally adjusted. Respondents were asked how they would award parenting time if they were judge, using the alternatives specified in Footnote 1. About 75% chose the option, ‘‘Live equal amounts of time with each parent.’’ Almost all the remainder chose ‘‘Live with mother, see father a lot.’’ In this scenario, because the parents provided equal amounts of predivorce child care, awards of equal parenting time could reflect adherence to either the Approximation Rule or the Joint Custody standard. However, Votruba (2008) modified the ‘‘equally involved’’ aspect of the scenario into a fully typical scenario, telling new respondents that the division of predivorce child care was ‘‘about like average families in which both parents work full-time (both M–F, 9-to-5).’’ The results were unchanged, suggesting respondents tacitly adhered to the Joint Custody standard rather than the Approximation Rule. Summary. Custody practices have historically reflected cultural norms about gender roles and parenting; we contend that this is completely appropriate. For example, in Trinidad and Tobago, boys’ entrance into the company of the men in the community is gradual and regulated over many years. Awarding equal parenting time within such cultural norms would not be in younger children’s best interests. Because it is the cultural norm, boys do not attribute fathers’ limited involvement with them to fathers’ lack of caring for them. In contrast, in our society, the norm has become for fathers to be more involved in children’s upbringing. Prohibitions or restrictions on fathers’ involvement post-divorce would not be in children’s best interests, because within our cultural norm, children are at risk for attributing limited postdivorce father involvement to fathers’ lack of caring for them. As we discuss later, that can undermine children’s emotional security in their relationships with their fathers and put them at risk for mental, physical, and behavioral health problems. There now appears to be a strong consensus among the general public that under normal circumstances, equal parenting time is best for the child. Large majorities favor it across several variations in question format, including variation in how much predivorce child care each parent provided. This powerful consensus would appear to lend support to a Joint Custody standard. Awards of equal parenting time continue to be rare, however, as we discuss next.









As several other writers have done (Argys et al., 2007; Clark, Whitney, & Beck, 1988; Maccoby & Mnookin, 2002), we distinguish between arrangements that are de jure (as specified in the decree) and de facto (as practiced day to day). We shall discuss only de jure custody (legal and physical) and de jure parenting time in this section; de facto parenting time requires consideration of measurement issues and so will await a later section. De Jure Legal and Physical Custody. According to several studies of state or jurisdiction-level statistics on legal and physical custody in the United States (Braver & O’Connell, 1998; DeLuse, 1999; Fox & Kelly, 1995; Logan, Walker, Horvath, & Leukefeld, 2003; Maccoby & Mnookin, 1992; Seltzer, 1990), mothers obtained primary de jure physical custody in 68 to 88% of cases, fathers did so in only 8 to 14% of cases, and joint physical was specified in 2 to 6%. These numbers also comport well with national U.S. figures (Argys et al., 2007; Emery, 1994; Nord & Zill, 1996; Saluter & Lugaila, 1998). Maccoby and Mnookin (1992) report a higher proportion (20%) of joint physical arrangements in California. And as noted earlier, Australia now has a presumption in favor of shared parenting, and statistics show that 15 to 19% of recent cases have equally shared custody and another 11 to 15% have at least 30% with each parent (see chapter 20). The rate of joint legal custody is more variable across the above studies, from 21% (Seltzer, 1990) to 76% (Maccoby & Mnookin, 1992) to 93% (Douglas, 2003). It has also changed much more than physical custody has over time. It is important to note that this change appears spontaneous, that is, not based on corresponding revisions in formal policy such as statute or court decisions. For example, in Canada, joint legal custody increased from 14% to 37% from 1990 to 2000 (Juby, Billette, Laplante, Le Bourdais, 2007). During one longitudinal study conducted by the second author (Braver, Griffin, Cookston, Sandler, & Williams, 2005), joint legal custody doubled (from about one-third to two-thirds) over the 3-year course of the study, despite no discernible changes in any formal or official standard. What apparently did change, however, was that the informal ‘‘culture’’ among the professionals involved in divorce (judges, attorneys, custody evaluators, mediators, etc.) warmed to joint legal custody over the interval, possibly because of findings (e.g., Gunnoe & Braver, 2001; Maccoby & Mnookin, 1992) showing its beneficial impact with few downsides. De Jure Parenting Time. Prior to the 1980s, most decrees either specified the traditional pattern of every other weekend with the nonresident parent, which totals about 14% of the child’s time (Kelly, 2007), or simply used a general phrase such as ‘‘reasonable,’’ ‘‘liberal,’’ or ‘‘according to court guidelines,’’ which in practice meant the same traditional pattern. Two studies of randomly selected case files in Arizona conducted 10 years apart (Braver & O’Connell, 1998; DeLuse, 1999) found that in the interim decade there were

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increases in the number of decrees that added some visitation during the week to the alternating weekend pattern, and that specified uninterrupted summer weeks with the nonresidential parent. Venohr and Griffith (2003) conducted the federally-mandated review of a randomly selected set of case files in Arizona for divorces filed in 2002. They found that by this date, 54% of cases specified 20 to 35% of the days per year as parenting time for the nonresidential parent, and 15% specified 36 to 50%. By 2007, only 36% specified 20 to 35% parenting time, while twice as many (29%) specified 36 to 50% (Venohr & Kaunelis, 2008). In Washington State, 46% of fathers obtained at least 35% parenting time in 2007–2008 (George, 2008), and in Wisconsin in 2003, 24% had equal parenting time (Brown & Cancian, 2007). In Arizona the percentage of cases specifying exactly equal parenting time tripled from 2002 (5%) to 2007 (15%). Again, all the changes in practice described in this paragraph were spontaneous, informal and unofficial, not based on formal rule changes. Summary. More divorce agreements stipulate joint legal custody nowadays than in the past, and in several states, at least, substantially more parenting time is routinely being awarded than the traditional alternating weekend. These trends appear informal rather than based on any official rule changes. Nevertheless, the great majority of families continue the 1970s pattern of children living mostly with mothers. This occurs despite the widespread adoption of the ostensibly gender-neutral BIS in the 1980s, and despite current public opinion that equal parenting time is best for children. To discern why these tendencies now prevail requires examination of the processes by which divorce arrangements are forged, discussed next. PROCESSES OF ARRIVING AT CUSTODY AND PARENTING TIME PROVISIONS Litigation. Studies have found that only 2 to 10% of divorcing couples have their custody provisions decided by a judge (Braver & O’Connell, 1998; Maccoby & Mnookin, 1992; Logan et al., 2003). The rest come to an agreement themselves (with no lawyers, about 30% of couples; with one lawyer, most commonly the mother’s, another 30%; with two lawyers, the remainder; Braver & O’Connell, 1998; Maccoby & Mnookin, 1992; Hogan, Halpenny, & Greene, 2003) that is then ‘‘rubber stamped’’ by a judge or court official. But getting to this agreement is often complicated and circuitous, involving a large and growing menu of alternative methods of resolving custody disputes. Interim Settlement Conferences. Parents typically have one or more appearances before the judge, called settlement conferences, before final resolution. During settlement conferences, judges typically will inquire what progress is being made, order parents to special classes, appoint mediators or custody evaluators (as explained in the following sections), and exhort parents toward settling. Some judges will drop clues about how they are leaning, and even if they don’t, lawyers typically advise their clients about the judge’s reputation for deciding custody matters.




Parent Education. Many parents are sent to a ‘‘Parent Education’’ class during the course of resolving their case (Blaisure & Geasler, 1996). The class is intended to facilitate their negotiations, prevent them from litigating, and improve their agreements (Braver, Salem, Pearson & DeLuse, 1996; Pollet & Lombreglia, 2008). Such programs have become very popular with courts in recent years (Arbuthnot, 2002; Blaisure & Geasler, 2000), despite little evidence that they have intended effects (Douglas, 2006; Goodman, Bonds, Sandler, & Braver, 2004; Sigal, Sandler, Wolchik, & Braver, in press), although DeLuse (1999) found that if fathers attended, they negotiated significantly more parenting time. Mediation. In mediation, a neutral professional helps the couple resolve custody and parenting time disputes (Emery, 1994; Kelly, 2004). Many states require that parents attend mediation before allowing litigation (Douglas, 2006; Tondo, Coronel, & Drucker, 2001). Research has shown only limited success for mediation, but high-quality studies are difficult to do in this area (Beck & Sales, 2001; Emery, Laumann-Billings, Waldron, Sbarra, & Dillon, 2001). Australia now practices ‘‘child inclusive’’ divorce mediation, in which the child meets separately with the mediator, who then artfully conveys the child’s wishes and concerns to the parents (McIntosh, Wells, Smyth, & Long, 2008). Custody Evaluation. In about 5 to 10% of cases, an expert (usually a psychologist) is hired by the parents, who evaluates the family and makes nonbinding custody recommendations (at an average fee, as of 1997, of $2,646; Ackerman & Ackerman, 1997) (Ackerman, 2007; Gould & Martindale, 2007; Stahl, 1994). Current American Psychological Association guidelines specify that the court appoint only one evaluator, whose code of ethics requires giving fair consideration to each parent. Often, the evaluator’s recommendation is made first to the parents, and only if it does not spur settlement will it be sent to the court. There have been several critiques of the legal propriety, ethics, and acumen of custody evaluations in determining what is best for children (Bow & Quinell, 2002, 2004; Martin, 2005; Tippins & Wittman, 2005). Summary. Few parents have their custody and parenting time provisions decided by a judge. Instead, almost all parents come to agreement themselves. This suggests how historical changes in parenting arrangements can occur without corresponding changes in statutes and precedents. One possibility is thus that both mothers and fathers have changed in terms of the parenting arrangements they desire, and that currently prevailing decree provisions accurately reflect their sentiments. Regarding those that still opt for mothercustody, Tippins (2001), for example, claims that ‘‘most of the mothers who have custody attained it with the father’s consent, presumably because the father understood and agreed that the best interest of the children was served by such an arrangement.’’ The other possibility is that input from some combination of judges, attorneys, parent educators, mediators, and evaluators affects what parents ask for and agree to. Thus, we need to examine what

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is known about parents’ desires regarding custody, and the role of the social and legal context in their bargaining for custody and parenting time. Bargaining About Custody and Parenting Time. Braver and O’Connell (1998) found that 70% of mothers indicated early in the process that they wanted sole legal custody, and the remainder wanted joint; among fathers, 75% wanted joint and the remainder were equally split between wanting sole mother and sole father. Analogously, but concerning physical custody, Maccoby and Mnookin (1992) report that 82% of mothers wanted sole maternal, while about a third of fathers wanted joint, a third sole paternal, and a third sole maternal. Similarly, Fabricius and Hall (2000) found that two-thirds of students reported that their mothers had wanted to be their primary residential parent, and almost two-thirds reported that their fathers had wanted equal or nearly equal living arrangements or to be their primary residential parent. Yet in all three studies, the parents’ ultimate agreements were twice as likely to reflect the mothers’ than the fathers’ preferences. Most children also want substantially more time with fathers (Amato, 1987; Buchanan, Maccoby, & Dornbush, 1996; Funder, 1996; Parkinson, Cashmore, & Single, 2005; Smith & Gallop, 2001; Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980). Fabricius and Hall used the response scale in Footnote 1 to ask what living arrangement students had wanted, and found that one-half wanted either an exactly equal (‘‘50–50’’) split of time or close to it (i.e., to live with the other parent "a lot"). In the end, the time they had with their fathers was far less than what they and their fathers wanted, but very close to what their mothers wanted. Why do mothers’ preferences prevail? One possibility is that fathers’ stated preferences are only bargaining positions that they are prepared to negotiate away in exchange for concessions on other matters, especially lowered child support payments (Neely, 1984; Singer & Reynolds, 1988; Weitzman, 1985). However, Braver and O’Connell (1998), and Maccoby and Mnookin (1992) specifically investigated this possibility and found that the evidence rejected it. Similarly, Venohr and Griffith (2003) found no evidence that fathers were ‘‘gaming’’ the system by asking for more parenting time to gain advantages in lowered child support. Moreover, Sheets and Braver (1996) found that fathers were less satisfied with the custody agreements than mothers, and that mothers more often got the outcomes they preferred and felt more strongly in control of the bargaining process. The other possibility is that fathers’ preferences are genuine, but whether they fervently pursue them depends on the guidance about their chances they receive from judges, attorneys, custody evaluators, parent educators, and mediators (Braver & O’Connell, 1998; Maccoby & Mnookin, 1992; Mnookin, 1984; Mnookin & Kornhauser, 1979). If such guidance shifted over time, this could easily account for the findings cited earlier that the rate of joint legal custody doubled in response to informal changes in the attitudes of divorce professionals; that parenting time allocations for fathers in Washington, Wisconsin, and Arizona recently greatly increased despite no formal change in statutes or guidelines; and that fathers’ parenting time increased when the parents attended parent education, in which instructors typically explain




that courts desire to keep both parents involved in the child’s life. It may also account for Douglas’s (2003) finding that in Maine, 90% of families have joint legal custody, though there is nothing in statute to encourage it. Empirical evidence that it is communication from their lawyers in particular that may be important in leading most fathers to not pursue their preferences for physical custody and parenting time comes from a study of Family Law attorneys attending an Arizona State Bar convention (Braver, Cookston, & Cohen, 2002). A custody scenario was distributed in which the lawyers were asked to imagine they represented either the mother or the father, randomly assigned. The facts of the case advantaged neither parent, but findings showed that attorneys would advise mothers more than fathers that they would likely prevail in seeking physical custody and the majority of parenting time. The same attorneys were also asked about ‘‘the slant of the Arizona legal system regarding divorced parents.’’ The results are depicted by the black bars in Figure 7.1. Only 35% thought the system was not gender-biased, while most saw it as substantially biased in favor of mothers. These views did not differ by attorney gender or by whether they primarily represented mothers or fathers. Dotterweich and McKinney (2000) also obtained evidence that attorneys in Maryland, Missouri, Texas, and Washington thought judges preferred to award custody to mothers. Lawyers’ advice may be realistic. Stamps (2002), querying judges themselves in four southern states, found that most indeed had a maternal preference. But even if judges were completely gender-neutral, lawyers’ views can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. As one commentator quoted in Newsweek’s (2008) article ‘‘Not Your Dad’s Divorce’’ explained, ‘‘The lawyers are telling them, ‘You can’t fight this, you won’t get it, and it will Citizens


.60 .50


.40 .30 .20 .10 .00 Very slanted in favor of mothers

Somewhat slanted in favor of mothers

Slanted toward neither mothers nor fathers

Somewhat slanted in favor of fathers

Very slanted in favor of fathers

Figure 7.1 Perceived Slant of the Arizona Legal System Regarding Divorced Parents. Source: From ‘‘Experiences of Family Law Attorneys with Current Issues in Divorce Practice,’’ by S. L. Braver, J. T. Cookston, and B. Cohen, 2002, Family Relations, 51(4), pp. 325–334. Copyright 2002 by Blackwell Publishing.

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cost you a lot of money and heartache. . . . [The few fathers who go on to litigate] have been told in advance they have a chance at winning because they were Mr. Mom before the divorce, or there’s an obvious problem with the mother.’’’ Braver et al. (2008) have recently found that the public also believes that today’s courts operate with a maternal preference. We asked the Tucson citizens who received the hypothetical custody case in which the parents provided equal predivorce child care how they thought parenting time would actually be allocated in ‘‘today’s courts and legal environment.’’ Whereas 75% said they would award equal parenting time in this situation, fewer than 25% thought the courts would do so. All of the others thought that mothers would be awarded most of the parenting time. We also asked citizens the ‘‘slant’’ question that Braver et al. (2002) used with attorneys. As can be seen in the white bars in Figure 7.1, only 16% saw the system as unbiased. Citizens actually saw the system as more biased than did attorneys. Thus, even without advice from attorneys, such a widespread view of judicial bias among the public can lead fathers to not pursue their preferences for custody and parenting time. Summary. The empirical evidence is clear that the majority of fathers (and their children) desire more parenting time, but mothers tend to oppose it. The reason fathers do not bargain harder for it is due to the guidance they receive from professionals, and their own widespread belief that the system has a maternal bias. The above reality appears to prevail despite overwhelming public opinion that equal living arrangements are actually best for children, and despite the desires of a great many of the children for such arrangements. Courts and legislatures need to be well informed about the prevailing cultural norms of parenting and public opinion about custody, and they usually will wish to make policy that fits harmoniously with the zeitgeist, unless the public wants a policy that will not achieve the desired best interests of children or will have unintended consequences. Thus, policy makers need to also be acquainted with the best available empirical evidence about what works best for children and families. We turn next to the behavioral science evidence. We begin with the most direct evidence, studies that provide comparisons of various de jure custody and parenting time arrangements. EMPIRICAL COMPARISONS OF CUSTODY AND PARENTING TIME ARRANGEMENTS In 2002, Bauserman published a comprehensive meta-analytic review of all the previous research comparing joint vs. sole custody. This review included 11 published and 22 unpublished (almost all doctoral dissertations) studies, comprising 1,846 sole-custody and 814 joint-custody children altogether. His category of ‘‘joint custody’’ included arrangements of joint physical custody as well as sole maternal physical but joint legal custody. Across all the studies, he found that children in joint custody were significantly better off than those




in sole custody (and about as well off as those in which the parents remained married), in terms of general adjustment, family relationships, self-esteem, emotional and behavioral adjustment, and divorce-specific adjustment. The effect size was ‘‘slightly greater than what would be considered a small effect size’’ (p. 95). The joint legal custody cases showed very similar benefits to that of the joint physical custody cases. Since both types of joint involved a ‘‘substantial proportion of time actually spent living with each parent’’ (p. 93), the results were concluded to apply to high amounts of parenting time, as well as the specific label given to the custody arrangement. These results are indeed probative for families that seek and/or readily agree to joint custody (either legal or physical), as did those summarized in the meta-analysis. It appears conclusive that for such families, empirical evidence strongly supports that such an arrangement will promote benefits or at least not harm families and should be endorsed. As Bauserman (2002) concludes, ‘‘courts should not discourage parents from attempting joint custody’’ (p. 99). ARE THESE FINDINGS GENERALIZABLE TO FAMILIES IN WHICH ARRANGEMENTS ARE IMPOSED, NOT CHOSEN?


Emery, Otto, and O’Donohue (2005) noted that it is questionable whether those same benefits will accrue by imposing joint custody on less-thanwilling families, because those families who have chosen it in the past may be different in important ways from other families, and those differences may account for children’s better outcomes. Bauserman (2002) acknowledged that self-selection bias and confounding remains a plausible rival hypothesis. Incontrovertible support that imposing an(y) arrangement will have intended effects would require an experiment in which families were assigned at random to one of the various arrangements and then compared (Ramsey & Kelly, 2006). Of course, there is no such research, nor will there ever be. However, the viability of the self-selection hypothesis is undermined by the common situation, described earlier, in which many fathers want joint custody and would otherwise have it, but are prohibited or dissuaded from obtaining it. This ‘‘funneling’’ process, in which only a few fathers end up with the custody arrangements they desired, represents a different dynamic than the typical self-selection scenario in which people choose to engage or not in a certain behavior. To the extent that the ‘‘funnel’’ represents blanket advice from attorneys, mediators, and the like to fathers, or maternal resistance to joint custody that is not motivated by well-founded concerns about individual fathers’ parenting capabilities (Allen & Hawkins, 1999; Fagan & Barnett, 2003), then the current situation could in fact constitute a ‘‘natural experiment,’’ in which case the beneficial outcomes may be suggestive evidence of a causal role of joint custody. We currently cannot determine with certainty whether the well-documented benefits associated with joint physical custody are caused by joint custody, or represent self-selection, though we believe that the self-selection hypothesis should be viewed with a new sense of skepticism.

Empirical Comparisons of Custody and Parenting Time Arrangements 215

RESEARCH APPROACHES THAT ENABLE GENERALIZATION Statistical Controls for Predisposing Factors. Notwithstanding, there are three useful approaches that have been attempted or referred to in the literature as a means of correcting for selection bias, or otherwise determining the causal effects of custody and parenting time arrangements per se. One of these is the use of statistical controls, in which predisposing differences are statistically held constant by partialing or covarying them out (Campbell & Stanley, 1963). Differences that remain after such partialing can be interpreted as the differences that would be present if the two groups of families had been equal on the predisposing factors. However, this approach is successful only to the extent that all the variables (and only the variables) that truly are self-selection factors are adequately measured and partialed. Only one study in the literature, Gunnoe and Braver (2001), made a serious attempt to control for all self-selection factors in its comparison of joint legal custody to sole maternal legal custody. They assessed a random sample of 254 recently separated, not-yet-divorced families on 71 predivorce variables that might plausibly differentiate between families later awarded joint legal vs. sole maternal custody. Twenty of these did in fact empirically distinguish the two types of families, and all 20 were simultaneously controlled for in comparison of the families 2 years postdivorce. Results showed that even after such equating, children in families with joint legal custody had significantly fewer adjustment problems than those in sole maternal legal custody. Differentiating on the Basis of Parents’ Initial Preferences. A second approach that can yield the information needed to inform decision makers about the wisdom of imposing a certain parenting arrangement on families where one parent is inclined against it is to differentiate families in terms of what parenting arrangements each of the parents preferred early in their divorce proceedings, before the decree was final. Such analyses can distinguish the families in which both parents initially agreed to a certain parenting arrangement and thus presumably volunteered for it, from families in which the parents had differing initial preferences and one or both ultimately had an arrangement that in some sense or another was imposed unwillingly upon them. Such an analysis requires a prospective longitudinal study in which participating families are assessed first during the period between when the divorce is sought and before it becomes final, and again later, after the provisions have been in effect for some time. Only two studies meet this criterion. Braver and O’Connell (1998) report that in about one-third of families in their random sample, both parents initially preferred joint legal custody (and generally later had it awarded). Of the remaining initially conflicted families, 23% obtained the joint legal custody status the father preferred but the mother initially objected to, and 77% got the sole maternal legal custody status the mother preferred, while the father didn’t get the joint legal order he desired. Results showed that when the father got the joint legal custody he wanted over mother’s initial objection, he paid more child support and had more later contact with the child than when the mother got the sole legal she wanted over father’s initial objection, and, surprisingly, even more than when the two parents agreed to joint legal.




