Monitoring Secular Trends

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There is a continuing need to monitor secular trends and to describe their impact on father-child interaction patterns (Coltrane and Parke, 1998; Parke and Stearns, 1993). Secular change is complex and clearly does not affect all individuals equally or all behavior patterns to the same extent. In fact, it is a serious oversimplification to assume that general societal trends can isomorphically be applied across all individual fathers and families. Moreover, better guidelines are necessary to illuminate which aspects of processes within families are most likely to be altered by historical events and which processes are less amenable to change. For example, the structural dynamics of early interaction (Stern, 1977) as well as some qualitative aspects of early parent-infant interactive style may be insulated from the influence of secular shifts. Are fathers biologically prepared to interact in a more physical way and mothers in a more verbal mode? If this assumption about differences in parental play style is, in fact, true, rates of interactions would be more likely to change than style as employment opportunities for women and men become more equal. Alternatively, the restraints may be more solely environmental, and as opportunities for adult female and male participation in childcare and childrearing equalize, some maternal-paternal stylistic differences may diminish.

Changes in technology represent another secular shift with potentially profound implications for fathers. Computer and communication technology can alter the relation between families and work. For example, researchers (Hill, Hawkins, and Miller, 1996) are beginning to explore the impact of telecommuting on fathers and families. As new work patterns that are due to advances in technology emerge, the effects on fathers merit examination. Even more profound is the potential impact of the new reproductive technologies on parenting in general and fathering in particular (Parke, 2002). New reproductive technologies are expanding the ways in which individuals become parents and opening up new possibilities for infertile as well as same-gender couples (Paulson and Sachs, 1999). The implications of these recent advances including in vitro fertilization, sperm donors, surrogate mothers, and indracyctoplasmic sperm injection for our definitions of parenthood, including fatherhood, are only beginning to be explored. Even less is known about the impact of these alternative pathways to fatherhood on children's development. Increasingly our definition of fatherhood is becoming divorced from biology and instead is recognized as a socially constructed category. New questions, both ethical and psychological, are likely to arise from these advances (see Parke, 2002).

To date, historical events, such as shifts in the timing of parenting or work participation, have been treated relatively independently, but, in fact, these events co-occur rather than operate in any singular fashion (Parke and Tinsley, 1984). Moreover, the impact of any historical change may be different as a result of its occurrence in the same period as another change or changes (Coltrane and Parke, 1998). For example, women's increased presence in the workplace and delay in the onset of parenthood vary, and probably each event has different meaning without the other change. This implies the research need for multivariate designs to capture the simultaneous impact of multiple events on fathering activities.

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