NEW YORK — Some are playful and others are reserved. Some are overprotective and others are carefree. Some are loving, and some keep their affection bottled up. So what exactly determines a father’s involvement in his children’s lives?
Researchers from New York University say a father’s parenting beliefs, income, education level, and personal relationships all play a role in how he’ll spend time with his children and provide for his family.
“We found a range of different characteristics influenced father involvement in unique ways, from caregiving to financial investment,” says the study’s lead author, Tamarie Macon, in a news release. “For example, what predicted how often fathers read to their children was not only their level of education but also their beliefs about gender roles in the family.”
For the study, the research team recruited a diverse group of 478 low-income fathers and visited with each one while their children were two years old. The participants were polled on 33 different activities they do with their children, such as reading books, visiting friends and family, and meal prepping. They also described their relationship with the child’s mother and reported whether they lived at home.
Fathers were surveyed on their personal parenting philosophies, along with how they viewed the position of the “man of the house” being the breadwinner who provides for his family, and other traditional gender norms.
Researchers found that the more educated fathers spent time with their child doing more cognitive activities and less social activities. Fathers with higher incomes were more inclined to take their children to religious services, while less apt to taking their children to cultural sites like zoos, museums, etc. Yet overall, there was a link between greater incomes and less child involvement.
“Higher-income fathers may have more availability on the weekends versus the workweek and focus their involvement on weekend activities, such as attending religious services,” says Macon. “Separating education and income as two aspects of father resources, which are often combined into a single measure of socioeconomic status, revealed differential associations with father investment of time and finances.”
As for the other areas that the participants were surveyed, the authors concluded that dads who preach gender norms aren’t active caregivers and have a minimal role in their children’s cognitive growth. Naturally, those who lived with their kids spent more time with them.
“Fathers’ views of their role related to specific aspects of their involvement beyond resources, relationships, and demographic characteristics,” concludes Macon. “Our results reaffirm the importance of designing parenting interventions that consider fathers’ beliefs and values, not solely their parenting knowledge and skills.”
The study’s findings were published in the Journal of Family Issues.