Maccoby and Mnookin (1992) also gathered data on their sample at the predecree interview about initial preferences (‘‘what he or she would personally like in terms of residential [and legal] custody, regardless of what in fact had been or would be requested in the legal proceedings,’’ p. 99). Although this sample was followed for several years, and several articles (e.g., Buchanan, Maccoby, & Dornbusch, 1991; Maccoby, Depner, & Mnookin, 1990;) and a monograph (Buchanan, Maccoby, & Dornbusch, 1996) have been written about later outcomes for the family including child well-being, the authors have not as yet performed analyses similar to those above, that can tease out the effects of various parenting arrangements that are imposed upon one of them against the initial inclination of the other. Since their data set is now available to researchers ( 25–27.htm), perhaps such analyses will be undertaken. Suggestive evidence should be noted, however; while the vast majority of mothers initially indicated they had wanted sole maternal physical custody, children in dual residence were the ones who showed the greatest satisfaction with their parenting arrangements, and were also the best adjusted (Maccoby, Buchanan, Mnookin, & Dornbusch, 1993). If granting fathers’ preference for joint physical custody while contravening mother’s physical custody desire had been at all deleterious, such an advantage for dual residence should not have appeared. Moreover, the advantage of dual residence remained even after statistically controlling, as described earlier, for such predisposing factors as education, income, and initial levels of interparental hostility. Natural Experiment. The third approach is the ‘‘natural experiment’’ approach, where either law, policy, or professional norms change, and the typical parenting arrangement award in the jurisdiction changes rather suddenly in response. Such an occurrence can illuminate the policy question of the projected effect of imposing a certain parenting arrangement on families, since it is implausible to assume that parents’ average proclivity to prefer a certain arrangement changes as rapidly. Thus, any changes found in outcomes are almost certainly not due to selection bias, but instead to the power of the imposed rule. What such a study would require is grouped data about family outcomes from a sample with the old regime and comparative data from a like sample soon afterward.2 Unfortunately, we could locate no completed studies of parenting arrangements using such a design. This is particularly unsatisfying given the opportunities presented by quick changes seemingly regularly introduced in family policy by courts and lawmakers. While Weitzman (1985) purports to be a study of the effects of a legal shift to no-fault divorce, and Maccoby and Mnookin (1992) purport to study the California legislature’s adoption of joint custody, on closer inspection neither exploration has the necessary data to convincingly evaluate the respective 2. Care must be taken here that rival hypotheses, such as sudden and concomitant economic changes, are implausible. When such factors remain plausible, closely matched control samples that share that change but not the rule change aid causal interpretation. Relatively longer time passage between the two samples also increases the plausibility of the rival hypotheses.

Research on Parenting Time After Divorce 217

policies. However, a rare new opportunity is provided by Australia, which we later discuss further. It might appear that a similar ‘‘natural experiment’’ exists when various jurisdictions are compared, for example, one that has recently passed a new rule vs. another still using the old rule. In the only such study in the literature, Douglas (2003) attempted to use such an occurrence to evaluate New Hampshire’s introduction in 1982 of a presumption in favor of joint legal custody. Using data from several counties more than a decade later, she found that 93% of respondents reported indeed having obtained joint legal custody. She compared father involvement in New Hampshire to father involvement in Maine, where no such presumption existed, but found no difference. On further reflection, she noted that Maine was ‘‘likely a poor comparison state, as 90% of families in this state also had joint legal custody, even though there is no stated presumption’’ (Douglas, 2006, p. 134). In general, it is also likely that jurisdictions may be unmatched on many demographic and other variables, rendering futile the attempt to equate on predisposing factors. To the best of our knowledge, there are also no studies about de jure parenting time schedules (exclusive of custody arrangements) that take any of these three approaches. That is, no studies exist of which we are aware that compare alternative de jure parenting time arrangements, after controlling in any way for predisposing factors. Thus, despite the currency and urgency of the question, the empirical research provides limited guidance to decision makers about the wisdom of imposing any particular parenting time schedule on families where one parent opposes it. However, there is a great deal of research that we discuss next about de facto, ‘‘naturally’’ developing, parenting time arrangements (some reviewed in Chapter 6). These studies do not equate families on predisposing factors, and thus are not definitive about likely outcomes if the same arrangement is imposed. We begin with the two issues about which there is consensus in the research, practice, and policy communities: That children normally benefit from having a good relationship with both parents, and that at least some parenting time with the father is required for such a relationship to develop and be maintained. RESEARCH ON PARENTING TIME AFTER DIVORCE The evidence now available that children in divorced families benefit from rich relationships with both their residential and their nonresidential parents leaves little room for debate. For example, in their meta-analysis, Amato and Gilbreth (1999) found that children’s well-being was significantly enhanced when their relationships with nonresident fathers were positive, and when the nonresident fathers engaged in ‘‘active parenting.’’ A number of studies have found that nonresident fathers’ active involvement in routine everyday activities benefited their children (Clarke-Stewart & Hayward, 1996; Dunn, Cheng, O’Connor, & Bridges, 2004; Hetherington, Bridges, & Insabella, 1998; Simons, Whitbeck, Beaman, & Conger (1994). Nord, Brimhall, and West (1997) found that these included academic benefits such as better grades,




fewer suspensions, and lower dropout rates. In their consensus statement on behalf of 18 expert researchers, Lamb, Sternberg, and Thompson (1997) summarized that: [P]ost-divorce arrangements should aim to promote the maintenance of relationships between nonresidential parents and their children. . . . The majority of children experiencing parental divorce express the desire to maintain relationships with both of their parents after separation. (p. 400)

Not only is it generally recognized within the research community that some parenting time with the father benefits the child, this belief is formally recognized in much public policy. Thus, 26 states’ custody statutes declare that ‘‘frequent and continuing contact’’ with both parents is in the child’s interests and a foundation of their custody policy (Douglas, 2006). The policy of going further by inserting the ‘‘friendly parent’’ provision (which specifies that an advantage in a custody dispute should go to the parent who is more likely to allow ‘‘frequent and continuing contact’’ with the child and the other parent) into their custody statute is also ‘‘widespread and routinely applied throughout the United States’’ (Dore, 2004, p. 43). Aside from benefits to the child, the parent’s right to have at least some access to his child is ‘‘generally considered to be constitutionally grounded . . . [it is] extremely rare’’ for a court not to grant it (Ellman, Scott, & Kurtz, 1998, p. 685). The most important questions for decision makers include: (a) how much parenting time is necessary or sufficient to achieve its benefit, and (b) what should parenting time policy be when the parents are embroiled in substantial conflict? We contend that answering another question first leads to greater clarity about the first two questions: (c) how does father–child contact achieve its beneficial impact on children? This question requires valid measurement of the amount of contact and clear distinctions between the quality and quantity of father involvement. We explore these two preliminary issues in the next section, followed by a summary of the findings about parenting time, father–child relationships, and child outcomes. Then we return to the discussion of questions 1 and 2. MEASURING DE FACTO FATHER–CHILD CONTACT AFTER DIVORCE Several earlier influential studies based on large national data sets found little or no relationship between frequency of contact and child well-being (e.g., Furstenberg, Morgan, & Allison, 1987; King, 1994; McLanahan, Seltzer, Hanson, & Thomson, 1994), leading to continued skepticism expressed by some researchers about benefits to children associated with amount of contact with their nonresidential fathers (e.g., Hawkins, Amato, & King, 2007; Stewart, 2003). However, the problem may be with the measures of father–child contact used in these data sets. Argys et al. (2007) compared six data sets and concluded that, ‘‘What is most striking about the reports of father–child contact . . . and perhaps most alarming to researchers, is the magnitude of the differences in the reported prevalence of father–child contact across the different surveys’’ (p. 383). In what follows, we discuss

Research on Parenting Time After Divorce 219

why these measures might be so unreliable, and offer solutions to the measurement problem. Four of the six surveys analyzed by Argys et al. (2007), as well as other prominent surveys3 and recent studies (e.g., Coley & Medeiros, 2007) employ ordinal category scales that ask how many times father–child contact has occurred (e.g., ‘‘once a week,’’ ‘‘one to three times a month’’). Ordinal category scales poorly represent amount of parenting time. In practice, it is difficult to tell if respondents report number of visits or number of days. For example, every other weekend at the father’s home could be reported as ‘‘one to three times a month’’ if respondents count it as two visits, or ‘‘once a week’’ if they count it as 4 days. As a measure of number of days, the scale is not interval. For example, Table 7.1 shows the average percentage of days of contact represented by each of the categories of the widely used National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1979. Following Argys et al. (2007), these percentages are based on the midpoint of each category (e.g., ‘‘one to three times a month’’ ¼ 24/365 days a year ¼ 6.6%). There are narrow gaps between adjacent categories at the lower end of the scale, and wide gaps at the upper end. Furthermore, increases in parenting time between ‘‘once a week,’’ or 14.2%, and ‘‘two to five times a week,’’ or 50%, are likely to be the most potent for conferring benefits, but the wide gap obscures the levels at which these benefits might accrue, reducing the guidance that can be provided to courts and policy makers. As a measure of number of visits, the scale would not even be ordinal with respect to parenting time if extended visits in lower categories resulted in more yearly parenting time than shorter visits in higher categories. For example, one visit per year could represent more parenting time than one visit per month if the former lasted all summer and the latter lasted just the weekends. Ordinal category scales were actually designed to measure frequency of visits, rather than amount of parenting time. The designers of these scales apparently viewed visits as brief ‘‘reminders,’’ to be measured by the frequency (per year, month, week, or day) with which they occurred. More frequent visits do not necessarily entail greater amounts of time, because amount of time equals the product of frequency and length of visits. Nevertheless, it is common for researchers to draw conclusions about amount of parenting time from data collected with ordinal category scales. More frequent visits do entail more transitions between parents; thus, researchers should more properly draw conclusions about number of transitions rather than amount of parenting time when using ordinal category scales. Because many of the studies that have found weak or inconsistent relations between father–child contact and child outcomes used ordinal category scales, the findings may tell us more about the effects of transitions than parenting time. Future research may be able to tease apart effects of amount of parenting time and number of transitions. In some studies (Johnston, Kline & Tschann, 1989; 3. These include the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH87, NSFH92; Sweet, Bumpass, & Call, 1988), Britain’s Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children 1991 (ALSPAC91; Golding, 1996), and Canada’s National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth 1994–1995 (NLSCY94; Juby et al., 2007).




Kline, Tschann, Johnston, & Wallerstein, 1989) the two have been substantially correlated, with r’s ranging from about 0.45 to 0.65, but not in others (Clarke-Stewart & Hayward, 1996). New measures of amount of parenting time are needed that have good psychometric properties and that are sensitive to different parenting time schedules (Argys et al., 2007; Smyth, 2002). One approach we recommend is to use quantitative scales that reflect the percentage of the child’s parenting time spent with the father. For example, Fabricius and Luecken (2007) asked young adults four questions about the typical number of days and nights they spent with their fathers during the school year and vacations.4 Fabricius and Braver (2003) provide an example of the utility of a similar scale for identifying the amount of parenting time at which changes in the rates of fathering behaviors occur. Smyth (2004) describes the telephone survey designed by the Australian Institute of Family Studies to reveal not only the amount of parenting time, but also the different schedules parents and children followed. Another approach we urge is to use qualitative category scales (e.g., ‘‘some time,’’ ‘‘a moderate amount of time’’). A qualitative category can capture different parenting time schedules that yield similar yearly amounts of parenting time. Fabricius and Luecken (2007) showed that the qualitative living arrangements (LA) scale developed by Fabricius and Hall (2000)5 had good test–retest reliability (r ¼ 0.86), and that reports from matched pairs of young adults and parents correlated highly (r ¼ 0.92) and were nearly identical in terms of mean levels. Using data from 582 young adults in that study who completed both the LA and the quantitative scales, we calculated the mean percent of the child’s parenting time with the father for each LA category.6 As shown in Table 7.1, the LA categories were well distributed from lower levels to higher levels of parenting time (for simplicity, we combined the father–residence categories). Thus, the categories are readily interpretable, and can provide practical guidance to courts and policy makers regarding the levels of parenting time that may be associated with increases in child well-being. 4. ‘‘Considering the most typical living arrangement you had after the divorce, what was (a) the number of days you spent any time at all with your father in an average 2-week period during the school year [0 to 14]? (b) the number of overnights (i.e., sleepovers) you spent with your father in an average 2-week period during the school year [0 to 14]? (c) the number of school vacation weeks out of 15 (Christmas ¼ 2 weeks, spring ¼ 1 week, summer ¼ 12 weeks) during which your time with your father was different from what it was during the school year [0 to 15]? And (d) the percentage of time you spent with your father during those vacation weeks above that were different from the regular schedule [0% to 100% in 10% increments]?’’ 5. ‘‘Between the time [your parents/you] got divorced and now, which of the following best describes [your/your child’s] living arrangements?’’ The 1–9 response scale is described in Footnote 1. 6. We counted an overnight visit as a full day, a daytime visit as a half-day, and a day during vacation as a full day. Referring to variables (a) – (d) in Footnote 4, the number of half-days per week (D) ¼ (a  b)/2. The number of full days per week during the school year (S) ¼ b/2. The number of full days per week during ‘‘different’’ weeks (V) ¼ d  7. Yearly percent of time with father ¼ (D  .5  (52 – c)) þ (S  (52 – c)) þ (V  c)/365.

Research on Parenting Time After Divorce 221 Table 7.1 Mean Percentage of Days of Father–Child Contact Represented by the Categories in Two Scales NLSY79 category Once in last year

% of total year this translates to

Fabricius and Luecken (2007) living arrangements (LA) category:


Lived with mother, saw father

% of total year this translates to

2–6 times a year


minimally/not at all


7–11 times a year




1–3 times a month


a moderate amount


About once a week


a lot


2–5 times a week


Lived with both equally


Almost every day


Lived with father







Sophisticated discussion of the question of how much parenting time is necessary or sufficient to achieve its benefit depends on having models that incorporate theoretically informed, rather than intuitive, distinctions between quantity and quality of father involvement, and that specify processes by which those aspects of involvement affect child well-being. In what follows, we first briefly illustrate the lack of consensus about what constitutes high quality father involvement. We then present a model based on our research that specifies processes by which the quantity and quality of fathering relate to parenting time and child adjustment. Although there have been calls to improve conceptualization of father involvement (e.g., Hawkins & Palkovitz, 1999; Marsiglio, Day, & Lamb, 2000; Palkovitz, 2002), there is currently no agreement on the construct of highquality father involvement (Argys et al., 2007). Furthermore, measures are often constrained by the items available in data sets that were not designed on the basis of any theory of father involvement. Table 7.2 (left side) illustrates the divergence of approaches in four recent studies. Both Sobolewski and King (2005) and Stewart (2003) have a similar construct of relationship quality, but use different types of items to tap it. Sobolewski and King used three items about the child’s feelings about the father or the relationship, and one about the father’s behavior toward the child. Stewart used three items about activities father and child do together. Conversely, the same types of items often appear in different constructs, sometimes within the same study. For example, shared activities or spending time together is an indicator of both relationship quality and authoritative parenting in Stewart, active fathering in Hawkins et al. (2007), and father–child positivity in Dunn et al. (2004). Items for shared activities or spending time together do not appear at all in Sobolewski and King. Researchers who have constructed their own scales also employ different sets of constructs; e.g., instrumental, expressive, and mentoring involvement




Table 7.2 Constructs and Items in Four Studies of High-Quality Father Involvement and the Dimensions They Would Indicate in Adolescents’ Descriptions of Their Relationships With Their Parents Study, Construct and Items




Sobolewski & King (2005) Father–child relationship quality Likely you would talk to father


Admire father


Overall relationship


Father praised or complained


Responsive fathering Father explains reasons


Father talks over decisions


Father changed mind because of child’s ideas


Stewart (2003) Relationship quality Went shopping together


Played a sport together


Went to movie, play, museum, concert, sports event


Authoritative parenting Worked together on school project


Talked about import personal or school issues


Closeness to father How close do you feel to father


Dunn et al. (2004) Child–father positivity Enjoyment of father


Warmth in relationship


Confiding Time spent together

x x

Child–father conflict Level of punishment


Levels of parent and child upset


Frequency of disagreement


Hawkins, Amato, & King (2007) Active fathering Contact

Shared activities


Communication Emotional closeness IN ¼ Interaction; RE ¼ Responsiveness; EQ ¼ Emotional Quality of the Relationship

x x

Research on Parenting Time After Divorce 223

(Finley & Schwartz, 2004), executive, socio-emotional, caregiving, and instructive functions (Fox & Bruce, 1996), and cognitive, emotional, parenting, and instrumental competence (Coley & Hernandez, 2006). The constructs in these different scales do not overlap, in terms of having similar types of items as indicators;for example, the indicators of parenting competence in Coley and Hernandez are indicators of all three constructs in Finley and Schwartz In our own longitudinal study of the role of fathers in adolescent development, we sought to discover the dimensions of father involvement that young adolescents themselves see as important, because those aspects should carry meaning to adolescents about their fathers’ caring. We recruited 393 families with a 7th grader, equally divided between Anglo-American and MexicanAmerican families, and between intact and stepfather families (see Baham, Weimer, Braver, & Fabricius, 2008, and Schenck et al., in press, for sample details). We asked them to describe their relationship with each of their parents in open-ended interviews7 when they were in 7th and 10th grade. Adolescents generally produced 150 to 200 words about each parent (resident mother, resident biological father, resident stepfather, and nonresident biological father). Regardless of which parent they described, adolescents at both ages spontaneously evaluated their relationships with their parents along three dimensions: 1. Interaction between parent and child, which refers to the amount of time the parent spends doing things with the child (e.g., ‘‘She does a lot with us.’’ ‘‘Sometimes he’ll take me out to basketball.’’ ‘‘Most of the time we really don’t spend time with each other.’’). 2. Responsiveness of the parent, which refers to the reliability of the parent’s responsiveness to the child’s requests or needs, including talking with or helping the child (e.g., ‘‘He’s always there for me.’’ ‘‘He tries not to ignore me.’’ ‘‘When I ask for help, she’s always too busy’’). 3. Emotional quality of the relationship, which refers to the positive or negative emotions in the relationship (e.g., ‘‘He can make me feel better.’’ ‘‘She’s nice but she can be mean.’’ ‘‘He yells at me a lot.’’). Working from transcripts of recordings, coders reliably (r’s generally > 0.85) classified statements into the three dimensions and rated each statement as a positive, neutral, or negative evaluation (coding criteria available from the first author). Adolescents seldom referred to other parent 7. ‘‘I’d like you to take a few moments to think more about your (target parent). [Q1] Tell me everything you can think of about your (target parent). Think of anything you want to say about who he is, what he likes to do, his work, anything like that. Say whatever comes to your mind. [Q2]. Now, think of your relationship with your (target parent): how he treats you, what he does for you, how he talks to you, and about the time he spends with you. Tell me what kind of person he is and how you two get along together. Try to think of all of those things and think of it as the story of your (target parent) and your relationship with him. [Q3]. What else can you tell me about your (target parent) and your relationship with him? [Q4]. Think now of any changes in your relationship with your (target parent), or if the relationship has changed over the past few years. Tell me about that, and if the changes have been good ones or bad ones.’’




behaviors, such as discipline, monitoring, teaching values, or economic provisioning, although these could also be reliably coded. Table 7.2 shows how the various items that other researchers have used to assess the quality of father involvement would be represented by these three dimensions. Thus, adolescents spontaneously distinguished between the quantity of time their parents spent interacting or doing activities with them, and the quality of their interactions in terms of the reliability of the parent’s responsiveness. They also distinguished these two aspects from the emotional climate of the relationship. These three dimensions of parent involvement are notable for their similarity to the central constructs in attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969), in which parent availability and responsiveness to the child both contribute to the security of the child’s emotional connection to the parent, and ultimately to the development of healthy independence. Parent availability and responsiveness convey meaning to the child about the parent’s caring. Figure 7.2 shows our conceptual model relating these dimensions to parenting time and child adjustment. The model distinguishes between the quantity (father–child interaction) and the quality (father responsiveness) of father involvement, and specifies their theoretical roles in mediating between parenting time and adjustment. Father–child interaction and father responsiveness should independently predict the emotional security of the relationship. Parenting time should impact interaction rather than responsiveness, because parenting time sets upper limits on the amount of interaction, but should not constrain the father’s ability to respond when asked or approached. The effects of parenting time on adjustment should be mediated by amount of interaction and the emotional security of the relationship. These hypothesized processes were supported in several preliminary tests of this model using reports from 7th graders about their nonresident fathers. First, parenting time in the past year, as reported by adolescents and mothers using a quantitative scale similar to the one in Footnote 4, correlated significantly with interaction (adolescents, r ¼ 0.41; mothers, r ¼ 0.38), but not with responsiveness. This suggests that parenting time does not elicit responsiveness, and that responsive fathers were not the ones who had more parenting time. Second, father–child interaction mediated the association between parenting time and the emotional quality of the father–child relationship, and the emotional quality of the relationship mediated associations between both interaction and responsiveness and adolescent Parenting



Interaction Father







Figure 7.2 Conceptual Model Relating Parenting Time to Quantity and Quality of Father Involvement, Father–Child Relationship Security, and Child Outcomes.

