In a new study, researchers examined how a father’s income and education levels, relationships at home, and views on parenting may relate to his involvement with his children. The findings, published in the Journal of Family Issues, reveal that a father’s resources, such as education and money, are tied to different ways of staying involved.
“We found a range of different characteristics influenced father involvement in unique ways, from caregiving to financial investment,” said Tamarie Macon, assistant professor of applied psychology at New York University (NYU) Steinhardt and the study’s lead author.
“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. The bottom line: Both structural circumstances and fathers’ personal beliefs matter.”
Participants for the study were drawn from the Early Head Start Father Involvement with Toddlers Study. A total of 478 ethnically and racially diverse low-income fathers were included.
Researchers visited dads in their homes when their children were two years old and gathered information on fathers’ demographic and personal characteristics, including age, race/ethnicity, and resources as measured by income and education levels.
Fathers reported how often they spent time with their children in 33 different activities, including play, caregiving activities like preparing meals, cognitive activities like reading stories to a child, and social activities like visiting friends and family.
With regard to their relationships, fathers were asked if they live at home, what their relationship is like with the child’s mother, and whether the couple is often in conflict. Previous research shows that the quality of the father-mother relationship is tied to the father’s involvement with his kids, and conflict between parents can result in decreased involvement.
Finally, dads were asked about their feelings on whether men should be their family’s financial provider, the importance of investing in children to positively influence their development, and beliefs about traditional gender norms.
Analysis reveals that a father’s resources — education and money — were linked to different forms of involvement in different ways. More educated fathers spent more time with their children in caregiving and cognitive activities, but less time in social activities. Higher-income dads were more involved in taking their kids to religious services but less involved in “special” outings, such as the zoo or a museum.
While previous studies have shown a negative association between income and engagement, this study suggests that rather than overall father involvement decreasing with greater income, income may relate positively to some aspects of involvement and negatively to others.
“For instance, 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,” Macon said. “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.”
Not surprisingly, fathers who live with their children spent more time with them across several activities, and disagreements between fathers and mothers were negatively associated with fathers financially providing for their families.
A father’s beliefs about parenting affected his parenting behaviors. Fathers who considered their role as financial provider to be highly important reported more financial provision, whereas fathers who reported investment in their children’s development to be highly important were more involved in caregiving. Finally, dads who supported traditional gender roles participated in less caregiving and cognitive activities.
“Fathers’ views of their role related to specific aspects of their involvement beyond resources, relationships, and demographic characteristics,” said Macon. “Our results reaffirm the importance of designing parenting interventions that consider fathers’ beliefs and values, not solely their parenting knowledge and skills.”
Source: New York University