De Facto Parenting Time, the Father–Child Relationship, and Child Outcomes 225

adjustment, as measured by parent and teacher reports of internalizing and externalizing. Finally, interaction and responsiveness compensated for each other in predicting the emotional quality of the relationship. Adolescents who reported the closest relationships with their nonresidential fathers had either highly responsive fathers (regardless of amount of interaction), or at least moderate amounts of interaction (regardless of father responsiveness). Other research in related fields is beginning to specify in some detail the processes by which parent–child relationships serve as sources of risk and resilience. Disrupted parent–child relationships are hypothesized to cause emotional insecurity in children regarding their parents’ love and ability to care for them (e.g., Davies & Cummings, 1994; Troxel & Mathews, 2004; Wolchik, Tein, Sandler, & Doyle, 2002) and to disrupt children’s emotional regulation processes, thereby establishing enduring dysregulations in children’s physiological stress responses, promoting pathophysiology in the brain and body (McEwen & Wingfield, 2003) and contributing not only to behavior problems (El-Sheikh et al., 2009) but also to hypertension, heart disease, infectious diseases, and other illnesses (Markovitz & Matthews, 1991). These biopsychosocial models hold promise, in conjunction with improved measures of parenting time and father involvement, for revealing how parenting time can affect children of divorce in the long term. DE FACTO PARENTING TIME, THE FATHER–CHILD RELATIONSHIP, AND CHILD OUTCOMES Some early researchers noted associations between father–child contact and father–child relationships, but in general researchers in the past were more focused on associations between contact and other outcomes, such as child internalizing and externalizing symptoms. One early exception, Buchanan et al. (1996), found that adolescents whose parents divorced in 1985–1986 and who had four or more overnights in a 2-week period (28% time) were ‘‘equally happy, if not happier, with their relationships’’ with both parents (p. 72), and were more satisfied with the amount of contact than those in sole (mother or father) residence. Among adolescents in sole mother residence, those with some parenting time (i.e., vacations only and no overnights, one overnight per 2-week period, two or three overnights) were closer to their fathers than those who had little or no parenting time. Recent studies using ordinal category scales (Dunn, et al., 2004; King, 2006; Sobolewski & King, 2005) find strong associations between frequency of contact and father–child relationship quality. Notably, Aquilino (2006) found that frequent contact during adolescence was the most important predictor, among other measures of father involvement, of close relationships with fathers in young adulthood. Cashmore, Parkinson, and Taylor (2008) found that overnight stays were associated with better quality father–adolescent relationships than daytime-only contact. Peters and Ehrenberg (2008) found that contact predicted higher levels of affective, nurturing fathering, which was likely an indication of father–adolescent closeness. Fabricius (2003) reported that more parenting time was associated with young adults feeling




closer to, and less angry at their nonresidential fathers, and Luecken and Fabricius (2003) reported similar findings with a measure of perception of parental caring during childhood. Our model specifies that effects of parenting time on father–child relationships, and ultimately on child outcomes, are mediated by quantity of interaction. Struss, Pfeiffer, Preuss, and Felder (2001) found that quantity of interaction during visits predicted adolescents’ positive feelings about visiting, and Clarke-Stewart and Hayward (1996) found that quantity of interaction, as well as frequency and length of visits, was related to the father– child relationship. Consistent with the mediational role of interactions, studies (Buchanan & Maccoby, 1993; Clarke-Stewart & Hayward, 1996; Kurdek & Berg, 1983) have found that quantity of interaction predicted children’s adjustment better than did parenting time. Simons, et al. (1994) and Amato (1994) were the first to find beneficial effects of close relationships with nonresidential fathers on children’s wellbeing independent of closeness to mothers. Recently, White and Gilbreth (2001) and Manning and Lamb (2003) also controlled for closeness to mothers and found that adolescents’ closeness to nonresident fathers was associated with fewer behavior problems and higher academic success. Mediational models that move beyond simple, direct associations between parenting time and child adjustment have begun appearing with some frequency. Buchanan et al. (1996) and Clarke-Stewart and Hayward (1996) were the first to discuss visitation, father–child relationships, and child adjustment as a mediational chain. They noted that amount of visitation was related to closeness, and close relationships were related to positive outcomes, but amount of visitation was not directly related to positive outcomes. Amato and Gilbreth’s (1999) meta-analysis confirmed that two dimensions of the father–child relationship (i.e., closeness, and father behaviors such as listening to the child’s problems, giving advice, explaining rules, monitoring and helping with school work, engaging in projects, and using noncoercive discipline) were more closely related to child outcomes than frequency of contact, but they did not examine relations between frequency of contact and those dimensions of the father–child relationship. Whiteside and Becker’s (2000) meta-analysis found evidence between studies that closeness of father–child relationships mediated the effect of frequency of contact on child internalizing. However, they did not control for the mother–child relationship or parent conflict. Amato and Sobolewski (2001) were the first to test directly the mediational role of parent–child relationships. In their model, the predictors were divorce and parent conflict (rather than parenting time), and the outcome was well-being in adulthood. The three candidate mediators were children’s socioeconomic attainment, their marital and relationship stability, and the quality of their relationships with their parents in adulthood. Quality of relationships was the only significant mediator, and father–child and mother–child relationships had independent effects. King and Sobolewski (2006) modeled the mediational role of father–child relationships, controlling for mother–child relationships, in the connection between frequency of contact and adolescent well-being. Results revealed that there was a significant indirect effect of frequent contact

How Much Parenting Time Is Necessary to Achieve Benefits for Children? 227

on adolescent well-being, and that the beneficial effect of contact was not restricted to close father–child relationships. Although it has sometimes been hypothesized, there is no evidence that mother–child relationships suffer at higher levels of parenting time. Instead, mother–child relationships remain constant as fathers’ parenting time increases. Buchanan et al. (1996) reported this was true across their four visitation categories within sole mother residence, and Lee (2002) reported that it extended as well to dual residence as defined by Buchanan et al. Fabricius (2003) and Luecken and Fabricius (2003) reported similar findings, and also reported that as parenting time approached equal, relations with both parents were equally good and resembled those in intact families. HOW MUCH PARENTING TIME IS NECESSARY TO ACHIEVE BENEFITS FOR CHILDREN? We are now in a position to draw conclusions concerning the amount of parenting time necessary to achieve a high-quality father–child relationship, which in turn confers its benefits on child outcomes. We agree with most current writers (Kelly, 2007; Lamb, 2004) that the weight of the evidence argues that the current minimum alternating weekend visitation is, in the typical case, too little. First, these parenting time arrangements are largely disdained by the children themselves, especially as they age and get perspective (Fabricius & Hall, 2000; Fabricius, 2003; Laumann-Billings & Emery, 2000; Parkinson et al., 2005; Smith & Gallop, 2001). Considering the dissatisfaction of the children and the fathers, and the rates at which fathers dropped out of children’s lives and minimized their financial support, any fair assessment of the parenting time patterns of the 1970s is that ‘‘they haven’t worked.’’ There is strong evidence, backed by theory, for relations between contact (even as measured by ordinal category scales) and father–child relationships. And there is strong evidence, backed by theory, for relations between parent–child relationships and child outcomes. These findings show benefits up to and including equal parenting time, and there is no evidence that increased parenting for fathers negatively impacts mother–child relationships or mothers’ well-being, but there is evidence that lack of parenting time negatively impacts fathers (Umberson & Williams, 1993). In the statement that summarized the consensus of 18 expert researchers, Lamb, Sternberg, and Thompson (1997) wrote that: To maintain high-quality relationships with their children, parents need to have sufficiently extensive and regular interaction with them. Time distribution arrangements that ensure the involvement of both parents in important aspects of their children’s everyday lives and routines—including bedtime and waking rituals, transitions to and from school, extracurricular and recreational activities—are likely to keep nonresidential parents playing psychologically important and central roles in the lives of their children.

This includes significant time during the regular school week. An emerging consensus is developing (Lamb, 2004; Braver & O’Connell, 1998) that a




minimum of one-third time is necessary to achieve these criteria and that additional benefits continue to accrue up to and including equal (50–50) time. CUSTODY AND PARENTING TIME WHEN THERE IS HIGH CONFLICT One of the areas of greatest debate in the literature concerns parenting time and custody when there is high conflict between parents.8 It is not disputed that high amounts of conflict between the parents are deleterious to their children (Davies & Cummings, 1994; Emery, 1982; Grych & Fincham, 1990; Krishnakumar & Beuhler, 2000). Instead, what is under debate concerns the amount of parenting time that is advisable when the conflict level is high. Some early studies (Amato & Rezac, 1994; Hetherington, Cox, & Cox, 1978) found that more frequent contact in high-conflict families was related to poorer child outcomes. Johnston, Kline, and Tschann (1989) found that among the very high-conflict families entrenched in custody disputes that composed their sample, greater amounts of visitation in sole-custody arrangements were generally harmful. Such findings have led some commentators (e.g, Amato, 1993; Emery, 1999) to advocate precluding shared custody and/or limiting parenting time for the nonprimary parent when high conflict prevails. For example, Stahl (1999), in his guide for professional custody evaluators, opines ‘‘high conflict parents cannot share parenting’’ (p. 99). Similarly, Buchanan (2001) writes ‘‘when parents remain in high conflict, joint custody is . . . ill-advised’’ (p. 234). However, the previous research is in fact quite mixed on this issue. Buchanan et al. (1996) did not find that greater amounts of visitation were harmful in high-conflict families. Even Johnston et al.’s (1989) finding was restricted to sole custody families; the children in joint physical custody arrangements (in which children spent 12 to 13 days a month with their fathers) did not have worse adjustment than those in sole custody. Healy, Malley and Stewart (1990) and Kurdek (1986) found the opposite pattern, that more frequent visitation was actually associated with fewer adjustment problems when parent conflict was high. Fabricius and Luecken (2007) addressed the issue by testing one of the more comprehensive biopsychosocial models to date. They found that the long-term effects of parent conflict and parenting time on young adults’ health outcomes were mediated by young adults’ relationships with fathers and their ongoing distress surrounding their parents’ divorces. Importantly, more parenting time was beneficial to father-child relationships in both high- and low-conflict families, and served to counteract the negative effects associated with parent conflict.

8. Because of the complexity of the issue and because of space limitations, we are not including here conflict that reaches the level of physical violence. Lamb and Kelly (in press) have a good discussion of this, and reference the quickly changing consensus view observed by Jaffe, Johnston, Crooks, and Bala (2008) and Kelly and Johnson (2008) that types and duration of the physical violence must be distinguished.

Custody and Parenting Time When There Is High Conflict 229

The divergence of findings on this question may be partly explained by whether researchers measured frequency of contact, or amount of parenting time. Most researchers measured frequency of contact, and by extension, number of transitions (Amato & Rezak, 1994; Crosbie-Burnett, 1991; Healy et al., 1990; Hetherington et al., 1978; Kurdek, 1986), and those results are mixed. However, results were consistent among the three studies that measured amount of parenting time. Buchanan et al. (1996) and Fabricius and Luecken (2007) found that more parenting time was not harmful in highconflict families, and Johnston et al. (1989) found that dual residence was not harmful in families referred to court services for custody disputes. Thus, sometimes studies indicate that more transitions between conflicted parents’ homes can be harmful, presumably because they expose children to more conflict. However, there are two ways to limit transitions: One is to eliminate some visits, and the other is to combine some visits into longer, uninterrupted time periods. In the first case amount of parenting time would decrease, and in the second it would increase. The second approach remains viable—and is no doubt preferable—for high-conflict families because there is no evidence that greater amounts of parenting time are harmful for most children of conflicted parents, or that dual residence is harmful for children whose parents are involved in lengthy custody disputes. Instead, evidence suggests that father-child relationships can be strengthened through increased parenting time in high-conflict families as well as in low-conflict families, and that a warm relationship with the father or the mother can buffer or ameliorate the harmful aspects of conflict (Sandler, Miles, Cookston, & Braver, 2008; Vandewater & Lansford, 1998). There are other considerations that make questionable a policy of limiting fathers’ parenting time when high conflict prevails. First, such a policy assumes the level of conflict is exogenous, immutable, and not controllable by the parents or by the authorities, but Lamb and Kelly (in press) discuss the many interventions courts now have available to help parents reduce the level of conflict and shield children from it when it does occur, and to identify the small percentage of nonresident parents for whom limited contact is appropriate. A second concern with the policy that parenting time should be limited under high conflict is its perverse incentive and the faulty message it sends. Attorneys are thus tempted to tell parents that the safest way to ensure that the other parent’s parenting time is limited is to exaggerate the amount of conflict that occurs. Instead of giving parents an incentive to manage their conflict, the policy provides the opposite, an instigation to escalate it, with its attendant harmful impact. To see this point vividly, imagine a parent driving two children in the backseat of her car. The children are squabbling and quarreling, driving the mother to distraction. Finally, in exasperation, she pulls over, stops the car, turns around, and says: ‘‘That does it. Johnny, since you are not the ‘primary’ child, you are out of here. You are banished from the car and hereafter from the family.’’ Such a practice is ludicrous to imagine; instead, any good parent will take some action intending to quiet the conflict while retaining both children. Our policy regarding parenting time in a highconflict family should be analogous.




Third, a blanket policy discouraging parenting time when there is high conflict fails to recognize the dynamics of the conflict. For example, Kelly and Emery (2003) argue that: [A]lthough high conflict postdivorce is generally assumed to be a shared interaction between two angry, culpable parents, our clinical, mediation, and arbitration experience in high conflict postdivorce cases indicates that it is not uncommon to find one enraged or defiant parent and a second parent who no longer harbors anger, has emotionally disengaged, and attempts to avoid or mute conflict that involves the child. (p. 353)

Hence, a decision maker ought to discern the reasons, instigation pattern, and dynamics of the conflict, not just the existence of it, in making parenting arrangement decisions. The ‘‘friendly parent’’ provision discussed earlier directs the fact finder to make just such an inquiry. Summary. The soundest conclusion to date is what Lamb and Kelly (in press) conclude: Unless it is severe or violent, ‘‘inter-parental conflict . . . should not be used to justify restrictions on children’s access to either of their parents.’’ (p. 12). IMPLICATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR DECISION MAKERS We summarize the conclusions we have arrived at for custody and parenting time policy: 1. There is clear and strong public support for equal physical custody, and strong public condemnation of courts as unreasonably gender biased in their usual custody and parenting time proclivities. 2. The literature clearly supports permitting any kind of custody and parenting time arrangements to which both parents freely agree. Specifically, courts should not discourage or prevent parents from joint custody if they both desire it. 3. The literature supports the benefits of joint legal custody in most circumstances even when it is imposed over the objections of one party. Of course, there are some exceptions, such as protracted unilateral abuse (Braver & O’Connell, 1998), where it should not be ordered. 4. The outcome literature is less definitive about the desirability of mandating equal physical custody when one party opposes it. Although those in joint custody are better adjusted, strictly speaking, there is no causal evidence about the impact of mandated equal physical custody on children and the parents. However, there is reason to suspect that findings of beneficial outcomes for children in joint physical custody may not be simply due to self-selection. 5. The common finding from previous research that frequency of contact (measured by ordinal category scales) is weakly related to child outcomes should not be overextended to conclude that parenting time is weakly related to outcomes, for two reasons. First, frequency of contact

Implications for Research 231





(and number of transitions) is not the same thing as amount of parenting time, and second these earlier studies tested the zero-order correlation between contact and outcomes, rather than theoretically informed mediational models. The literature does not support a presumption that amount of parenting time should be restricted in cases of parent conflict, though for some conflicted parents the number of transitions may be harmful. While more definitive data may soon become available (see below), it is not necessary for researchers to take a firm position on mandated joint physical custody. In disputed cases, courts no longer face a black-andwhite dichotomy (sole vs. joint physical custody), but rather must direct parents to a point along a continuum of how parenting time should be distributed. In the typical family, more parenting time than the traditional alternating weekend visitation is required to achieve the well-recognized benefits of two involved parents, each with a close relationship to the child. An emerging consensus is that that a minimum of one-third time is necessary to achieve this criterion and that benefits continue to accrue as parenting time reaches equal (50–50) time. Attaining desirable changes in de jure parenting arrangement practice may not require legislation, court rulings or any other kind of official imprimatur. Since parents’ bargaining appears to be strongly affected by the informal guidance they receive from judges, custody evaluators, parent educators, and mediators, and (especially) attorneys, all that is likely required is a change in this informal professional culture of belief. We believe our review of the evidence here provides strong support for such a change. IMPLICATIONS FOR RESEARCH

1. Research should attempt to be more clearly directed at the precise questions decision makers need to know to make the best decisions and policy on behalf of divorced families. 2. Most importantly, future research needs to use research designs that better answer the question of what arrangements should be preferred when one of the parents does not prefer it or even actively opposes it. Thus, the causal question needs better answers. Three appropriate designs were discussed: those that statistically control for predisposing (or self-selection) factors; those that condition on each parents’ initial preferences; and those that take advantage of natural experiments when policy shifts. Just such a natural experiment is presently occurring in Australia, and researchers there such as Parkinson, Smyth, and Cashmore are poised to exploit that rare opportunity. 3. Researchers need to use more sophisticated measures of parenting time that do not group the most meaningful gradations into overly coarse categories, and do not confuse amount of parenting time with frequency of contact.




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Fathers in Fragile Families MARCIA J. CARLSON and SARA S. MCLANAHAN

INTRODUCTION Nonmarital childbearing has increased dramatically in the United States since the early 1960s, rising from 6% of all births in 1960 to fully 40% in 2007 (Hamilton, Martin, & Ventura, 2009; Ventura & Bachrach, 2000). Whereas similar trends have occurred in many developed nations, the United States stands out in the extent to which such births are associated with socioeconomic disadvantage and relationship instability, giving rise to a new term fragile families. The increase in fragile families reflects changes not only in the context of births but also in the fundamental nature and patterns of child rearing, particularly with respect to fathers’ roles and involvement with children. The increase in fragile families is of great interest to social scientists who care about the family. Marriage is one of the oldest institutions in Western society, and previous studies have documented strong associations between stable marriage and a range of positive outcomes for adults and children (McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994; Nock, 1998; Waite & Gallagher, 2000). While nagging questions remain about how much of the marriage effect is causal, prudence suggests that these fundamental changes in family behavior be taken very seriously. The growth of fragile families is also of interest to researchers and policy makers who care about inequality. African-Americans and Hispanics are much more likely than Whites to live in fragile families, and they are disproportionately affected by what happens in these families. Whereas 28% of White children today are born to unmarried parents, the numbers for African-American and Hispanic children are 72% and 51%, respectively (Hamilton et al., 2009). Being born to unmarried parents is also tied to social class. Whereas women in the bottom two-thirds of the education distribution have experienced large increases in nonmarital childbearing since 1970, women in the top third of the distribution have experienced virtually no increase (Ellwood & Jencks, 2004). Mothers giving birth outside of marriage typically have a high school education or less, whereas mothers giving birth within marriage typically have some college education. Nonmarital childbearing appears to be an important aspect of how family structure 241




has contributed to growing inequality in American families over the past 40 years (Martin, 2006; McLanahan, 2004; McLanahan & Percheski, 2008). While we know quite a bit about unwed mothers and their children, until recently, research on unwed fathers was much more limited, in part because these men—especially nonresident fathers—are often underrepresented in national surveys. Some of these fathers are not represented because they are in jail or the military. Others are not counted because they do not know they are fathers. And still others are missing because most national surveys are household based, and many unmarried fathers are weakly attached to households (Garfinkel, McLanahan, & Hanson, 1998; Nelson, 2004). Men who come in and out of women’s lives, for example, are likely to be overlooked in household surveys that occur on an annual (or less frequent) basis and enumerate only those individuals who are living in the household at the time of the interview. Even men who are cohabiting—the most stable of all unwed relationships—may be missed, depending on how, when, and to whom the questions are asked (Casper & Cohen, 2000; Knab & McLanahan, 2006; Manning & Smock, 2005; Teitler, Reichman, & Koball, 2006). More casual (i.e., ‘‘visiting’’) relationships are often entirely overlooked by traditional demographic surveys (Bachrach & Sonenstein, 1998). Overall, Hernandez and Brandon (2002) estimate that a substantial proportion of men in their prime childbearing ages of 20 to 39 are undercounted in household surveys—20 to 40% of Black men, 15 to 25% of Hispanic men, and 5 to 10% of White men. Further, until the late 1990s, much of the available information on unmarried fathers came from large-scale studies that combined never-married fathers with divorced/separated fathers or from small-scale studies that were based on unrepresentative samples (Coley, 2001; Garfinkel et al., 1998; Lerman & Sorenson, 2000). The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (described below) is the first nationally representative study to provide extensive information on the capabilities and behaviors of unmarried fathers. In this chapter, we summarize what is currently known about fathers in fragile families. We draw primarily on data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, but we also include information from studies of lowincome fathers and their children, many of whom are unmarried fathers. The Fragile Families Study is a birth-cohort study of nearly 5,000 children born in 20 large U.S. cities at the end of the 20th century (1998–2000). The data include a large oversample of unmarried parents. Baseline interviews were conducted with both parents shortly after the child’s birth; mothers were interviewed at the hospital within 48 hours of the birth, and fathers were interviewed either at the hospital or as soon as possible thereafter. Follow-up interviews with both parents were conducted when the child was about 1, 3, and 5 years old; 9-year interviews will be completed in the spring of 2010. At baseline, 87% of eligible unmarried mothers agreed to participate in the study, and 75% of the fathers were interviewed.1 At the 1-year follow-up, 90% 1. The Fragile Families data are most representative of cohabiting fathers (90% response rate) and least representative of fathers who are not romantically involved with the child’s mother at the time of birth (38% response rate).

Fathers’ Characteristics and Capabilities 243

of eligible unmarried mothers and 70% of eligible unmarried fathers were interviewed; mothers who participated in the baseline interview are ‘‘eligible’’ as long as their child is alive. Response rates for subsequent waves are 88% (87%) for unmarried mothers and 68% (66%) for unmarried fathers at 3 years (5 years). When weighted, the data are representative of births to parents in cities with populations of 200,000 or more, so the evidence we present can be generalized to unmarried fathers living in large U.S. cities. We begin by describing the capabilities and resources of unmarried fathers around the time of a baby’s birth as well as their relationship status and attitudes; we include information on married fathers as a reference group. Then, we examine what happens to fathers’ relationships over time and summarize what has been learned about the factors that predict relationship stability. Next, we describe the prevalence of fathers’ involvement with children and summarize what has been learned about the antecedents of involvement and the consequences of involvement for children’s well-being. Finally, we briefly discuss the implications of our findings for public policy. FATHERS’ CHARACTERISTICS AND CAPABILITIES Prior to the Fragile Families Study, the most complete national-level information available on unmarried fathers came from two sources—the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH) and the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 cohort (NLSY79). According to these data, men who fathered children outside marriage were younger, more likely to be Black, less likely to have a high school degree, and less likely to have attended college than men who fathered children within marriage (Garfinkel et al., 1998; Lerman, 1993). Unmarried fathers also worked fewer hours per week, were more likely to be unemployed, and had lower hourly wages than married fathers. Not surprisingly, their incomes were also much lower. Finally, these studies showed that unwed fathers had more problems with disability, depression, and drug and alcohol use than married fathers, and they were more likely to have engaged in criminal behavior and/or been incarcerated (Garfinkel et al.; Lerman). Data from the Fragile Families study confirm previous findings from the NSFH and the NLSY79, while updating and providing additional information on the characteristics and capabilities of unmarried fathers in large cities. With respect to demographic characteristics, the average unmarried father is about 27 years old at the time of the birth, compared to about 32 years for married fathers (see Table 8.1). Although teen childbearing has received much attention in recent years, only 13% of unmarried fathers are under age 20; among first-time unmarried fathers, however, about one-quarter are under age 20 (figure not shown). The latter figure underscores the fact that early childbearing is a major factor behind the trends in nonmarital childbearing. The average age difference between unmarried fathers and mothers (3.4 years) is about 1 year greater than the average age difference between married parents (2.3 years). Consistent with prior research, unmarried fathers are much more likely than married fathers to be from minority racial/ethnic backgrounds; nearly




Table 8.1 Fathers’ Characteristics, by Marital Status at Birth (in percent) Unmarried


Under 20









30 and older



Mean age (years)





Background/Demographics Characteristics Age

Mean age difference w/mother (years) Race/ethnicity White non-Hispanic



Black non-Hispanic







Hispanic Other Parents are of different race/ethnicity






Lived with both parents age 15



Other children First birth



With biological mom only



With biological mom and other woman



With other woman only



Less than high school



High school or the equivalent



Some college







Economic Characteristics Education

College degree or higher Worked week before baby’s birth Self-reported health status Poor



Fair or good



Very good or excellent









Other religion



No religion



Social-Behavioral Characteristics Religious affiliation

Frequency of religious attendance (range ¼ 1–5)



Fathers’ Characteristics and Capabilities 245 Substance problem





All fathers



Interviewed fathers



Ever incarcerated (1-year survey) Unweighted number of cases (n)

Note: All figures are weighted by national sampling weights. Fathers’ age, race, education, employment status, and substance problems are reported by mothers. All other figures are reported by fathers themselves (for the subset of fathers who were interviewed).

four-fifths of these men are Black (44%) or Hispanic (35%). In contrast, nearly half of married fathers are White (49%). About 15% of both unmarried and married fathers have a partner of a different race/ethnicity. Immigrants account for a substantial proportion of all new fathers in the United States: 16% of unmarried and 24% of married fathers. With respect to family characteristics, unmarried fathers are less likely to have lived with both of their parents at age 15 (42%), compared to married fathers (69%), and they are more likely to be having a first birth. Despite their younger age and lower parity, unmarried fathers are much more likely than married fathers to have had a child with another partner: 32% as compared with 14%. Further, among unmarried fathers with more than one child (i.e., those ‘‘eligible’’ to have had kids by more than one partner), well over half have had a child by another partner (figure not shown). These numbers underscore the growing prevalence of ‘‘multipartnered fertility’’ in American families (Carlson & Furstenberg, 2006). Despite the increase in women’s participation in the labor force, breadwinning remains a key component of the father role today, and the Fragile Families data show striking differences by marital status in fathers’ earnings capabilities. Whereas only 15% of the married fathers in the study have less than a high school degree and 28% have a college degree, the pattern is essentially reversed for unmarried fathers: 39% have no high school degree, and only 4% have a college education. Poor health may reduce a father’s ability to obtain or retain a job. Most fathers report that they were in ‘‘very good’’ or ‘‘excellent’’ health, although a slightly higher fraction of unmarried (32%) than married fathers (25%) indicate their health is ‘‘good’’ or below. Whereas nearly all fathers have worked at some point during the year prior to their child’s birth (figures not shown), a substantial proportion of unmarried fathers (21%) were not working in the week prior to the birth (compared with 5% of married fathers). With respect to social–behavioral characteristics, religious differences between the two groups of men are small compared with other characteristics. About three-fourths of fathers are Protestant or Catholic, regardless of their marital status. Unmarried fathers attend religious services less frequently than married fathers. Other analyses of the Fragile Families data confirm that religious attendance is strongly associated with marital status: More religious parents are more likely to be married at the time of their baby’s birth; and among unmarried couples, they are also more likely to marry following a birth (Wilcox & Wolfinger, 2007).




Fathers’ substance use, mental health and incarceration history also affect their ability to work and maintain stable relationships. According to mothers, only a small fraction of fathers in the Fragile Families Study have problems with drugs or alcohol: 6% of unmarried fathers and 1% of married fathers. However, analyses of fathers’ mental health (not shown) indicate that unmarried fathers are significantly more likely than married fathers to have experienced a major depressive episode, to have generalized anxiety disorder, or to have used illicit drugs; there is very little difference in heavy drinking by fathers’ marital status (DeKlyen, Brooks-Gunn, McLanahan, & Knab, 2006). Most strikingly, mothers report that 40% of unmarried fathers (vs. 8% of married fathers) have been incarcerated at some point in their lives. Incarceration is both a cause and a consequence of low earnings (Western & McLanahan, 2001) and also diminishes fathers’ family relationships (Western, Lopoo, & McLanahan, 2004). Taken together, the information from the Fragile Families Study suggests that unmarried fathers differ from married fathers in ways that have important implications for their long-term economic well-being and family stability. Most notable are the low level of education among unmarried fathers (with the majority of men having only a high school degree or less) and the high prevalence of incarceration. These findings suggests that many fathers are limited in their ability to find and retain well-paying jobs. Further, that so many unmarried fathers have had a child with a prior partner signals the fact that these men have even greater demands on their breadwinning capabilities and must deal with even more complexity in their family relationships and parental roles. FATHERS’ RELATIONSHIPS WITH MOTHERS Although large-scale quantitative research on unmarried fathers has been limited until recently, an extensive qualitative literature has developed over the past century that sheds light on the nature of relationships and family formation among low-income fathers, especially African-American fathers (Furstenberg, 2007). Many of the men in these studies were likely unmarried fathers. Studies in the 1950s and 1960s documented the social disorganization in family behavior typically found in disadvantaged communities, including sexual promiscuity, gender distrust and conflict, high rates of nonmarital childbearing, and instability in relationships (Harrington, 1962; Lewis, 1959, 1968). At least two different perspectives on (low-income) unmarried relationships have emerged in recent decades. One view posits that unmarried men take advantage of women by entering relationships to obtain sex or money but don’t intend to ‘‘stick around’’ long term (Anderson, 1989; Wilson, 2003). Other scholars paint a much more cooperative picture—that unmarried men are doing what they can to support women after childbirth but are limited by poor job prospects, disadvantaged neighborhood contexts, lack of role models, and complicated life and family circumstances (Jarrett, Roy, & Burton, 2002; Waller, 2002). One of the most important findings to emerge from the Fragile Families Study is the close connection between unmarried fathers and mothers at the

Fathers’ Relationships with Mothers 247

time of their child’s birth. According to mothers’ reports, 82% of unmarried parents are romantically involved with each other at the time of the birth: 50% are cohabiting, and another 32% are romantically involved but living apart (i.e., visiting couples). Only 10% of mothers report having little or no contact with the father at the time of the birth. The proportions in various relationship types are remarkably similar across age groups, except that teenage fathers (under age 20) are less likely to be cohabiting (30%), and older fathers (25 and older) are more likely to be cohabiting (56%). These figures stand in stark contrast to the myth that out-of-wedlock births are a product of casual relationships. Although the proportions of couples in any romantic relationship are similar across different racial and ethnic groups, there is considerable racial/ ethnic variation in the type of relationship that parents are in at the time of their baby’s birth (see Figure 8.1). Assuming that unmarried relationship types can be ‘‘ordered’’ in terms of closeness and commitment, with cohabitation at the top and no contact at the bottom, White and Hispanic fathers were more likely to be in higher order relationships than African-American fathers: White and Hispanic fathers were more likely to be living with the mother, whereas Black fathers were much more likely to be in visiting relationships. Yet, White fathers were slightly more likely to have little or no contact with the mother than Black or Hispanic fathers. Since attitudes and expectations have a strong influence on family formation (Axinn & Thornton, 2000), we also examined fathers’ views about marriage and gender roles as well as the quality of mother–father relationships. Table 8.2 shows figures for unmarried fathers (overall and for those cohabiting with the mother vs. living apart at the time of the birth) and married fathers. According to fathers’ reports, a majority of both unmarried White non-Hispanics

Visiting 16% Cohabiting 65%


Visiting 24% Friends 7%

Cohabiting 60%

Little or no contact 13%

Friends 6% Little or no contact 10%

Black non-Hispanics Visiting 43%

Cohabiting 40%

Friends 9% Little or no contact 8%

Figure 8.1

Relationship Status of Unmarried Parents, by Race/Ethnicity.




Table 8.2 Fathers’ Attitudes and Couple Relationship Quality, by Relationship Status at Birth Unmarried Total




Better for children if parents married





Better to marry than to live together





Living together is the same as marriage (disagree)





Attitudes1 Positive attitudes about marriage

Mean (range ¼ 1–4)





Traditional gender role attitudes Important decisions should be made by man





Better if man earns living/women care





Mean (range ¼ 1–4)





Distrust of women In dating, woman out to take advantage of man





Women cannot be trusted to be faithful





Mean (range ¼ 1-4)





Relationship Expectations and Quality Chances of marriage to mother No or a little chance










Pretty good or almost certain





Was fair and willing to compromise





Expressed affection or love to father





Criticized father or his ideas (coding reversed ¼ ‘‘never’’)





Encouraged father to do things important to him





Supportiveness (Mother ‘‘often’’ . . . )2

Mean (range ¼ 1 to 3) Frequency of conflict (6 items), mean (range ¼ 1–3)2









Physical violence (‘‘often’’ or ‘‘sometimes’’) Mother’s report about father





Father’s report about mother













Mother’s report, ever seriously hurt by father (1 year) Unweighted number of cases (n) Interviewed fathers

1 Frequencies reflect endorsing the statement as ‘‘strongly agree’’ or ‘‘agree’’ (or ‘‘strongly disagree’’ or ‘‘disagree’’ as indicated for the ‘‘living together’’ item). 2 Possible outcomes are ‘‘never’’ (a), ‘‘sometimes’’ (b) and ‘‘often’’ (c). Note: All figures are weighted by national sampling weights. All items are reported by fathers, except for mothers’ reports about fathers’ violence (at time of birth and 1 year).

Fathers’ Relationships with Mothers 249

and married fathers hold positive views of marriage around the time of their baby’s birth: 78% of unmarried men and 91% of married men agree that ‘‘marriage is better for children’’; 60% of unmarried men and 75% of married men say ‘‘it is better to marry than to live together’’; and about half of unmarried men and 82% of married men disagree that ‘‘living together is the same as marriage.’’ As expected, married men’s attitudes are somewhat more positive than those of unmarried men; there are few notable differences between cohabiting and single men, except that single men more strongly disagreed that living together is the same as marriage. Attitudes toward gender roles are not dramatically different across groups, although a higher fraction of married fathers believe that ‘‘it is better if the man is the primary breadwinner and the woman is the primary caregiver in the home’’ (46% vs. 39%). In addition, unmarried fathers express greater distrust of women: 16% of the unmarried fathers said that ‘‘women could not be trusted to be faithful,’’ compared with only 4% of married fathers. Among unmarried fathers, single men indicate greater distrust of women than cohabiting men. We also investigated men’s attitudes toward being a father (figures not shown) and found that the vast majority of both unmarried and married fathers value the father role and intend to be involved in their child’s life. For example, 99% of both married and unmarried fathers either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, ‘‘I want people to know I have a new child.’’ WHAT HAPPENS



We’ve seen that most unmarried fathers are romantically involved with the baby’s mother at the time of the birth, but what fraction of couples stay together over time, and what are key factors that help keep couples together? The Fragile Families Study is the first national study that directly follows couple relationships (with interviews of mothers and fathers) after a nonmarital birth. Table 8.3 shows the fraction of married and unmarried couples in various relationship types at the 5-year follow-up survey; figures are shown by relationship status at the time of birth—for married and unmarried Table 8.3 Relationship Stability, Birth to 5 Years (Mothers’ Reports)1 Five Years after Birth of Child Time of Birth





No Relationship





























No relationship






Cohabiting Visiting


Percentages shown are of row totals. Note: Figures are weighted by national sampling weights. Cohabitation at 5 years is defined as living together ‘‘all or most of the time’’ or ‘‘some of the time;’’ time of birth cohabitation is a dichotomy (yes/no) for whether mothers say they are living with the baby’s father.




couples overall, and then for unmarried couples by type of initial relationship. Among married couples, 77% are still married 5 years after the birth; 22% have broken up, and 0.5% report that they are friends (the 0.4% who say they are cohabiting or visiting likely reflect measurement error at either survey, since couples are unlikely to divorce and maintain any type of romantic relationship). Among unmarried couples overall, 17% are married 5 years after the birth, 19% are cohabiting, 3% are romantically involved but living apart, 20% say they are friends, and 42% say that they have no relationship. Taken together, these figures suggest that less than two-fifths of unmarried couples are in any type of romantic relationship 5 years after the birth of their child. Not surprisingly, couples with greater relational attachment at birth are much more likely to be together 5 years later. Of couples who were cohabiting at birth, 28% are married, and another 28% are still cohabiting—so 56% of these couples (as compared with 77% of married couples) are in stable unions 5 years after the birth of their child. Of couples who were in visiting relationships at the time of the baby’s birth, 7% are married, 14% are cohabiting, and 6% are still in a visiting relationship at 5 years. Among couples who reported no romantic relationship at birth, a small minority are married or cohabiting: 3% of those who started out as friends and 4% of those who reported ‘‘no relationship’’ are married, while 5% and 6%, respectively, are cohabiting at 5 years. Yet, fully 90% of couples who were not romantically involved at the time of the birth are not romantically involved at 5 years. It is useful to note that among this group, those who started off as friends are more likely to remain friends than those who started off with no relationship, suggesting that a friendly relationship likely contributes to parents’ being able to effectively work together in rearing their common child. Beyond the comparison of parents’ relationship status at birth and 5 years postbirth, it is informative to examine the total number of relationship transitions that unwed parents experience postbirth. Osborne and McLanahan (2007) find that the number of relationship transitions (including changes in dating, coresidence, and marital status) between birth and 3 years increases as the level of relationship commitment decreases. On average, married couples experience 0.22 transitions, whereas cohabiting, visiting, and nonromantic couples experience 0.92, 1.45, and 1.59 transitions, respectively. Considering the entire 5 years after the baby’s birth, Beck, Cooper, McLanahan, and BrooksGunn (2009) find that parents who are married at birth experienced an average of 0.67 relationship transitions, compared to 2.55 for unmarried parents. These figures suggest that most children born to unmarried parents will experience notable instability in their family relationships and/or living arrangements during early childhood. WHAT FACTORS PREDICT MARRIAGE



An extensive body of research has shown that divorce and father absence are associated with a greater risk of adverse outcomes for children and youth (Amato & Sobolewski, 2001; McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994). (See Chapter 6.)

Fathers’ Relationships with Mothers 251

In addition, a growing strand of research has shown that instability per se (net of family structure), is linked to deleterious outcomes in some subgroups of children (Fomby & Cherlin, 2007; Osborne & McLanahan, 2007; Wu, 1996; Wu & Martinson, 1993; Wu & Thomson, 2001). Therefore, understanding the factors that help couples stay together may be important for child wellbeing, and the Fragile Families Study has provided new opportunities to examine the factors that promote marriage and union stability following a nonmarital birth. Scholars have identified a number of arguments for why some relationships are more stable than others and why some couples move on to more committed relationships than others. Economic theory points to the role of monetary incentives in couples’ decisions to enter (or remain in) cohabiting or marital unions, including shared public goods, insurance against risk, and the benefits of gender specialization (Becker, 1991; Lam, 1988). Nearly all of the empirical evidence about how earnings capacity affects union formation shows that men’s earnings are positively associated with marriage (see Ellwood & Jencks, 2004, for a review) and cohabitation (Clarkberg, 1999; Smock & Manning, 1997a) and negatively associated with divorce (Hoffman & Duncan, 1995; South & Lloyd, 1995). However, the evidence is less consistent with respect to women’s earnings (Ellwood & Jencks, 2004; Lichter, McLaughlin, Kephart, & Landry, 1992). Beyond economic factors, culture—defined as widely shared beliefs and practices—can also affect decisions about family formation (Axinn & Thornton, 2000). Most researchers agree that the decades of the 1960s and 1970s were watershed periods for changes in norms and practices governing the family (Cherlin, 1992). Widespread changes in family-related behaviors— such as increases in sexual activity, childbearing, and coresidence outside marriage; delays in marriage; and increases in divorce—were accompanied by dramatic changes in the social acceptance of all of these behaviors. Because cultural change is neither uniform nor uncontested, we would expect some couples to cling longer to traditional views and, hence, to be more likely to marry and stay married than others with less traditional values and gender roles (Clarkberg, Stolzenberg, & Waite, 1995). Cohabitation has been described as a ‘‘looser bond’’ (Schoen & Weinick, 1993) or an ‘‘incomplete institution’’ (Nock, 1995) relative to marriage, with roles that are less scripted by gender or family expectations. Thus, we would expect that positive attitudes about marriage, traditional gender role attitudes, and religiosity would encourage marriage more than cohabitation. Consistent with this argument, individuals who cohabit are typically more politically liberal, less religious, and more favorable toward nontraditional family roles than are those who do not cohabit (Smock, 2000; Thornton, Axinn, & Hill, 1992). Finally, given the growing cultural emphasis on marriage as a source of love and companionship rather than a mere economic exchange (Cherlin, 2004), we would expect the emotional quality of a couple’s relationship to affect the movement from dating to cohabitation and from either dating or cohabitation to marriage. Many studies from psychology and sociology show that partners’ perceptions of the emotional quality of their marriage affect whether they stay together or break up (Cowan, Cowan, Schulz, & Heming,




1994; Gottman, 1994; Karney & Bradbury, 1995). At the same time, drug or alcohol abuse, infidelity, and violence within marriage are strongly associated with low marital quality and divorce (White, 1990). Factors affecting union formation and dissolution generally may not be the same among (unmarried) couples who have a biological child together. We know that having a child diminishes an unmarried woman’s position on the marriage market overall (Lichter & Graefe, 2001), but there has been limited attention to which mothers are more likely to marry after a nonmarital birth. Research based on the Fragile Families study presents new evidence on this topic. Qualitative studies point to unmet financial expectations (especially by women toward men) as a fundamental barrier to marriage (Edin & Kefalas, 2005; Gibson-Davis, Edin, & McLanahan, 2005). Yet the quantitative evidence about the role of men’s economic characteristics for union stability has been mixed: aspects of men’s economic capacities (wages, employment, and education) are sometimes—but not consistently—linked with marriage within several years after a nonmarital birth. Men’s earnings, wages, and employment appear to be more important than education for marriage (Carlson, McLanahan, & England, 2004; Harknett, 2008; Harknett & McLanahan, 2004), and changes in men’s earnings postbirth appear to predict which couples will enter marriage (Gibson-Davis, 2009). For women, education appears to be the key economic factor increasing the likelihood of marriage (Carlson, McLanahan, et al., 2004; Harknett, 2008), although Osborne (2005) finds that economic factors matter differently across unmarried relationship types: Mothers’ education predicts marriage among cohabiting parents, while mothers’ earnings predicts marriage among parents in visiting relationships. Cultural factors and relationship quality are also shown to play important roles in marital decisions after a nonmarital birth. Individuals with more positive attitudes about marriage as an institution are more likely to marry (Carlson, McLanahan, et al., 2004), and having high expectations of marriage—particularly when shared by both parents—predicts both marriage and being in a romantic relationship (vs. separation) (Waller & McLanahan, 2005). More frequent religious participation is linked to a greater likelihood of marriage (Wilcox & Wolfinger, 2007), and men’s (but not women’s) religious participation is associated with higher relationship quality— both within marriage and in unmarried romantic relationships—which may contribute to union stability (Wolfinger & Wilcox, 2008). However, gender distrust and sexual jealousy—especially by women toward men— have emerged from both qualitative and quantitative studies as key deterrents to marriage (Carlson, McLanahan, et al., 2004; Edin & Kefalas, 2005; Hill, 2007); distrust is exacerbated when fathers remain involved with children from prior relationships—and hence have ongoing contact with prior partners (Monte, 2007). Fear of divorce may also diminish the likelihood of marriage (Edin & Kefalas, 2005; Waller & Peters, 2008), although a recent study of mothers receiving welfare suggests otherwise (Cherlin, Cross-Barnet, Burton, & Garrett-Peters, 2008). Couples who report having a higher degree of supportiveness in their relationship are more likely to marry or cohabit as opposed to breaking up (Carlson, McLanahan, et al., 2004), and concerns about the couple relationship are identified in

Fathers’ Relationships with Mothers 253

qualitative interviews as a key barrier to marriage among unmarried parents (Gibson-Davis et al., 2005). A number of additional characteristics have been shown to predict marriage and relationship stability after a nonmarital birth. White and Hispanic mothers are more likely to marry than Black mothers (Carlson, McLanahan, et al., 2004). Mothers’ poor mental health is a strong deterrent to marriage, as mothers with a diagnosed mental illness are only two-thirds as likely to marry within 5 years of a nonmarital birth, even controlling for a host of individuallevel characteristics (Teitler & Reichman, 2008). Children’s characteristics may also matter for parental relationships; having a child in poor health decreases stability in parents’ relationships (Reichman, Corman, & Noonan, 2004). Several contextual factors have been shown to matter for marriage, including the availability of ‘‘marriageable’’ men (measured by the male-tofemale sex ratio) (Harknett, 2008; Harknett & McLanahan, 2004) and strong child support enforcement (Carlson, Garfinkel, McLanahan, Mincy, & Primus, 2004; Nepomnyaschy & Garfinkel, 2008). Parents’ fertility history affects union formation, and multiple-partner fertility, in particular, has been shown to pose particular challenges to parents’ relationship stability over time (Carlson, McLanahan, et al., 2004; Carlson & Furstenberg, 2006; Harknett & McLanahan, 2004). In the Fragile Families study, having children by multiple partners was more common among African Americans than among other racial/ethnic groups (Mincy, 2002); the relatively high rates of multiple-partner fertility among AfricanAmericans may also help account for the low marriage rates among this group. Incarceration history is another important factor in the formation and stability of family relationships. Western et al. (2004) find that after controlling for a wide range of social, psychological, and economic characteristics, fathers who have been incarcerated at some point in their lives are much less likely to be cohabiting with or married to the mother of their child 1 year after birth. This finding suggests that high incarceration rates among Black men of low socioeconomic status (SES) may help account for low rates of marriage among this demographic group. According to Western and colleagues, if the risk of incarceration were reduced to zero for Black fathers with less than high school education, marriage rates among this group would increase by 45%, and the Black–White gap in marriage rates would be reduced by nearly half (Western et al.). Also, incarceration has important implications for children, not only because fathers are separated from their children while in jail or prison, but also because of the social stigma, lower earnings capability, and complicated relationships with mothers typically experienced after they are released (Wildeman & Western, 2009; Comfort, 2008). In summary, data from the Fragile Families Study show that whereas many unmarried parents are in a romantic relationship and are optimistic about their future together at the time of their baby’s birth, these relationships are highly unstable and will likely dissolve within only a few years. Parents’ resources may be insufficient to establish an independent household or to meet their ideals about the financial prerequisites for marriage. Further, although parents with positive and supportive relationships are more likely




to stay together or move toward marriage, a nontrivial number of couples struggle with personal or relationship problems such as substance use, physical violence, or the father’s criminal background. Together, these economic and relational factors pose significant barriers to marriage, and family formation among unmarried parents is often complicated by the fact that one or both parents may have children by a previous relationship. High instability and complexity interfere with parents’ ability to work together to rear their common child.




Until recently, much of what was known about the relationship between unmarried fathers and their children came from studies of divorced and separated fathers—or from studies of nonresident fathers, most of whom are divorced. Much of this research focused on two aspects of father involvement—paying child support and father–child contact. Studies from the 1980s and early 1990s showed that whereas one-third of divorced fathers paid child support on a regular basis and maintained frequent contact with their children, another third disappeared rather quickly from their children’s lives (Furstenberg & Cherlin, 1991; Furstenberg, Morgan, & Allison, 1987; Garfinkel, McLanahan, & Robins, 1994; Marsiglio, 1993; Seltzer, 1994). (See Chapter 7 for information about parental investments and family relationships after divorce.) With respect to more recent data, an overview chapter on nonresident father involvement using data from six large U.S. datasets found that sizeable fractions of fathers had no contact with their nonresident child ages 0 to 5 in the previous year (45 to 62% of White fathers and 39 to 81% of non-White fathers) (Argys et al., 2007). A new study of nonresident father involvement (pooling data on both divorced and unmarried fathers from four national surveys over 1976 to 2002) found that the payment of child support and the frequency of father–child contact increased over this quarter-century period, yet the 2002 data suggest that nonresident fathers can still be sorted into three basic groups—those who have no contact, moderate contact, and frequent contact with their children (Amato, Meyers, & Emery, 2009). Many people think of unwed fathers as being much less involved with their children than divorced or separated fathers, but the existing evidence suggests that the patterns are broadly similar. Many unwed fathers are involved early on, but most will live away from their child(ren) within only a few years of the birth (Lerman, 1993; Lerman & Sorenson, 2000). Once they become nonresident, some fathers remain regularly involved, although involvement tends to decrease over time. As with divorced fathers, several studies using NLSY79, NLSY97, and NSFH data suggest notable variation in the extent to which unmarried fathers remain in contact and spend time with their children (Lerman, 1993; Lerman & Sorenson, 2000; McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994). Some nonresident fathers remain significantly involved, seeing and spending time with the child regularly, but a sizeable fraction of fathers

Fathers’ Involvement with Children in Fragile Families 255

appear to have little connection to their child. Recent qualitative studies underscore this divergence in fathers’ roles with children (Johnson, Levine, & Doolittle, 1999; Roy, 1999; Waller, 2002; Waller & Plotnick, 2001). Being the breadwinner continues to be central to the meaning of fatherhood for most men and women, and a father’s ability to provide sufficient economic resources remains a strong predictor of whether he maintains a relationship with his child. Fathers who are unable to live up to the breadwinner ideal are less likely to find the father role rewarding and more likely to withdraw from their children. Alternatively, mothers may discourage the involvement of men who are unable to provide for them and their children (Edin, 2000). We know that unmarried fathers are less likely to pay formal child support (and at lower amounts when they do pay) than previously married fathers (Seltzer, 1991). Informal financial support (i.e., outside the legal child support enforcement system), especially the purchase of goods and services for the child, is quite common among unmarried fathers, especially around the time of a new baby’s birth (Edin & Lein, 1997; Marsiglio & Day, 1997; Waller, 2002). Formal child support orders are rare just after the birth, in part because many unwed couples are still romantically involved. Given that many unwed fathers are involved with their children at least early on, the question remains: What exactly do fathers do, and how does it matter for child well-being? Although the father’s role in family life has historically been defined by breadwinning, contemporary fathers are involved in child rearing in numerous ways (Cabrera, Tamis-LeMonda, Bradley, Hofferth, & Lamb, 2000; Lamb, 2004; Marsiglio, Amato, Day, & Lamb, 2000; Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2004). In addition to providing economic support, fathering today may include nurturing and caregiving; engaging in leisure and play activities; providing the child’s mother with financial, emotional, or practical support; providing moral guidance and discipline; ensuring the safety of the child; connecting the child to his extended family; and linking the child to community members and resources (Marsiglio & Day, 1997; Palkovitz, 2002). Also, paternal involvement can have both direct and indirect effects on children’s well-being and may change over the life course (Cabrera, Fitzgerald, Bradley, & Roggman, 2007). Although the ‘‘new’’ father role has often been discussed with respect to higher SES fathers, ethnographic studies report that many unwed or low-income fathers describe their roles in terms similar to those used by married or middle-class fathers, even though they face much greater economic constraints (Furstenberg, Sherwood, & Sullivan, 1992; Jarrett et al., 2002; Waller, 2002). Recent data from the Fragile Families Study confirms the findings of previous studies about nonresident and nonmarital fathering and extend these findings to new areas of father involvement. With respect to fathers’ economic contributions, the Fragile Families data show that informal support from unmarried fathers (both financial and instrumental) is common around the time of a new baby’s birth, while formal child support is rare. Mothers report that 83% of fathers gave money or bought things for the baby during the pregnancy, and 80% helped in some other way (such as providing transportation to the prenatal clinic) (figures not shown in table).




Nepomnyaschy and Garfinkel (2008) found that as an increasing share of couples break up over time, informal support from fathers declines, and the prevalence of formal child support orders and payments increases as mothers pursue support through the legal system. One year after a baby’s birth, 20% of unmarried (at birth) mothers had a formal child support order in place (and 10% received a formal payment), while 60% reported receiving in-kind support (and 60% received informal financial support) from the father. By 5 years after the birth, 47% of mothers had a child support order in place (and 27% received a formal payment), while 45% received in-kind support (and 32% received informal financial support) (Nepomnyashcy & Garfinkel). In terms of fathers’ presence and interaction with children, at the time of their baby’s birth, most unmarried fathers are around and want to be involved in their child’s life. According to mothers (figures not shown), 78% of fathers visited the mother and baby in the hospital, and 84% of babies (will) have the father’s surname on the birth certificate; these figures vary notably by the couple’s relationship status, as nearly all residential fathers were involved in these ways compared to about one-third of fathers that were not romantically involved with the mother. The high initial levels of involvement among fathers overall are probably due to the fact that many of the parents in fragile families are still romantically involved when they are first interviewed (just after the birth); in short, their unions are still intact. Thus, the comparison with divorced parents is probably not appropriate. Once the relationship ends, however, fathers’ involvement may drop off just as rapidly among never-married couples as it does among divorced couples. As romantically involved couples break up and fathers move out over time, fathers spend less time with their children. As described earlier in the context of union stability, more than three-fifths of children born outside of marriage will be living apart from their biological father by age 5. Once nonresident, the majority of unwed fathers maintain at least some contact with their child. As shown in Table 8.4, at year 1, 87% of nonresident fathers had seen their child at some time since the baby’s birth, and 63% had seen their child more than once in the past month. By year 3, 71% of fathers had seen the child since the past interview (around child’s age 1), and 47% had seen the child more than once in the past month. At 5 years, 63% of fathers had seen their child since the 3-year interview, and 43% had seen the child more than once in the past month. Consistent with prior research, these figures suggest notable divergence in the level of nonresident fathers’ involvement that children experience over time—by their fifth birthday, nearly two-fifths of children born to unmarried parents (37%) have had no contact with their father in the prior 2 years, and another two-fifths (43%) have regular contact, with the remaining fifth (20%) falling somewhere in between. Among nonresident fathers who saw their child in the past year, the mean number of days the fathers saw their child was over 8 days at year 1, falling to just over 5 days at year 5. Among the subset of fathers who saw their child more than once in the previous month, as would be expected, the average level of contact is much higher. These fathers saw their children an average of 13 days a month in years 1 and 3, and 12 days a month in year 5. The frequency of spending one or more hours is close to ‘‘a few times a week’’ at

Fathers’ Involvement with Children in Fragile Families 257 Table 8.4 Prevalence of Fathers’ Involvement after Nonmarital Birth (Mothers’ Reports) Year 1 % or M (n ¼ 3,234) Nonresident fathers (%)

Year 3


% or M (n ¼ 3,113)

Year 5


% or M (n ¼ 3,037)




Saw child since previous survey (%)




Saw child more than once in past month (%)





All nonresident fathers

Mean # of days father saw child (range ¼ 0–30)













Mean frequency of spending 1þ hours (range ¼ 1–5)







Mean engagement in activities (range ¼ 0–7 days)







Fathers who saw child more than once in past month Mean # of days father saw child (range ¼ 1–30)

Notes: All figures weighted by national sampling weights for each respective year. Unweighted numbers of cases (n) indicate mothers interviewed at each survey wave living with the focal child that had nonmissing data on father coresidence status.

year 1, declining slightly over years 3 and 5. The average number of days per week that these fathers engage in activities with their child is 2.1 at years 1 and 3 and 1.5 at year 5. Although the mean levels decline, within-person analyses show that fathers typically stay on the same ‘‘end’’ of the involvement continuum over time (Ryan, Kalil, & Ziol-Guest, 2008); dichotomizing father involvement into ‘‘high’’ and ‘‘low’’ categories at each time point, Ryan and colleagues found that nearly three-quarters of nonresident fathers remained in the same category (26% consistently high, and 47% consistently low) between 1 and 3 years after the birth, while an even fraction of the remaining group (14% each) moved between categories. We also examined differences in levels of fathers’ involvement by race/ ethnicity (results not shown). We found that Black fathers were much more likely to be nonresident at each survey wave, compared to White or Hispanic fathers. Yet, among nonresident fathers, Black non-Hispanic men were somewhat more likely to have maintained contact with their child, to have seen their child in the past month, and to have seen their child a greater number of days. This is consistent with research suggesting that Black fathers are less constrained by the ‘‘package deal’’ linking partner and parent roles (Edin, Tach, & Mincy, 2009) and are more accustomed to distinguishing the ‘‘baby father’’ role from the mother–father romantic relationship (Mincy & Pouncy, 2007). We found that race/ethnic differences in the types of paternal engagement are less consistent across measures and over time, compared to the frequency of father–child contact.







Since some unmarried fathers do maintain high levels of involvement, it is instructive to consider what are the characteristics and circumstances that promote fathers’ continued involvement with children over time. Prior research on fathers in general suggests that fathers’ human capital (Cooksey & Craig, 1998; Landale & Oropesa, 2001) and identification with the father role (Ihinger-Tallman, Pasley, & Buehler, 1993; Marsiglio & Cohan, 2000) promote greater paternal investment. Also, the quality of relationship with the baby’s mother is strongly tied to parental involvement among (married) resident fathers (Erel & Burman, 1995) and among nonresident fathers (Seltzer, 1991). After the couple relationship has ended, fathers’ repartnering and having new children is shown to diminish their contact with and economic support of prior children (Manning & Smock, 1999, 2000; Smock & Manning, 1997b; Stewart, 2003). Recent studies of low-income fathers taken from welfare samples or studies of children who participated in the Early Head Start program have also provided new evidence about paternal involvement among disadvantaged men, many of whom are never married. Given the difficulty of recruiting lowincome fathers, much of this research is based on small, nonrepresentative samples of fathers (sometimes including both biological fathers and other father figures together) who were willing to participate—typically men with greater resources, men who were romantically involved with the child’s mother, and men who were involved in their child’s life. Therefore, these studies may not generalize to larger populations of poor, minority, or unmarried fathers. At the same time, this research provides important new evidence about fathering in disadvantaged settings, often based on fathers’ own reports on and perspectives about their involvement with children. According to this research on disadvantaged men, resident fathers (either cohabiting or married) are much more involved with young children than nonresident fathers, as we would expect (Cabrera et al., 2004). Results are mixed about the role of socioeconomic resources, with some research showing no association between economic capacities and father involvement (Kalil, Ziol-Guest, & Coley, 2005), and other research suggesting that higher education, income, and/or employment are positively linked with supportive parenting and frequent interaction (Cabrera, Shannon, & Tamis-LeMonda, 2007; Coley & Chase-Lansdale, 1999). Among nonresident low-income fathers, men who are romantically involved with the mothers are more involved than men who are just friends or have no relationship with the mother (Cabrera et al., 2004), and parents’ ability to cooperate and avoid conflict seems to be important for both resident and nonresident fathers’ involvement (Coley & Hernandez, 2006). More broadly, mothers in low-income communities often take an active role and employ a range of strategies to encourage biological fathers—and other father figures—to be positively involved in their children’s lives (Roy & Burton, 2007). Within the Fragile Families data, a number of individual and contextual characteristics are shown to be associated with higher levels of biological father involvement. As we might expect, fathers who demonstrate

Fathers’ Involvement with Children in Fragile Families 259

involvement early on—whether via providing financial or instrumental support during the pregnancy (Cabrera, Fagan, & Farrie, 2008) or via establishing paternity shortly after the baby’s birth (Mincy, Garfinkel, & Nepomnyaschy, 2005)—are also more likely to be involved over the child’s first 3 years (with respect to time, engagement, and financial support). Greater human capital (measured by education, employment, or earnings) is positively linked to greater involvement, although all measures do not always reach statistical significance, particularly when multiple indicators are included in the same models (Cabrera et al., 2008; Carlson & McLanahan, 2004; Ryan et al., 2008). Fathers’ financial support of children tends to promote greater father–child contact (more than vice versa); this finding is particularly true for informal payments, although there is some evidence that formal child support is also associated with fathers’ visitation (Nepomnyaschy, 2007). Fathers’ social–psychological characteristics are highly salient to their involvement over time. Analyses of both quantitative and qualitative data show that fathers who display problem behaviors—including being physically violent and having problems with drugs or alcohol—are less likely to maintain contact with their children (Waller & Swisher, 2006); the lack of contact appears to partly reflect mothers’ taking actions to protect their children, such as ending their relationship with the baby’s father or limiting his access to the child after the relationship has ended (Claessens, 2007; Waller & Swisher). Both current and past incarceration (typically correlated with the behavioral problems noted previously) is shown to strongly deter fathers’ engagement with children and payment of child support (Ryan et al., 2008; Swisher & Waller, 2008). While theories about gender identity and socialization suggest that fathers may be more involved with sons than daughters, this finding appears to be limited to married fathers; there is no difference in fathers’ involvement after a nonmarital birth based on whether the child is a girl or boy (Lundberg, McLanahan, & Rose, 2007). Another important finding to emerge from the Fragile Families Study concerns the role of the mother–father relationship in shaping fathers’ involvement with his children. Consistent with prior studies of married fathers (Furstenberg & Cherlin, 1991; Townsend, 2002), the ‘‘package deal’’ that circumscribes fathers’ partner and parent relationships appears to be highly salient for unmarried fathers (Tach, Mincy, & Edin, in press). Both the type of relationship after a nonmarital birth (i.e., cohabiting, romantic but living apart, friends, or no relationship), as well as the quality of relationship net of type (i.e., supportiveness and ability to communicate effectively), are linked to greater involvement by unmarried fathers in fragile families (Carlson & McLanahan, 2004; Fagan & Palkovitz, 2007; Ryan et al., 2008). The importance of the mother–father relationship for paternal involvement has been similarly observed in the United Kingdom using data on fathers of young children from the Millennium Cohort Study (Kiernan, 2006; Kiernan & Smith, 2003). Even after parents are no longer romantically involved, the ability of the parents to get along remains salient for paternal involvement: Among nonresident fathers, the quality of the coparenting relationship strongly predicts higher levels of interaction (Carlson, McLanahan, & Brooks-Gunn, 2008). However, when parents (especially mothers)




repartner and have new children—fathers are less likely to see their children (Tach et al.). FATHERS’ INVOLVEMENT



An extensive literature has demonstrated the benefits of father involvement for child well-being by resident fathers, although much of this work has focused on middle-income samples and school-aged children or adolescents (Shannon, Tamis-LeMonda, London, & Cabrera, 2002). The evidence about nonresident father involvement is more limited and less consistent (Amato & Gilbreth, 1999; King, 1994; King & Sobolewski, 2006; see Chapter 6). Part of the reason for differential effects of father involvement by residential status may result from differences in the characteristics of men who end up living with their children (and typically with the child’s mother) vs. men who live away from their children (Jaffee, Caspi, Moffitt, Taylor, & Dickson, 2001). Fathers’ involvement with children may not be beneficial, for example, if the father has a history of violent or abusive behavior; some research shows that the benefits of fathers’ presence and caretaking for children’s behavior depend on whether the father himself displays antisocial behavior (Jaffee, Moffitt, Caspi, & Taylor, 2003). A growing literature on samples of low-income and/or African-American fathers has explored whether and to what extent greater paternal involvement is beneficial to children’s development and well-being. Recent studies focusing on pre-school-aged children find that low-income fathers who display more nurturing parenting have children with better cognitive and behavioral outcomes (Black, Dubowitz, & Starr, 1999; Martin, Ryan, & Brooks-Gunn, 2007; Shannon et al., 2002; Tamis-LeMonda, Shannon, Cabrera, & Lamb, 2004). Also, fathers’ payment of formal and informal child support has been linked with better socio-emotional outcomes among a sample of African-American pre-school-aged children of never-married mothers receiving welfare (Greene & Moore, 2000). There is also evidence that involvement by nonresident fathers predicts lower levels of delinquency among young adolescents (ages 10 to 14) living in low-income neighborhoods in Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio (Coley & Medeiros, 2007). While evidence from the Fragile Families Study is just emerging, research in progress shows that a higher level of father involvement is linked with lower child behavioral problems among resident fathers but not among nonresident fathers (Carlson, McLanahan, & Brooks-Gunn, 2009): Greater frequency of father–child contact, engagement in father–child activities, and shared parental responsibility show essentially no association with child behavioral scores for fathers who live away from their children. However, the benefits of nonresident father involvement may depend on the father’s ability to effectively work together with mothers in rearing their common child; fathers’ involvement is associated with significantly lower behavioral problems when mothers and fathers have a high-quality coparenting relationship (Carlson et al., 2009). Further research is warranted to understand for which unmarried fathers, and under what conditions, greater involvement across a range of domains contributes to children’s development and well-being.

Conclusion 261

It is important to note that biological fathers are not the only father figures in the lives of children born outside of marriage (see Chapter 9). As we’ve noted, unwed couples often break up soon after the baby’s birth, and both mothers and fathers are likely to repartner. One study finds that 31% of unmarried mothers have repartnered with a new man by the child’s fifth birthday (5% are remarried, 17% are cohabiting, and 9% are dating but living apart), and these new partners tend to have better sociodemographic characteristics than the previous partners (Bzostek, McLanahan, & Carlson, 2009). Resident ‘‘social fathers’’ are often involved with (nonbiological) children to the same extent as are resident biological fathers (Berger, Carlson, Bzostek, & Osborne, 2008), and there is evidence that their involvement is equally beneficial for young children’s behavior and health status (Bzostek, 2008). Other work that differentiates the types of social fathers involved with disadvantaged children suggests that involvement by male relatives may be more beneficial than involvement by mothers’ romantic partners (Jayakody & Kalil, 2002). Future research should consider the variation in patterns of involvement by fathers and father figures, especially as family structure changes over time, as well as the conjoint influence of involvement by biological and social fathers on children’s well-being. In summary, although most unmarried biological fathers are involved during the pregnancy and around the time of the birth, 5 years later, a significant fraction of fathers has little or no regular interaction with their child. Nearly two-thirds of unmarried fathers live away from their child, and nearly 30% of nonresident fathers have not seen their child in the past year. Further, when nonresident fathers are more involved, it is not clear that such involvement is beneficial to children’s well-being. By contrast, among fathers married at the time of the baby’s birth, their involvement with children remains much higher over time, largely because the majority of these men are still living with their child by age 5, and greater involvement by these resident fathers is positively linked to children’s well-being (figures not shown). This evidence raises concern about the circumstances of children born outside of marriage in terms of what they can expect to receive with respect to both time and money from their biological fathers, and the extent to which such contributions may enhance their well-being. Ultimately, these differential parental inputs may be an important aspect of how family structure is contributing to growing socioeconomic disparities in the United States (McLanahan & Percheski, 2008). CONCLUSION In this chapter we have described the characteristics and family relationships of fathers in fragile families, which we define as unmarried parents who have had a child together. We find that unmarried fathers differ notably from their counterparts who are married at the time of their baby’s birth, particularly in terms of their human capital and fertility histories. Most unmarried fathers have a high school education or less; one-fifth are not working at the time of the birth; and nearly one-third have children by another partner. These factors suggest that unwed fathers face serious




challenges in providing for their children and maintaining stable family relationships over time. Most unmarried fathers are romantically involved with their baby’s mother at the time of the birth, and most have high expectations for marrying the mother in the future. However, less than one-fifth of unmarried couples had actually married by the time their child was 5 years old. Similarly, most unmarried fathers say they intend to be highly involved with their child at the time of the birth. Yet, 5 years later, nearly two-thirds are living away from their child, and of those living away, less than half saw their child more than once in the past month. This descriptive portrait of fathers in fragile families points to both opportunities and challenges for policy makers interested in strengthening family ties. Contrary to popular perceptions that unmarried parents are not interested in family commitment, most unmarried fathers say that they value marriage, expect to marry the baby’s mother, and want to be involved in rearing their children. These hopes and positive attitudes provide an encouraging starting point from which policy could help unmarried parents strengthen their family relationships. At the same time, many unmarried parents face an uncertain economic future and complex family arrangements, which make it difficult to sustain a stable family life. Thus, if these fragile families are to meet their goal of raising their child together, they will likely need both public and private support. Insofar as most individuals believe that children would be better off if they were raised by both biological parents, and insofar as most parents in fragile families want to marry, a restructuring of social policy to strengthen fragile families would appear to have wide bipartisan support. Indeed, there is a growing emphasis in policy making of funding programs that address exactly these aims. Of course, new initiatives to promote marriage and father involvement do not exist in a vacuum, and their success will depend in large part on how they interact with welfare and child support enforcement policies. Ultimately, we contend that the most effective strategy for helping unmarried parents would involve a multifaceted approach that focuses on both improving parents’ human capital and relationship skills, while also eliminating any disincentives to family formation in our tax and transfer policies. REFERENCES Amato, P. R., & Gilbreth, J. G. (1999). Nonresident fathers and children’s well-being: A meta-analysis. Journal of Marriage and Family, 61(3), 557–573. Amato, P. R., Meyers, C. E., & Emery, R. E. (2009). Changes in nonresident fatherchild contact from 1976 to 2002. Family Relations, 58(1), 41–53. Amato, P. R., & Sobolewski, J. M. (2001). The effects of divorce and marital discord on adult children’s psychological wellbeing. American Sociological Review, 66(900– 921). Anderson, E. (1989). Sex codes and family life among poor inner-city youths. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 501, 59–78. Argys, L. M., Peters, E., Cook, S., Garasky, S., Nepomnyaschy, L., & Sorenson, E. (2007). Measuring contact between children and nonresident fathers. In S. L.

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Stepfathers’ Lives Exploring Social Context and Interpersonal Complexity WILLIAM MARSIGLIO and RAMON HINOJOSA


TEPFATHERS REPRESENT CRITICAL figures in the cornucopia of family configurations affecting children today. Persistent trends in family demography ensure that numerous adult men will have an opportunity to affect stepchildren’s development, and in turn, be influenced by these same children (Teachman, Tedrow, & Crowder, 2000). Because children living in households without one of their two biological parents spend more time residing with their mothers, the vast majority of stepchildren will come into contact with one or more residential stepfathers or their mother’s nonresident romantic partner(s) during their lives. These men, who Jayakody and Kalil (2002) call ‘‘romantic partner social fathers,’’ can be subsumed under the more general category of social fathers that includes any man (often a grandfather or uncle) considered to be a ‘‘father figure’’ who is not the birth father (Marsiglio, Day, & Lamb, 2000). We restrict our review to men who are romantically involved with a mother who has at least one child by another man and refer to all of the former men as stepfathers. Scholars from various disciplines have expanded and deepened understanding of stepfather families in recent years, although plenty of opportunities exist to advance knowledge in this area. The relevant literature streams focus primarily on stepfamilies, remarriage, cohabiting couples, child outcomes, and fathering. We selectively review these burgeoning literatures by emphasizing the multilayered conditions affecting stepfathers’ reciprocal relations with stepchildren. To begin, we highlight the larger cultural and social forces that frame stepfathers’ experiences. Next, we briefly document the demography of stepfather families while delineating the scope of stepfathers’ assets that might affect stepchildren’s lives. Unfortunately, most of our observations are restricted to patterns in the United States because representative data on stepfamilies from other countries are quite limited (Pryor, 2008).


Cultural Context 271

The bulk of our review assesses the wide range of complexities associated with stepfather families including: (a) processes related to stepfathers’ romantic partnerships and coparenting dynamics that determine how a new family form is created and negotiated; (b) identity issues relevant to stepfathers, fathers, and children; (c) relations between stepfathers and biological fathers, including implications of multiple partner fathering; (d) stepfathering styles and involvement activities; and (e) varied aspects of stepchildren’s well-being. With an eye toward improving the lives of those directly involved in stepfather families, we discuss several key policy and programmatic issues. Finally, we outline an eclectic, multimethod research agenda for studying stepfather families based on social constructionist, symbolic interactionist, life course, and developmental themes. CULTURAL CONTEXT Institutional forces continue to shape both public discourses that help define stepfamily life and the familial context in which the process of stepfathering unfolds. Even though people increasingly are exposed directly and indirectly to cultural narratives about stepfathering in contemporary times, stepfamily life remains a complex and in many respects ‘‘incomplete institution’’ with illdefined norms (Cherlin, 1978). Thus, it is critical to acknowledge the larger ecological influences that account for how (step)fathers, mothers, (step) children, (step)grandparents, and vested adults in the community define, challenge, and negotiate stepfathering. Stereotypical as well as more progressive images of stepfathers provide the backdrop for how stepfamily members make sense of their circumstances (Claxton-Oldfield, O’Neil, Thomson, & Gallant, 2005; Ganong & Coleman, 1997). Ideologies rooted in perceptions about families (genetic and legal ties), parenthood, childhood, and gender (especially masculinities) play a key role in framing what is expected of the men (stepfathers and fathers), mothers, and children involved in stepfather families. These overlapping ideologies establish the narrative resources individuals use in their everyday lives to conceptualize, talk about, and negotiate stepfamilies. Biology and legal agreements continue to be privileged in how Americans define family (Mason, Harrison-Jay, Svare, & Wolfinger, 2002). Unlike fathers who are granted formalized rights and obligations when they establish legal paternity, most stepfathers earn their informal privileges by demonstrating their worthiness through social fathering. Marriage bestows additional informal recognition on stepfathers when they officially wed a stepchild’s mother. Compared to married stepfathers who coreside with their wife and child(ren), the public generally views men who either cohabit with their partner and her child(ren) outside of marriage, or are involved in committed visiting unions, as less committed to their stepfathering responsibilities and not as deserving of ‘‘(step)father’’ status. These perceptions can limit stepfathers’ opportunities to engage in the ‘‘community responsibility’’ aspects of fathering in which men manage exchanges between stepchildren and the adults who supervise them at sites such as schools, recreation, and health care (Doucet, 2006).


Men’s most insidious difficulties as stepfathers stem from the interwoven messages that define the harmful cultural narrative about men and children (Marsiglio, 2008). The narrative is stereotypically gendered and depicts men, compared to women, as less caring and more abusive toward children in general. Most people apparently believe the data support this sweeping conclusion (Claxton-Oldfield, 2004). Moreover, in recent decades, the media frenzy has escalated ‘‘stranger danger’’ fears while distorting public perceptions about the relative risks children face being abused by men outside their families (Valentine, 2004). The perception is compounded by the socio-evolutionary argument: Stepfathers should be feared more than biological fathers because stepparents are less invested in their (step)children and treat them less conscientiously (Anderson, 2000; Daly & Wilson, 1980). These concerns surface most clearly in the literature exploring the controversial question of whether child abuse is more common in stepfamilies. After reviewing 11 studies published after 1980 assessing whether stepchildren are disproportionately overrepresented among reported cases of physical child abuse victims, Adler-Baeder (2006, p. 79) concluded that there is ‘‘a dearth of convincing evidence to substantiate the negative view of stepparents as more likely to physically abuse than biological parents.’’ Although more individual studies point to stepchildren being at greater risk, the more rigorous methodological studies find no difference (e.g., Malkin & Lamb, 1994). The discrepancy in findings may be due in part to whether sexual abuse cases are factored into the results. While studies finding no difference do not consider incidences of sexual abuse, other research finds higher rates of sexual abuse among stepparents (Ganong & Coleman, 2004; Giles-Sims, 1997). Despite the mixed findings about whether stepfathers are more likely than fathers to abuse children physically, the general public likely assumes that children are at greater relative risk in stepfather families (Claxton-Oldfield, Goodyear, Parsons, & ClaxtonOldfield, 2002). To the extent that men (and mothers) are aware of these gendered images, they may be more reluctant to press ahead with affectionate or intimate styles of stepfathering. Gender themes, in the form of dominant patriarchal norms, also shape cultural stereotypes that infuse multifather contexts (Marsiglio & Hinojosa, 2007). In the United States and most industrialized countries, the gendered norm of one man (not men) assuming a head-of-household position can place fathers and stepfathers in competition for control, attention, privileges, and affection in stepfamilies. This pattern hinders a cooperative style of dual fatherhood where family power and centrality are shared. That men are too often expected to present themselves as self-reliant, ‘‘go-it-alone’’ types alters how stepfathers (and fathers) do border work to negotiate their relative standing in relation to a stepfamily. Importantly, mothers and children can influence how these institutionalized norms are actually processed in specific families. DEMOGRAPHIC CONTEXT FOR STEPFATHER FAMILIES Because the divorce rate in the United States remains high, and rates of cohabitation and out-of-wedlock parenting have increased (Hamilton, Ventura, Martin, & Sutton, 2005; Smock, 2000; Teachman et al., 2000), men have

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a greater chance of spending time with children in some type of stepfamily than did their counterparts in the mid-1900s. This pattern coincides with a decline in the amount of time men spend living with their biological children (Hogan & Goldscheider, 2001; Eggebeen & Knoester, 2001). As of 2008, there were 73.9 million children living in the United States (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2009)), with more than 4 million, or roughly 6% of children residing in married or cohabiting stepparent households (Kreider, 2003). Because men make up a larger proportion of stepparents, the majority of these children live in stepfather homes. This number likely underestimates the number of men who act as a stepfather because it includes only those who currently reside with the child. This also tells us nothing about the number of children who before their 18th birthday may eventually live with stepfathers; past estimates have placed this figure as high as 30% (Hewitt, 1991). The literature on stepfamilies living outside the United States is limited, making it difficult to provide meaningful cross-cultural comparisons between patterns of stepfather family formation. Estimates in France in 1997 placed the number of children living with a stepparent at 8.7% (Mignot, 2008). In Australia, stepfamilies represent approximately 5% of all families (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2009). Similar to patterns in the United States, men make up the majority of stepparents, with three times as many men than women in both France and Australia entering families as the coresident stepparent (Australian Bureau of Statistics; Mignot). To better understand the latent potential that children in the United States have for men entering their lives as stepfathers at some future point, we turn to an imperfect measure, the percentage of births to unwed mothers. Between 1960 and 2006 the percentage of births to unmarried women in all age groups rose dramatically, from 5.3% to roughly 38% (Child Trends, 2008; National Center for Health Statistics, 2007). For women ages 15 to 17, 18 to 19, 20 to 24, and 25 to 29, the rates increased from 62 to 92, 40 to 81, 19 to 58, and 9 to 31%, respectively (Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2008). This is a crude measure because many nonmarital births take place in the context of cohabiting relationships with biological fathers, and some of these relationships result in marriage. However, even when cohabitation is with the birth father, children born to cohabiting parents are five times more likely to experience parental separation (Osborne, Manning, & Smock, 2007). A body of work from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, research using a birth cohort of 4,898 children born to married (1,186) and unmarried parents (3,712), highlights the potential for non-biological fathers to enter a child’s life at some future point. Among unmarried parents, 75% of mothers and 87% of fathers had plans to marry their partner (Gibson, Edin, & McLanahan, 2005). Roughly half of unmarried parents were cohabiting at the time of the child’s birth (Carlson et al., 2004). Three-fourths of cohabitors were still together one year later, with 15% having married their partners, and 60% still cohabiting (Carlson, McLanahan, & England, 2003). Compare this to unmarried parents who were romantically involved but not cohabiting at the time of the child’s birth; of these, roughly 50% remained romantically involved, 32% were cohabiting,


and only 5% had married after one year. When these relationships dissolve, doors open for men to enter children’s lives as stepfathers. In general, women with nonmarital births are more likely to cohabit (Qian, Lichter, & Mellott, 2005), and cohabiting couples are more likely to bring children from a previous relationship into the household than are remarried couples (Wineberg & McCarthy, 1998). Estimates from the early 1990s indicated roughly 25% of the 3.7 million cohabiting couples in the United States had at least one adult who brought children from a previous relationship (Bumpass, Sweet, & Cherlin, 1991). In 2007, of the 6.4 million cohabiting couples, 40%, or approximately 2.5 million couples, lived with at least one biological child of either partner (Kreider, 2007). Again, a significant majority of these families are stepfather families. What these data indirectly suggest is that stepfathering is a common experience for many men. To illustrate, a study of 7,107 men living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, found that of men at least 25 years of age, 21% helped raise a child who was not their own for more than a year (Lancaster & Kaplan, 2000). Sixteen percent raised their own offspring as well as other children, and 5% raised other men’s children exclusively. Of the 21%, 64% were involved with children from their partner’s previous relationship. The other children were either their partner’s dependent kin (5%), adopted from an agency (9%), or the children of friends or neighbors (6%). Men who become stepfathers tend to have lower incomes, fewer years of formal education, and tend to be older than men who have never married, making them somewhat less attractive mates (Anderson, 2000; Hernandez & Brandon, 2002). Comparative analyses with stepfathers in Sweden revealed a similar pattern, with men’s lower educational achievement and lower incomes being related to the increased likelihood of men becoming stepfathers (Bernhardt & Goldscheider, 2001, 2002; Bernhardt, Goldscheider, Rogers, & Koball, 2002). In the United States, single mothers also rank lower in the marriage market, both because they have a child and because they tend to have lower incomes and fewer years of education (Driscoll et al., 1999). Men who marry women with children may access a mate more easily (lower ranking people tend to couple), but at the expense of creating a family with fewer economic resources. This is particularly important considering that many births in the United States occur in remarriages, with half of all Black and White women giving birth to at least one child within 2 years of remarriage (Coleman, Ganong, & Fine, 2000). Approximately half of all remarried women, most of whom have children from prior relationships, have additional children when they remarry (Griffith, Koo, & Suchindran, 1985; Stewart, 2005). Not all men who become stepfathers will marry their partner, but some do. In the event that stepfathers marry their partner and the couple has children, each additional child in the household means that men’s ability to allocate their economic and social resources to children is stretched thin (Harknett & Knab, 2007). This may help explain why men with children in different households often withdraw support from nonresident children (Carlson & Furstenberg, 2006). For the men who become stepfathers, this often means

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bearing greater economic and social responsibility for other men’s children as they support their own. Our overview of the unique demographic circumstances associated with stepfamilies in contemporary times informs interpretations of how stepfamily processes implicate stepfathers and stepchildren. Unlike in previous centuries when many men helped raise children not biologically related to them because of paternal deaths, today high rates of nonmarital births and divorce primarily create the opportunities for men to become stepfathers while fathers are still living and often involved to some extent in their children’s lives. Also, compared to biological fathers in general, those who assume a stepfather status tend to have more limited human capital. COMPLEXITIES OF STEPFATHER FAMILIES NEGOTIATING EXTENDED



Increasingly, extended, modified extended, and multigenerational families fulfill the traditional role of modern nuclear families in terms of social, emotional, and economic support (Bengtson, 2001). Men moving into extended family households may encounter multiple social parents, and must negotiate understandings with their partner and partner’s children as well as possibly the children’s grandparents, aunts and uncles, and sisters and brothers, with each relationship presenting unique challenges. For example, when the children’s grandparents live in the household, stepfathers must take care not to side too much with them because doing so may jeopardize their relationship with their partners (Mills, 1988). However, stepfathers who disagree too much with grandparents may incite their partners’ anger. Compared to White stepfathers, African-American stepfathers are more likely to encounter these types of extended family situations because African American children are more likely to be raised by grandparents, usually grandmothers (Hill Collins, 2000). The most common stepfathering situation involves extended kin to the stepfamily living elsewhere but who serve as a social support network for stepfathers’ partners and stepchild(ren). Each additional relationship men encounter between a stepchild and an extended family member is fertile ground for interpersonal conflict. Failure to negotiate these relationships successfully may impede the prospect of integrating smoothly into the stepfamily (Rothe, 2001). Unfortunately, this remains an often overlooked (and understudied) aspect of the stepfather experience. CONSTRUCTING





The processes by which men become and express themselves as stepfathers are complex and multilayered (Marsiglio, 2004a). Becoming a stepfather means learning the ‘‘family dance,’’ or the norms, interaction routines, rituals, and ebbs and flows of family life (Marsiglio & Hinojosa, 2006). Men must navigate their partners’ and stepchildren’s established ways of interacting to integrate into the stepfamily household successfully. Part of this ever-changing process involves stepfathers managing their identities in a wide range of


contexts (Marsiglio, 2005). The contexts are based on whether stepfathers occupy or own a physical property as well as whether an interaction occurs in a public or private venue. To the extent that biological fathers are present in children’s lives, this also means learning to adjust to the father’s relationships with the mother and children (MacDonald & DeMaris, 2002). As implied above, this dance is more complex when the stepchild’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other family members are involved. To better understand the social psychological features that give meaning to men’s lives as stepfathers the following processes and critical decisions warrant theoretical and empirical attention: 1. What, when, and how do men learn about the biological father’s character and role in his child(ren)’s lives and then navigate interactions with him? 2. The men’s initial reactions to meeting the child(ren) and their subsequent ‘‘affinity-seeking’’ and ‘‘affinity maintaining’’ efforts (Ganong, Coleman, Fine, & Martin, 1999). 3. Cohabitation and marriage decisions and the associated experiences tied to residential moves and sharing physical space. 4. Emotional and practical energies directed toward claiming children as their own. 5. Communications about and legal efforts to adopt. 6. Forging and modifying the level and type of coparenting with the mother. 7. Creating naming conventions. 8. Managing the larger matrix of relations with one’s own children and extended kin. A number of these experiences involve stepfathers’ romantic partnerships and coparenting dynamics as part of the process of creating and negotiating a new family form. How stepfathers and stepchildren relate to one another is often critical to these processes. One national longitudinal study found that adolescents who have closer relationships with their mothers are more likely to develop close ties to married stepfathers, but adolescent–mother relationships tend to decline when a cohabiting stepfather enters the household (King, 2008). IDENTITY CONSTRUCTIONS



A critical aspect of the stepfathering adjustment process involves men’s efforts to forge and manage their identities as they learn how to relate to stepfamily members as part of a reciprocal process. As Hetherington and Kelly (2002, p. 190) observed, ‘‘Parenting is a two-way street, and the behavior of stepchildren has an important influence on the responses of stepparents . . . Disobedient, contentious, hostile stepchildren can make a misery of family relations.’’ In addition, children’s personality characteristics, good and bad, can affect men’s tendencies to see themselves as full-fledged stepfathers, including those willing to claim stepchildren as their own (Marsiglio, 2004b).

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Prior to getting romantically involved with a woman with children for the first time, men typically do not seriously reflect on what it would be like to develop a stepfather identity. Moreover, in his study of relatively new stepfamilies in London, Robertson (2008) found that stepfathers had few discussions with their partner about child care responsibilities prior to cohabiting. Thus, when men are on the verge of creating a stepfamily, they often begin to fashion their unconventional identity without clear expectations. However, stepfathers who have children with other women can use their children to contrast or benchmark their experiences with and feelings for their stepchildren. According to data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth (Lamb, 2007), stepfathers who had nonresident biological children were less likely to adopt their stepchildren formally. In addition, if their partner is raising children with different fathers, stepfathers may orient themselves differently to the specific children in the same family as a result of the biological fathers’ differing approaches to their children. Lamb (2007) also documented a relationship between men adopting stepchildren and their having shared biological children with their new partner. Although the causal ordering could not be determined, those stepfathers who adopted their partner’s children were more likely to have shared children as well. Interestingly, it is possible that stepfathers who commit themselves wholeheartedly to their stepchildren—as evidenced by their willingness to adopt them—may be given a chance to father biological children they might otherwise not have fathered if they had remained single. Although we are interested primarily in the processes affecting stepfathers and stepchildren most directly, biological fathers and mothers are implicated in these processes as well. The parents can influence how stepfathers perceive themselves, relate to stepchildren, and fashion their self-perceptions as possible parental figures relative to the mother and father. An earlier analysis based on the 1987–1988 wave of the National Survey of Families and Households showed that whereas nearly 33% of a combined sample of married and cohabiting stepfathers responded that it was ‘‘somewhat’’ or ‘‘definitely’’ true that: ‘‘A stepparent is more like a friend than a parent to stepchildren,’’ about 50% indicated the statement was false. Meanwhile, 55% answered ‘‘somewhat’’ or ‘‘definitely’’ true to the statement: ‘‘Having stepchildren is just as satisfying as having your own children.’’ In a multivariate analysis, three factors were positively and significantly related to a seven-item scale measuring stepfathers’ likelihood of expressing father-like perceptions: living with both biological and stepchildren in the same household (compared to living with only stepchildren), becoming a stepfather earlier in a child’s life, and having more positive evaluations of their relationship with their wife/partner. One recent qualitative analysis explored the conditions surrounding some stepfathers’ orientation toward being a ‘‘father ally’’ to the biological father (Marsiglio & Hinojosa, 2007). This orientation captures men’s activities that presumably directly or indirectly help the father sustain or improve his relationship with his child. In some cases, being a father ally led a stepfather to develop a more complex and expansive parenting identity in that he expressed a willingness to embrace the notion of cofathering.


Stepfathers’ identity work can be further complicated if they face conditions representing some variation of multiple-partner parenting—their own, their partner’s, or the biological father’s. Men responsible for multipartner fathering tend to invest less time and money into their biological children compared to men without such commitments (Guzzo & Furstenberg, 2007; Manlove, Logan, Ikramullah, & Holcombe, 2008). Unfortunately, those least capable of financially supporting multiple children are the most likely to experience multipartner fertility. STEPFATHERING STYLES, BONDS,



Just as fathers orient themselves to their children in varied ways, stepfathers exhibit different interaction styles with their stepchildren. Scholars have described many stepfathers as being disengaged—essentially ‘‘polite strangers’’ who express little warmth and have at best a minimal role in monitoring activities (Hetherington & Henderson, 1997; Kurdek, 1994)—or ‘‘playful spectators’’ (Patterson, 1982). Earlier research indicated that compared to married biological fathers, married stepfathers are less likely to participate in activities with their resident stepchildren (Cooksey & Fondell, 1996; Thomson, McLanahan, & Curtin, 1992) and are less apt to monitor or exert controlling behaviors toward them (Fisher, Leve, O’Leary, & Leve, 2003; Hetherington & Jodl, 1994). However, analyzing data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, Berger, Carlson, Bzostek, and Osborne, (2008, p. 637) recently concluded that ‘‘social fathers engage in parenting practices with 5-year-old children that are of equal, if not higher, quality to those of biological fathers and that marriage appears to be more closely linked to higher-quality parenting practices among social fathers than among biological fathers’’ (see also Gibson-Davis, 2008). In other words, when stepfathers are married to their stepchildren’s mother, the men tend to have stronger relationships with the children. Other researchers have also found that many stepfathers have close relationships with their stepchildren (Furstenberg & Harris, 1992; King, 2006; Marsiglio, 2004a; Pryor & Rodgers, 2001). In-depth interviews with a purposive sample of stepfathers revealed that they are capable of being fully engaged and committed to being a ‘‘father’’ to their stepchildren (Marsiglio, 2004b). This qualitative analysis generated 10 properties in connection with men claiming stepchildren as their own: timing, degree of deliberativeness, degree of identity conviction, paternal role range, solo-shared identity, mindfulness, propriety work, naming, seeking public recognition, and biological children as benchmarks. The properties include strategies and routines men use to manage their orientation toward stepchildren as well as potential consequences resulting from men’s perceiving stepchildren as their own. Some properties can also be conceptualized as conditions that prompt men to claim stepchildren. The analysis highlighted interrelated social psychological processes by which stepfathers engaged stepchildren and made sense of their commitments to them. Stepfathers were more likely to claim stepchildren in this way when the mother was supportive, the biological father was not actively involved, the stepchildren were younger, and the stepfather felt some affinity with the child’s personality (see also, Marsiglio, 1995).

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Analyzing reports from youth aged 10 to 18 from the second wave of the National Survey of Families and Households, White and Gilbreth (2001) found very similar levels of relationship quality with nonresident fathers and resident stepfathers, though the variance was considerably greater for child– father relations. They concluded that ‘‘it does not appear as if children’s good relationships with their stepfathers were purchased at the expense of relationships with their natural fathers, nor does it appear that children who got along with one father got along with the other; there is simply no relationship’’ (p. 160). King (2006) presents another set of findings related to stepfather–stepchild relations based on self-reports from 11- to 18-year-old participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). She focused on adolescents living in married stepfather families who also had a living nonresident father. Her analysis of adolescents’ replies to a five-point scale showed that whereas 60% reported being close (quite or extremely) with their stepfathers, 91% indicated being close to their mother, and 41% answered similarly about nonresident fathers. For the entire sample, 25% indicated being close to both fathers, 24% to neither father, 35% to only the stepfather, and 16% to only the nonresident father. When she restricted her analysis to only adolescents who have contact with their nonresident fathers, reports of closeness were still higher for stepfathers. Several factors were predictive of adolescents being in one of the four configurations of closeness to (step) fathers. Those most likely to be close to both stepfather and nonresident fathers were male, younger, closest to their mothers, and in families where the mother and stepfather were in the happiest marriages. Neither race, immigrant status, family income, nor mother’s education were significantly related to these groups. Adolescents who were close to only their stepfathers had spent the longest time with them and had the least amount of contact with their nonresident father. In their study of stepfathers with a focal stepchild 12 or 13 years of age, Coltrane, Gutierrez, and Parke (2008) confirmed that there were few differences in parenting patterns between Mexican-American and Anglo-Americans living in the southwestern region of the United States. Only 3 of 21 comparisons for parenting practices were statistically different. Compared to their Anglo counterparts, Mexican-American fathers indicated that they did more activities with their stepchildren but monitored them less, and they had worse relations with the biological father. However, based on separate measures for children, mothers, and stepfathers, no statistically significant differences were observed for levels of acceptance or warmth, amount of rejection, or frequency of discipline. In this study, both the Mexican-American stepfathers and children reported generally positive relationships. Thirty-seven percent of the Mexican-American stepfathers indicated they got along ‘‘extremely well’’ with their stepchildren; another 51% reported they got along ‘‘pretty well.’’ According to the adolescents, 86% ‘‘strongly agreed’’ or ‘‘agreed’’ that they ‘‘really mattered’’ to their stepfather. Fifty-eight percent of the stepchildren reported that their stepfathers hugged them, patted them on the back, or showed some other form of physical affection.


Does living with a stepfather alter the quality of parenting children receive? Berger (2007) explored this question using the National Survey of Youth and found that for children under age 10, they were more likely to experience substandard parenting if they lived in mother–partner families. Substandard parenting was assessed with a multi-item index that measured personal warmth, outings and activities, learning environments, aspects of the home interior such as safety, frequent spanking, and whether the focal child experienced an accident requiring medical care. Contrary to King’s analysis, income did matter and represented a strong protective factor. As income increased, children were less likely to experience substandard parenting. Unfortunately, the data did not distinguish between married and cohabiting couples, so one cannot determine whether the marital status or other specific features of the mother–stepfather union accounted for varying levels of poorquality parenting. A few recent studies have taken advantage of other national survey data to compare stepfathers’ type and level of involvement with stepchildren to the activities biological and adoptive fathers have with their children. One analysis focusing on data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) and another national data set of younger fathers compared ‘‘father’’ involvement activities for stepfathers, coresident boyfriends of the mother, and biological fathers (Hofferth, Pleck, Stueve, Bianchi, & Sayer, 2002; see also Hofferth & Anderson, 2003). The analysis revealed that compared to biological fathers, stepfathers of children 0 to 12 years of age spent less time per day talking, playing, and otherwise engaged with their children and in close proximity to them. Whereas biological fathers were more engaged in general than the mother’s boyfriend, there was no difference for play time in particular or being available in general. In short, although stepfathers and mothers’ romantic partners can sometimes provide valuable assets to children unrelated to them (Marsiglio, 2004a), biological fathers are more likely to devote time, energy, and resources to their children (Cooksey & Fondell, 1996). STEPCHILDREN’S WELL-BEING Research tends to show that youth who live in stepfamilies do not fare as well socially, emotionally, or academically as children in biologically related, intact two-parent families (Astone & McLanahan, 1991; Hanson, McLanahan, & Thompson, 1996; King, 2006; Pong, 1997; Teachman, Paasch, & Carver, 1996; Tillman, 2007; Zill, Morrison, & Cioro, 1993). When compared to children from intact families, family structure appears to contribute to youth in stepfamilies having lower self-esteem, greater feelings of anxiety and isolation, higher levels of depression, greater suicidal ideation, and more antisocial behaviors such as vandalism, lying, and stealing (Cherlin & Furstenberg, 1994; Foley et al., 2004; Garnefski & Diekstra, 1997; McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994; Yuan & Hamilton, 2006). Children in stepfamilies also show evidence of poorer academic outcomes, as measured by lower grades, more deviant school behavior, and weaker expectations that they will someday attend college (King; Tillman). Because the majority of stepfamilies are stepfather families, researchers have increasingly focused on how stepfathers influence children (Flouri,

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2008). Much recent work has moved beyond crude analyses of family structure to explore stepfather family background characteristics, such as pathways to stepfamilies, (i.e., whether stepfamilies are the result of divorce, nonmarital births, or death of a parent), socioeconomic characteristics, and parental characteristics and practices, and how these are associated with negative outcomes for stepchildren (Beck, Cooper, McLanahan, & BrooksGunn, 2008; Cooper, Osborne, Beck, & McLanahan, 2008; Ginther & Pollak, 2004; Hofferth, 2006; Lansford, Ceballo, Abbey, & Stewart, 2001; Nicholson, Fergusson, & Horwood, 1999; Ram & Hou, 2003). One 18-year longitudinal study of children living in a stepfamily between the ages of 6 and 16 examined the relationship between living in a stepfamily and psychosocial outcomes, such as mental health (depressive symptomatology), antisocial behavior, substance use (nicotine, illicit drugs, alcohol), educational outcomes, and sexual risk-taking behaviors when stepchildren reached age 18 (Nicholson, Fergusson, & Horwood). These researchers observed that stepchild outcomes were better explained by some of the conditions that led to the child’s biological family dissolution, such as family conflict, than to the fact that children were raised in stepfamilies. This fits with the general literature showing the effects of parental marital dissolution on a range of factors, including academic, social, and emotional outcomes (Amato & Keith, 1991; Oldehinkel, Ormel, Veenstra, De Winter, & Verhulst, 2008; Strohschein, 2005). Family dissolution is often marred by intense conflict between parents and other family members. Added to the strife of marital dissolution is the stress of stepfamily formation as family members try to adjust to new expectations, routines, and power dynamics while incorporating the stepfather into the preexisting family. Thus, stepchildren’s poorer academic and behavioral outcomes stem more from issues related to instability and difficult transitions than family structure per se (Beck et al., 2008; Cooper et al., 2008; Ram & Hou, 2003). One approach to explaining differences in child outcomes is parental investment, or the time, attention, emotional support, and income parents provide to children. Children living with stepfathers typically receive fewer parental investments than those living in biologically intact families (Case, Lin, & McLanahan, 2000; Case & Paxson, 2001; Thomson, Mosley, Hanson, & McLanahan, 2001). Stepfathers’ investment in resident stepchildren increases as a function of time, so that the longer they live together, the more stepfathers invest (Anderson, Kaplan, & Lancaster, 1999). This may be why the length of time stepfathers have been in residence is inversely related to adolescent depression (Yuan & Hamilton, 2006). Stepfather investment is also related to perceptions of emotional closeness. The more time and attention stepfathers give stepchildren, the more opportunities there are for the relationships to strengthen and deepen (Marsiglio, 2004a). Generally speaking, time and attention are important factors in the development of trust in any relationship. Investment can foster situations where children feel comfortable confiding in stepfathers about academic, emotional, and social difficulties and, in turn, receive advice on how to manage potential problems. This may help explain why closeness is a good predictor of stepchild outcomes. In her national study of 11- to 18-year-olds, King (2006) found that among youth whose biological parents had separated,


those with close relationships with stepfathers had better emotional (depressive symptoms and other symptoms of psychological distress), social (antisocial and delinquent behaviors such as lying, stealing, vandalism, and being unruly in pubic), and academic (grades) outcomes than those who perceived stepfathers to be emotionally distant. While this is also true for children who have close relationships with their noncustodial fathers, the effect is stronger for stepfathers (Yuan & Hamilton, 2006; White & Gilbreth, 2001). Not surprisingly, the best outcomes are seen in children who have close relationships with both step and biological fathers (King). Bzostek (2008, p. 959) also concluded, analyzing mothers’ reports of the well-being of 1- to-3 year-olds living with a ‘‘social father,’’ that the beneficial influence of positive involvement by such fathers is not diminished by frequent contact with a nonresident biological father. Moreover, involvement by the social fathers is just as beneficial as involvement by resident biological fathers. Stepfather–child closeness is also related to gender as is evidenced by King’s (2006) finding that male stepchildren had the closest relationship with their stepfathers, and they seem to benefit more from a close relationship with their stepfathers than young girls. Boys tend to display fewer antisocial behaviors and behavioral problems than girls when the relationship is close (Hetherington, 1991; Kapinus & Gorman, 2004). A study using Add Health data and a composite index that included items for adolescents’ perception of stepfather closeness and caring behavior, as well as nine activity-oriented items, found that stepfathers’ greater involvement was related to adolescent boys’ but not girls’ lower motivation to have sex (Menning, Holtzman, & Kapinus, 2007). Because stepfathers are often portrayed as potentially abusive toward their stepchildren, particularly stepdaughters, the perception of risk and heightened suspicion of stepfathers may limit men’s willingness to develop close relationships with stepdaughters, especially when it comes to giving them personal attention and spending time alone with them. This could partially explain why adolescent girls are less likely than boys to view stepfathers as supportive (Pink & Wampler, 1985). Men’s reluctance to develop close relationships with stepdaughters limits their parental investment, and this may provide clues to why girls living in stepfather families are at greater risk than boys of exhibiting behavioral problems (Foley et al., 2004), having lower self-esteem, feeling more anxiety, and expressing more suicidal ideation (Garnefski & Diekstra, 1997). Another approach to explaining child outcomes documents that stepfathers, compared to biological fathers, tend to have less effective parenting practices (Amato & Sobolewski, 2004; Berger, 2004, 2007; Coleman, Ganong, & Fine, 2000; Nelson, 2004; Simons, Chen, Simons, Brody, & Cutrona, 2006). For example, stepfathers are less likely to provide parental supervision (Fisher et al., 2003;Kurdek & Fine, 1995; Marsiglio, 1991), engage stepchildren in interaction, or be emotionally supportive (Cooksey & Fondell, 1996; Kurdek & Fine; Thomson, McLanahan, & Curtin, 1992). Recall that in his work on substandard parenting noted previously, Berger (2007) found that stepfather families have lower quality parenting practices and that parenting tends to improve as household income rises. As a counterpoint to his earlier conceptualization of parenting practices, Berger

Policy and Programmatic Issues 283

and colleagues more recently (2008) found that stepfathers provided better quality parenting than married and unmarried biological fathers when practice was measured by engagement (how often father engages child in interaction), shared responsibility in parenting, cooperation in parenting (how much the father acts like someone the mother would want to take care of the child), and trust. Notably, this is one of the few studies that show stepfathers having better parenting practices. It is hard to overstate the importance of income in stepfather families. Income is related to better parenting practices and child involvement (Berger, 2008), which are themselves predictors of children’s academic, behavioral, and social outcomes. Socioeconomic status, compared to family structure alone, plays a much more significant role in shaping child outcomes (Hofferth, 2006;Kapinus & Gorman, 2004; McLeod & Shanahan, 1993; Miller & Davis, 1997; Smith & Brooks-Gunn, 1997; Wen, 2008), although family structure appears to indirectly matter because the men who eventually become stepfathers tend to enter stepfamilies with somewhat lower incomes and fewer years of education (Anderson, 2000; Hernandez & Brandon, 2002). Stepfather families are themselves stratified by marital status, with married stepfather families possessing greater economic resources than cohabiting stepfather families (Clayton, Mincy, & Blankenhorn, 2003; Doherty & Anderson, 2004; Seccombe, 2000; White & Rogers, 2000). Thus, socioeconomic status, as an indicator of children’s academic, behavioral, and social outcomes appears to explain many of the differences in the outcomes of children living in biological vs. stepfather family homes as well as those living in married stepfather vs. cohabiting stepfather homes (see Hofferth (2006) and Tillman (2007) for evidence to the contrary). Finally, several additional outcomes associated with living with a stepfather are noteworthy. Qualitative research suggests that for adults who grew up in a stepfamily, the transition from living with a single mother to having a stepfather (often married) living in the home gave them a feeling of greater social and emotional support. In addition, they enjoyed the greater access to economic resources (Freisthler, Messick Svare, & Harrison-Jay, 2003). Men who grew up in stepfamilies show a greater willingness to enter into relationships with single mothers (Goldscheider & Sassler, 2006). Thus, one outcome is that adult stepchildren, both men and women, are more likely to form stepfamilies themselves (Goldschieder & Kaufman, 2006). In summary, it is quite difficult to assess precisely stepfathers’ influence on their stepchildren’s well-being independent of other conditions and processes that tend to shape stepfamily relations. Survey and qualitative data suggest, though, that when stepchildren, especially boys, are close to their stepfathers, stepchildren are more likely to experience positive outcomes. The positive outcomes may be more likely to occur in stepfamilies that incorporate stepfathers who are able to make a significant financial contribution. POLICY AND PROGRAMMATIC ISSUES Although various public and private initiatives have been launched in recent years to address fatherhood issues in general, and some may potentially help stepfathers, those efforts have done little to deal systematically with any of the


unique aspects of the stepfather–stepchild relationship. That said, a series of innovative policy and legal initiatives in England and the United States have begun to expand stepparents’ rights (Fine, 1994; LexisNexis, 2001; Marsiglio, 2004a). These efforts, at their core, recognize that some stepparents have earned the right to be treated as parental figures. The Children Act of 1989, which became law in 1991 in England, provides a template for extending rights to stepparents. This provision enables resident stepparents to establish a legal relationship with a stepchild by petitioning for a residency order if they have been married to the biological parent for at least 2 years. The parents can retain their legal rights, but the stepparent is afforded most of the same rights as the parents. In the United States, efforts that could legitimize stepfathers’ relationships to their stepchildren have been proposed in the form of a new legal parental category, ‘‘de facto parent’’ (Mason, Harrison-Jay, Svare, & Wolfinger, 2002). It would . . . legally recognize stepparents as parental authorities but not cut off the rights of nonresident biological parents and not continue indefinitely in the event of a divorce. The concept of de facto parent is currently used loosely in the law with respect to those caring for children, but it has not taken on full form, with clearly delineated rights and obligation. Moreover, there is not consistency in the courts as to its use. (p. 519)

While possible advantages and disadvantages of this kind of innovation are discussed at length elsewhere (Marsiglio, 2004a), suffice it to say that incentives designed to prompt and enable stepfathers (and stepmothers) to become (and remain in cases of divorce) more invested in their stepchildren’s lives warrant careful attention. Researchers must be prepared to study systematically what types of influence new provisions might have on the matrix of relations between stepfathers, mothers, fathers, children, and child advocates in the community. Generally speaking, social service providers have done little to address stepfathers’ needs or involvement in stepfamilies, and researchers have paid scant attention to interventions that include stepfathers. One notable exception is DeGarmo and Forgatch’s (2007) innovative evaluation of how the Oregon model of Parent Management Training (PMTO) intervention affected stepfathers’ parenting skills and early elementary school stepchildren’s depression symptoms and level of noncompliance. This study, targeting couples who had been married for less than 2 years, used a randomized control experimental design and multimethod data, including videotaped observations of different combinations of interactions between stepfathers, mothers, and individual focal stepchildren. The researchers found that the PMTO intervention produced both positive changes in the quality of stepfathers’ parenting and improvements in stepchildren’s outcomes 2 years postintervention. Another small qualitative study of youth protection caseworkers in Quebec attempted to identify conditions that affected stepfathers’ involvement in psychosocial interventions (Parent, Saint-Jacques, Beaudry, & Robitaille, 2007). Caseworkers reacted in different ways to the stepfathers’ place in

Future Research Directions 285

their families and whether they should be encouraged or dissuaded from getting involved in interventions on behalf of their stepchildren. The authors focused particular attention on how caseworkers either entrusted or challenged the mother’s judgment regarding stepfathers’ involvement. FUTURE RESEARCH DIRECTIONS Dynamic cultural and demographic forces continuously alter how stepfamilies are represented and negotiated by its members, community agents, and the larger cultural discourses about families and gender. Consequently, the substantive map outlining the stepfathering terrain is in constant flux. In addition to generating intriguing insights about this landscape, the recent wave of studies on stepfathers and stepchildren has highlighted numerous and diverse avenues for future research. Critical questions, both established and new, warrant systematic attention. Research exploring these questions can be framed theoretically by social constructionist, symbolic interactionist, life course, developmental, and feminist perspectives, as well as others. We encourage scholars to consider more systematically the reciprocal processes associated with stepfathers’ and stepchildren’s relations while recognizing the potential direct and indirect influence of mothers, nonresident fathers, siblings, and others. Of course, the full research agenda on stepfathering will benefit if multiple methodologies, including longitudinal designs targeting multiple respondent perspectives are employed more often. Because mothers’ reports may differ significantly from those of fathers and stepfathers (Mikelson, 2008; Robertson, 2008), and children’s reports may diverge as well, care must be taken when interpreting the multiple perspectives. In addition, although most issues can be addressed with basic research approaches using survey designs and in-depth qualitative interviews, opportunities for doing needs assessments and important program evaluations also exist (DeGarmo & Forgatch, 2007). Here, we delineate critical questions regarding stepfather–stepchild relations and stepchild outcomes in the areas we reviewed. Efforts to address these questions would benefit from more systematic, collaborative work between the often separate camps of scholars interested in stepfamilies, fatherhood, and masculinities. Ideally, more research designs should target the healthy dimensions that are represented in many stepfather families (Coleman, Ganong, & Fine, 2000). Future research questions and sampling strategies need to be guided by both prevailing macro shifts in family demography and parents’ increasingly diverse life histories. Some analytic strategies for studying stepfather families can be applied effectively to only one or more members of the family, whereas others require comparisons between stepfather families and other family types, such as, resident two-biological parents, single mother, and stepmother families. Additionally, in light of the growing complexity to family transitions and interactions today, researchers should consider the relative value of romantic partner social fathers versus relative/friend social fathers for children’s wellbeing (Jayakody & Kalil, 2002).


Thus, more attention needs to focus on cohabiting families in which the mother’s boyfriend interacts with her child(ren). Building on Marsiglio’s (2004a) qualitative work, researchers should strive to understand more fully how various participants interpret, develop, negotiate, and express their ‘‘familial’’ identities in both informal and formal stepfamilies. Part of this research path seeks to establish a richer sense of the structural conditions and individual characteristics that influence the process by which individuals embrace or reject a sense of familial ‘‘we-ness.’’ In addition, analytic frameworks should take into account whether the stepfamily emerged from a divorce or a nonmarital birth(s) (Sweeney, 2007). The field would be well served too if researchers incorporated men who had recently been involved as a husband or cohabiting partner in a stepfather family that dissolved. Including such men could generate fresh insights about the full range of stepfather families, and unearth possible concerns for stepfathers postrelationship that have received little attention. Survey researchers will also need to address the extent to which and how documented outcomes for stepchildren are produced by ‘‘selection effects.’’ Specifically, scholars need to determine the relative importance of factors intimately connected to the sorting processes that lead some people to form a serious relationship with a woman/man who already has children and to establish some type of stepfamily, versus causal processes that affect stepchildren that stem from stepfamily dynamics (Goldscheider & Kaufman, 2006). The importance of this issue is underscored by Hofferth and Anderson’s (2003) finding based on PSID data that, once they eliminated the negative selectivity of stepfathers being different than biological fathers by examining families with joint biological and nonbiological children, paternal investment differences between stepfathers and biological fathers were not statistically significant. Marsiglio (2004a) outlined numerous concepts/themes that can be incorporated into qualitative or survey-based studies to grasp more fully a stepfather’s perspective and experience: 1. Type and level of awareness of a stepchild’s previous and current life experiences and personality 2. Experience with claiming a stepchild as being ‘‘his’’—emotionally, psychologically, and financially 3. Previous anticipatory socialization experiences with children 4. Experiences with birth mother facilitating/restricting his involvement with stepchild 5. Strategies to develop/sustain affinity with stepchild 6. Personal experiences with being a stepchild themselves 7. Facilitating actions that preserve/enhance the biological father’s relationship with the child. Research that explores these issues should deepen understanding about the complex set of processes that influence stepfathers’ relations with stepchildren. Elsewhere, we detailed a focused research agenda to further develop the father ally concept (Marsiglio & Hinojosa, 2007). Efforts to study stepfathers’

Future Research Directions 287

involvement in cooperative cofathering and how such arrangements might influence stepchildren are particularly relevant in an era when men increasingly embrace less traditionally gendered styles of friendship. Such efforts are also consistent with pleas to study simultaneously the array of interrelated relationships that often shape stepfamilies. Of course, recommending research that incorporates multiple family members is far easier than marshaling the resources to conduct such work. As researchers study the properties that define the cooperative stepfather– father relationship and the conditions that foster it, including how it is mediated by a stepchild’s mother, they should explore how stepchildren alter and are influenced by it. Even though truly cooperative cofathering appears to be relatively novel, creative counseling strategies and workshops could make it more common and effective. Evaluation studies that assess initiatives to improve stepfather–father cooperation as part of the larger stepfamily ecology would be useful. Although a few studies have incorporated stepchildren’s reports directly, much more can be done to learn how stepchildren perceive and respond to having a stepfather. Because the literature has for some time pointed to various gender differences in how boys and girls respond to having a stepfather in their lives, researchers need to examine diverse child outcomes, including internalizing and externalizing problems, educational outcomes, social capital acquisition, and others. In recent years, survey data from the Add Health study have improved our understanding of adolescents, but we have very limited qualitative data from children of any age, and limited survey data on younger children and young adults. These data are essential for understanding the interpersonal mechanisms by which stepfathers form relationships with stepchildren and make a difference in stepchildren’s lives. Developing more nuanced insights about how stepfathers and stepchildren perceive, negotiate, and experience closeness is critical. Analyses that focus on how trust is defined, built, and violated would be worthwhile. Longitudinal studies, with high-quality data from children, will enhance our ability to determine how child adjustment to a stepfather family is sensitive to the developmental timing of parents’ relationship dissolution and the onset of a new union. Efforts to understand the reciprocal dimensions to stepfathering can consider the extent to which stepchildren’s personality characteristics, demeanor, and actions elicit from stepfathers warmth, social support, financial contributions, and so for forth. The following 10 questions provide the basis for a research agenda targeting stepchildren, with an eye on their specific experiences in stepfather families. Although the questions are designed to direct stepchildren in a narrative rendering of their life story as a stepchild and their relationship with the stepfather, survey interviewers can adapt some of the items to a closedended format. 1. From an adolescent’s perspective, what does it mean to be a ‘‘stepchild’’ during childhood and adolescence? 2. How do stepchildren characterize their feelings for the stepfather and how do they display them?


3. Why are some stepchildren more likely than others to see or claim a stepfather as ‘‘their’’ father or legitimate adult authority figure? 4. How do stepchildren respond to and negotiate the use of labels and names to refer to stepfamily members (e.g., first name, dad, stepfather, daughter, stepdaughter)? 5. How do stepchildren interpret the way their relationship with their stepfather has affected their emotional, psychological, financial, and educational well-being? 6. To what extent and how do adolescents use impression management strategies to shape their ‘‘presentation of self’’ as stepchildren to others? 7. How do stepchildren describe and evaluate how their everyday rituals and affinity seeking/maintaining strategies have affected their relationship with their stepfather over time? 8. How do stepchildren manage their dual (and potentially competing) identities as stepchildren and biological children while negotiating relationships with their stepfather and biological father/birth mother? 9. How do stepchildren feel their relationships with their stepfather influences their relations with their biological father? 10. How do stepchildren specifically perceive their stepfather treats them differently than he does his biological children? Research issues like those outlined here will retain their significance for years to come because prevailing family demographic patterns ensure a high proportion of formal and informal stepfather families. If policy makers and researchers working in other countries secure more detailed data on stepfamilies, comparative work could explore the extent to which and how crosscultural conditions influence stepfather families. As cultural and social forces continue to challenge individuals and institutions to redefine the texture of family life throughout the world, researchers will be pressed to understand the evolving complexities associated with stepfather families. The convergence of identity processes (DeGarmo & Forgatch, 2002) and stepfamily dynamics in these arrangements will warrant diligent multidisciplinary efforts. Ideally, researchers will generate insights with theoretical, substantive, and practical significance so as to enhance the prospects that persons participating in stepfather families will be well served. REFERENCES Adler-Baeder, F. (2006). What do we know about the physical abuse of stepchildren? A review of the literature. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 44, 67–81. Amato, P. R., & Keith, B. (1991). Parental divorce and the well-being of children: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 110, 26–46. Amato, P., & Sobolewski, J. (2004). The effects of divorce on fathers and children: Nonresidential fathers and stepfathers. In M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of the father in child development (4th ed., pp. 341–367). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. Anderson, K. G. (2000). The life histories of American stepfathers in evolutionary perspective. Human Nature, 11, 307–333. Anderson, K. G., Kaplan, H., & Lancaster, J. (1999). Parental care by genetic fathers and stepfathers I: Reports from Albuquerque men. Evolution and Human Behavior, 20, 405–431.

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294 STEPFATHERS’ LIVES Nelson, T. J. (2004). Low-income fathers. Annual Review of Sociology, 30, 427–451. Nicholson, J. M., Fergusson, D. M. & Horwood, L. J. (1999). Effects on later adjustment of living in a stepfamily during childhood and adolescence. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 40(3), 405–416. Oldehinkel, A. J., Ormel, J., Veenstra, R., De Winter, A. F., & Verhulst, F. C. (2008). Parental divorce and offspring depressive symptoms: Dutch developmental trends during early adolescence. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70(2), 284–293. Osborne, C., Manning, W. D., & Smock, P. J. (2007). Married and cohabiting parents’ relationship stability: A focus on race and ethnicity. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69(5), 1345–1366. Parent, C., Saint-Jacques, M., Beaudry, M., & Robitaille, C. (2007). Stepfather involvement in social interventions made by youth protection services in stepfamilies. Child and Family Social Work, 12, 229–238. Patterson, G. R. (1982). Coercive family process. Eugene, OR: Castilia. Pink, J. E. T., & Wampler, K. S. (1985). Problem areas in stepfamilies: Cohesion, adaptability, and the stepfather–adolescent relationship. Family Relations, 34(3), 327–335. Pong, S. L. (1997). Family structure, school context, and eighth grade math and reading achievement. Journal of Marriage and Family, 59, 734–746. Pryor, J. (2008). The international handbook of stepfamilies: Policies and practices in legal, research, and clinical environments. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. Pryor, J., & Rodgers, B. (2001). Children in changing families: Life after parental separation. Oxford: Blackwell. Qian, Z., Lichter, D. T., & Mellott, L. M. (2005). Out-of-wedlock childbearing, marital prospects and mate selection. Social Forces, 84(1), 473–491. Ram, B., & Hou, F. (2003). Changes in family structure and child outcomes: Roles of economic and familial resources. Policy Studies Journal, 31(3), 309–330. Robertson, J. (2008). Stepfathers in families. In J. Pryor (Ed.), The international handbook of stepfamilies: Policies and practices in legal, research, and clinical environments (pp. 125–150). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. Rothe, E. M. (2001). Some important contributions of the stepfather to the psychological development of the boy. In E. H. Cath and M. Shopper (Eds.), Stepparenting: Creating and recreating families in America today (pp. 27–48). Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press. Schwartz, S. J., & Finley, G. E. (2006). Father involvement, nurturant fathering, and young adult psychosocial functioning: Differences among adoptive, adoptive stepfather, and nonadoptive stepfamilies. Journal of Family Issues, 27, 712–731. Seccombe, K. (2000). Families in poverty in the 1990s: Trends, causes, consequences, and lessons learned. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62(4), 1094–1113. Simons, G. L., Chen, Y., Simons, R. L., Brody, G., Cutrona, C. (2006). Parenting practices and child adjustment in different types of households: A study of African American families. Journal of Family Issues, 27(6), 803–825. Smith, J. R., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (1997). Correlates and consequences of harsh discipline for young children. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine 151(8), 777– 786. Smock, P. (2000). Cohabitation in the United States: An appraisal of research themes, findings, and implications. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 1–20. Stewart, S. D. (2005). How the birth of a child affects involvement with stepchildren. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 461–473. Strohschein, L. (2005). Parental divorce and child mental health trajectories. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67(5), 1286–1300.

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Fathers From Low-Income Backgrounds Myths and Evidence CATHERINE S. TAMIS-LEMONDA and KAREN E. MCFADDEN

FATHERS FROM LOW-INCOME BACKGROUNDS: MYTHS AND EVIDENCE This chapter is focused on the experiences of low-income fathers who, like all fathers, experience the joys and responsibilities of fatherhood, yet do so within contexts of significant challenge and constraint. Because low-income fathers by definition live near or below poverty thresholds, they struggle to provide their children with necessary resources (such as housing, food, clothing, and medical coverage). They typically reside in underresourced neighborhoods with high rates of concentrated poverty and few educational and employment opportunities. They are at best stably employed in lowwage work, or at worst unemployed, with many experiencing inconsistent employment without benefits. Many have not attained a high school diploma, and few have attended any college; thus, their prospects for future employment remain bleak. Over time, these challenges take a toll on both father– child and mother–father relationships: Low-income fathers are less likely to be formally identified as a child’s father, less likely to be married to the mother of their children, and less likely to reside with their children than men from more resourced households. Nonetheless, these broad-sweeping statistics tend to mask the true heterogeneity of men who are otherwise grouped together as ‘‘low income.’’ In the United States, low-income fathers live in both urban and rural communities; they are from Black, White, Asian, Latino, Native American, and mixed ethnic and racial backgrounds; they are immigrant and native born; Acknowledgements: We wish to thank the fathers and families who have participated in our ongoing research at New York University. We acknowledge members of the Early Head Start Fathers’ Research Consortium, who have been our close collaborators in the study of fathering in low-income, ethnically diverse families over the past decade. Catherine S. Tamis-LeMonda is at the Center for Research on Culture, Development, and Education at New York University, NSF Grant Nos. 0218159 and 0721383.


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they are younger and older; some reside with their children and others do not; and they vary substantially in the extent to which they are involved in their children’s lives and how they express that involvement. In short, the diversity that characterizes low-income fathers mirrors that of U.S. fathers more generally. However, in contrast to these similarities, the majority of popular narratives surrounding low-income fathers rarely highlight this heterogeneity. A main reason for this limitation is the challenges of studying low-income fathers (especially nonresident fathers), who are difficult to recruit into largescale research studies and thus least likely to be represented in research findings (Coley & Chase-Lansdale, 1999; McAdoo, 1993). Thus, knowledge about low-income fathers lags behind research on fathers more generally, and has often led to ‘‘filling in the blanks’’ about the characteristics, behaviors, and influences of these men. Consequently, portrayals of low-income fathers in the popular press, media, and public at large are often oversimplified, and there exist long-lasting myths about these men that are remarkably resistant to contradictory evidence. Examples of such myths include views that lowincome fathers are ‘‘deadbeat dads’’ who do not care about their children and are uninvolved or absent; that low-income fathers who have been raised by deadbeat dads will become deadbeat dads themselves; and that low-income fathers reject social institutions such as marriage and family. Myths about low-income fathers, in many ways, can also be found in the research literature. Often, researchers get caught up in theoretical frameworks or politically correct positions about fatherhood, which may or may not be rooted in empirical evidence. This is particularly true in the literature on low-income fathers. For example, some researchers have responded to the statistics of low marital rates, low father residency rates, and high rates of father absence in low-income families by advancing arguments that may actually undermine the importance of fathers in children’s development. These arguments include discourse on the benefits of blended families, the notion that ‘‘social fathers’’ can replace biological fathers, and the idea that absentee fathers have a benign effect on children as long as family members are supportive and household income is sufficient. These claims risk leading to double standards whereby low levels of father involvement and absenteeism are viewed as an acceptable norm for some children (e.g., those living in poor communities) but not for others (e.g., those in more resourced communities). The goal in this chapter is therefore to challenge certain myths that prevail about low-income fathers, both in the popular media and scholarly literature. We describe and refute four prominent characterizations of lowincome fathers as: (a) nonessential, (b) deadbeat, (c) perpetuators of their own childhood histories, and (d) dissenters of marriage. In doing so, we highlight the heterogeneity that characterizes low-income fathers, and stress the ways that low-income fathers are both unique and similar to fathers more broadly. We draw on our own research with low-income fathers (where relevant) to support these points, and end with a discussion of the various pathways through which low-income fathers are found to influence their children’s development.


THE NONESSENTIAL FATHER Surprisingly, one of the most prominent myths about low-income fathers is that they are unnecessary. Although few researchers explicitly state that fathers don’t matter for children, this idea implicitly underlies much discourse about low-income fathers. The argument goes something like this: Children from low-income families will do just fine, whether or not their fathers are around, as long as they are in a supportive home environment, or receive the necessary resources from other sources, or have someone else who functions ‘‘like a father’’ to them. In short, such claims seem to suggest that children in father-absent households (as defined by fathers having little or no contact with their children) are at no more risk than children with present fathers. This perspective is advanced in Silverstein and Auerbach’s (1999) deconstruction of the essential father, whereby they note that children need ‘‘at least one responsible, caretaking adult,’’ but this individual does not have to be male or female, does not have to live within a heterosexual family structure, and does not have to be a biological parent of the child. Following the publication of this article, the popular media soon pounced on the idea that ‘‘fathers don’t matter’’ (see Chavez, 1999; Jaccoby, 1999), and presented an overly simplified version of the complex points laid forth by Silverstein and Auerbach. In particular, Silverstein and Auerbach stressed that the practical and emotional demands of parenthood make meeting children’s needs highly difficult for the vast majority of single parents, and that although positive child outcomes are possible in single-parent families, under most circumstances they are not probable. These observations highlight the statistical distinction between ‘‘main effects’’ vs. interactions or ‘‘moderation.’’ That is, although there exist factors that may moderate or buffer the risks associated with absent fathers, the risks that accompany father absence persist for the majority of children (McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994; McLoyd, 1998).




A part of the nonessential father argument is the idea that fathers do not matter as much in certain cultural contexts, such as in communities where father absence is prevalent (which often tends to be low-income communities). However, research on the fertility patterns of Caribbean men suggests otherwise (Roopnarine, 2002). Both ethnographic and quantitative research in various cultural groups of the Caribbean indicates that many Caribbean men procreate in a series of transitory unions before permanently settling into family and marriage. Thus, many children in the Caribbean reside in households where their fathers are minimally involved, whereas others reap the psychological, emotional, and financial benefits of present fathers. Comparisons of children fathered with initial partners vs. those fathered in later unions (when fathers settle down and remain with their children and partners) indicate that children of transitory unions face elevated risks in social, emotional and cognitive development compared to children born into the later, father-stable households (Evans & Davies, 1997; Leo-Rhynie, 1997; Roopnarine). For example, many children born into early transitory unions experience less sensitive

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and nurturing engagements with their fathers. In studies of young, low-income Caribbean parents, fathers’ interactions with their children were characterized by low levels of the types of behaviors that support cognitive development, such as encouraging exploratory play or offering positive emotional support and praise (Leo-Rhynie; Payne & Furnham, 1992; Wint & Brown, 1988). Furthermore, in the case of early union Caribbean children, their interactions with nonbiological fathers are typically more agonistic than those between children and their biological fathers (Flinn, 1992; Roopnarine). Finally, in lowincome Caribbean societies, children born into later more permanent unions are simply more likely to have a biological father in the home, which often results in better household resources and thereby increases the likelihood of positive health and behavioral outcomes in children (Roopnarine). Thus, despite relatively high levels of father absence in Caribbean communities, children are by no means ‘‘buffered’’ from the adverse effects of absent or uninvolved fathers just because others around them are living in comparable circumstances. Similar cultural arguments have been applied to Black communities in the United States. When fathers are absent or don’t provide for children, grandparents and other family members often ‘‘pick up the slack’’ and substitute for a lack of father involvement by providing resources or engaging in the caretaking of children (Dornbusch et al., 1985; Stack, 1974). Again, however, this research tends to emphasize statistical moderation, by describing the conditions under which low-income children without involved fathers fare as well as those with involved fathers. While some children in low-income, father-absent homes are bolstered by extra family support, many children in low-income, single-parent households do not receive substantial monetary or in-kind familial contributions. Furthermore, lower rates of negative outcomes such as school dropout and teenage pregnancy are found in households where adolescents live with a stepfather in comparison to teens who live in single-parent or mother–grandmother homes (McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994). As such, arguments founded on statistical moderation virtually ignore the generalized benefits of positive father involvement that cut across racial and ethnic lines. In our work on father involvement during children’s first years of life, we have investigated father involvement in low-income White, Black, and Latino households (e.g., Shannon, Tamis-LeMonda, London, & Cabrera, 2002; TamisLeMonda, Shannon, Cabrera, & Lamb, 2004; Tamis-LeMonda, Kahana-Kalman, & Yoshikawa, 2009). Across all studies, positive father involvement, reflected in the frequencies and quality of father engagements with their children, uniformly predicts the language and cognitive development of children from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds. Others also find that positive father involvement relates to children’s outcomes similarly when ethnic and racial groups are compared (Black, Dubowitz, & Starr, 1999; Dubowitz et al., 2001; Evans & Davies, 1997; Leo-Rhynie, 1997). FAMILY RESOURCES, NOT FATHERS PER SE, ARE WHAT MATTERS Another argument that reflects the position of the nonessential father is that ‘‘economic disadvantage,’’ not ‘‘father absence per se,’’ accounts for the


adverse outcomes of children with absent fathers. The modus operandi of proponents of this idea is to ‘‘control for’’ the economic conditions of households with and without involved and/or resident fathers, and ask whether father effects diminish when these financial indicators are covaried. If associations between father absence and children’s outcomes attenuate after these controls, it is regarded as evidence that children are fine without fathers, as long as the family is compensated for the economic loss associated with father absence. For instance, longitudinal studies of teenage parenthood find that in situations where fathers remain in the household over time, financial stability is more probable and, as such, children are less likely to be subjected to the pervasive effects of poverty (Apfel & Seitz, 1996; Furstenberg & Harris, 1993; Furstenberg, Brooks-Gunn, & Morgan, 1987). Findings from such studies have at times been interpreted as evidence that, after controlling for increases in household income, father presence is not uniquely associated with additional benefits to child outcomes. Such conclusions are problematic on two levels. First, father presence is confounded with increases in household income such that although the variables may be statistically separated, due to their co-occurrence they cannot be theoretically decoupled. A major contribution of fathers is often the financial investments they make in their families. In other words, claims that fathers do not matter above and beyond their financial provisioning is akin to assertions that it was not the actual players on the 1999 U.S. women’s soccer team who were responsible for winning the World Cup, but rather their goal scoring and defensive tactics that explained the outcome. If possible to control for goals scored and goals defended, the U.S team no longer would have won. The same erroneous logic is evident when researchers consider a father’s economic assistance to the household as falling outside the purview of a father’s influence on children’s development. In low-income households, financial resources are especially important to children’s well-being and development, and the lack thereof can exert a major toll on the family. Thus, to the extent that involved fathers are more likely to contribute to household resources, and resources in lowincome households are already low, a core pathway through which lowincome fathers matter is their financial contributions. Second, claims that fathers do not make a difference in children’s outcomes above and beyond economic provisioning are based on studies that leave other dimensions of father involvement unmeasured. Father presence or absence is a static and often uninformative measure of fathers’ actual involvement with children, and in the event that some present fathers may have a positive influence on children (e.g., through cognitively stimulating play) while other present fathers may have a negative influence on children (e.g., through the effects of domestic violence), the benefits of positive father involvement would wash out when dichotomous measures of father absence/presence are examined. That may be one reason that studies using father presence as a measure of paternal influence in multivariate models have not predicted children’s developmental outcomes (e.g., Crockett, Eggebeen, & Hawkins, 1993; Mott, 1993; Furstenberg & Harris, 1993). Yet other studies of low-income families that examine the quality of the father–child

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interactions have demonstrated strong associations with children’s cognitive and language outcomes while similarly finding a lack of association between fathers’ sheer presence and these same outcomes (e.g., Black, Dubowitz, & Starr, 1999; Shannon et al., 2002; Tamis-LeMonda et al., 2004). SUMMARY Scholarship seeking to ‘‘deconstruct the essential father theory’’ (Silverstein & Auerbach, 1999) has often been dangerously co-opted by the popular media to support claims that fathers don’t matter and that children who grow up in single-parent households fare equally well as children who grow up with positively involved fathers. Such claims are refuted by countless empirical studies that show that children who experience absent fathers are more likely to confront an array of risks that compromise their well-being. Moreover, the ideas that fathers matter only in certain cultural contexts and that economic context rather than fathers per se matter are equally flawed. Rather, there are numerous benefits associated with positive father involvement, including financial support, and these benefits cut across socioeconomic, ethnic, and racial lines.

DEADBEAT DADS A second and related myth that has often been used in the characterization of low-income fathers is that of the ‘‘deadbeat dad.’’ The term deadbeat dad originated as a colloquial rendering of the official status of noncustodial parents who were noncompliant with, or behind on, court-ordered child support payments (Bartfeld & Meyer, 1994; Garfinkel, McLanahan, Meyer, & Selzer, 1998). This term soon came to encompass a father’s lack of other human or social capital investments in their children; thus, ‘‘deadbeat dads’’ were also fathers who did not spend time with or ‘‘weren’t there’’ for their children (e.g., Argys, Peters, & Waldman, 2001; Bartfeld & Meyer; Cherlin & Griffith, 1998). Over time, the term deadbeat dad was further generalized to men who did not reside with their children, based on the assumption that nonresidency reflected a lack of involvement. Consequently, because lowincome fathers are disproportionately nonresident, they were more likely to be referred to as deadbeat dads (Furstenberg et al., 1987; McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994). Researchers have since challenged this narrow characterization of lowincome fathers as deadbeat (Argys et al., 2001; Bartfeld & Meyer, 1994; Cherlin & Griffith, 1998; Mincy & Sorensen, 1998), and have sought to more accurately document the levels and forms of father involvement in these men. Such work confirmed that the vast majority of low-income fathers, both resident and nonresident, are involved with children in numerous ways (Cabrera et al., 2004). Large-scale studies,