Quantitative Assessments of Father Involvement in Intact Families

The extent to which fathers in intact families participate in childcare needs to be distinguished from the level of involvement of fathers who are not coresident with their children for a variety of reasons, including divorce or out-of-wedlock births. In fact, this conceptual distinction reflects the contradictory trends in the fathering literature that Furstenberg (1988, p. 193) has characterized as the "two faces of fatherhood." On the one hand, fathers seem to be increasing their involvement and moving slowly toward more equal participation with their wives in the care and rearing of children. On the other hand, increases in father absence, nonpayment of child support, and denial of paternity suggest that a less desirable side of fatherhood is evident as well. As in prior decades, the movement is not linear and straightforward but is contradictory and inconsistent. Even among contemporary fathers in intact families, there is considerable variability in the level and type of involvement. For example, Jain, Belsky, and Crinic (1996) identified two major types of fathers, namely a set of progressive fathers who engaged in caregiving, play and teaching and a group of traditional fathers who were either disengaged or functioned as disciplinarians. In sum, both across time and in our own era, there are wide individual differences among fathers that are often obscured by our focus on overall trends and mother-father comparisons. In this subsection, the focus is on the former aspect of the issue, and in later subsections on adolescent fatherhood and father visitation the issue of nonresidential fatherhood is addressed.

In spite of current shifts in cultural attitudes concerning the appropriateness and the desirability of shared roles and equal levels of participation in routine caregiving and interaction for mothers and fathers, the shifts toward parity are small, but nonetheless real. In a recent review, Pleck (1997) cites a range of studies that document that father involvement has increased, albeit slowly. For example, Robinson (1988) compared levels of childcare by fathers in a small American city in 1966 and 1988 and found an increase. Employed fathers' time with children increased from 1.21 to 1.53 hr per week. This trend appears to be continuing. A national survey of men's childcare responsibilities found that the percentage of children whose fathers cared for them during their mothers' work hours rose from 15% in 1977 to 20% in 1991 (O'Connell, 1993). Pleck (1997, p. 74) noted that, "fathers are the primary care arrangement almost as often as are family day care homes (22%) and far more often than group care centers (14%) or grandparents (9%)." The fact that fathers are the primary caregivers during mothers' working hours in almost one out of five dual-career families with preschool children suggests that a much higher proportion of fathers have significant childcare responsibility than is usually thought. Some estimate that fathers' involvement in all aspects of childcare, not just during their wives' working hours, was nearly a third of the total childcare by U.S. dual-career couples in the 1990s. Although more mothers are entering the workforce, current occupational arrangements still mean that the vast majority of fathers have fewer opportunities for interaction with their children than mothers do (Coltrane, 1996; Lamb, 1987). As Pleck (1997, p. 71) noted, "Averaging across studies from the 1980s and 1990s, fathers proportional engagement is somewhat over two-fifths of mothers (43.5%) and their accessibility is two-thirds of mothers (65.6%)" (p. 71). These figures are higher than reports from the 1970s and early 1980s, which averaged one third for proportional engagement and one half for accessibility (Pleck, 1997).

In a recent critique of the prior work on father involvement, Yeung et al. (2001, p. 136) noted that "estimates of fathers' involvement vary widely for many reasons. Generalization and comparison over time or across age groups from results in previous research are difficult because studies on this topic differ in the samples used, the ages of the children covered, and the methodology employed in accounting for paternal involvement. Many of them are based on data collected from small local samples more than a decade ago, and most focus on fathers' involvement with infants and preschoolers."

To overcome these limitations and to provide a current estimate of the level of father involvement, Yeung et al. (2001) used a national representative sample of children in two-parent families in the United States in 1997. The sample included children aged 0 to 12 years and therefore allowed an assessment of the nature of paternal involvement across different developmental periods. Finally, because the data were collected in 1997, the study permitted a comparison of father involvement in the 1960s, 1980's, and the late 1990s to determine if there has been a historical shift in level of father involvement. These investigators confirmed Pleck's (1997) conclusion that there has been a gradual increase in the level of father involvement over the past four decades. Yeung et al. (2001) found that the relative time fathers in intact families were directly engaged with children was 67%

of the time that mothers were involved on weekdays and 87% of mothers engagement on weekends. Accessibility showed similar shifts across time that, in accord with earlier estimates (Pleck, 1997), were higher than levels of engagement. Finally, Yeung et al. found relatively few differences in level of father involvement (engagement or accessibility) as a function of ethnicity (African American, European American, and Latino). Others (Hossain and Roopnarine, 1994) reported similar findings. Involvement by African American fathers in middle-socioeconomic and lower-middle-socioeconomic, dual-earner families with infants and preschool children was similar to the levels of involvement of other ethnic groups.

Studies in other cultures confirm these findings. Evidence of mother-father differences in involvement comes from the longitudinal study of traditional and nontraditional families in Sweden conducted by Lamb and his colleagues (Lamb, Frodi, Hwang, and Frodi, 1982; Lamb, Frodi, Hwang, Frodi, and Steinberg, 1982). Families in which the father elected to stay home as primary caregiver for 1 month or more (nontraditional) were compared with families in which the father elected to be a secondary caregiver (traditional). In an analysis of home observations when infants were 8 and 16 months of age, mothers surpassed fathers in holding and affectional behavior regardless of family type. Further support for this pattern of gender-of-parent differences comes from a study of kibbutz families (Sagi, Lamb, Shoham, Dvir, and Lewkowicz, 1985). Although childcare was the primary responsibility of nonparental caregivers (metaplot) rather than that of either parent, gender differences in parental behavior similar to those observed in the United States and Sweden were found. Kibbutz mothers were more affectionate and engaged in more caregiving than were fathers. Finally, Ishii-Kuntz (1995, 2000) has reported similar findings for Japanese fathers; again, fathers engage in less direct caregiving than mothers.

These findings are consistent with the more general proposition that pregnancy and birth of a first child, in particular, are occasions for a shift toward a more traditional division of roles (Cowan and Cowan, 1992). Of particular interest is the fact that this pattern held regardless of whether the initial role division between husbands and wives was traditional or equalitarian (Cowan and Cowan, 1992). Cowan, Cowan, Coie, and Coie (1978, p. 20) observed that, "Despite the current rhetoric and ideology concerning equality of roles for men and women, it seems that couples tend to adopt traditionally defined roles during times of stressful transition such as around the birth of a first child."

The overall pattern of contact time between mothers and fathers with their children that is evident in infancy continues into middle childhood and adolescence (Collins and Russell, 1991). In a study of middle childhood (6- to 7-year-old children), Russell and Russell (1987) found that Australian mothers were available to children 54.7 hr/week compared with 34.6 hr/week for fathers. Mothers also spent more time alone with their children (22.6 hr/week) than did fathers (2.4 hr/week). However, when both parents and child were together, mothers and fathers initiated interactions with children with equal frequency and children's initiations toward each parent were similar. Adolescents spent less time with their parents than younger children did and less time alone with their father than with their mother (Larson and Richards, 1994). Montemayor (1982), in a study of 15- to 16-year-old teenagers, reported that more than twice as much time was spent with mother alone than with father alone each day. Similar findings were reported for 14- to 18-year-old teenagers by Montemayor and Brownlee (1987). In summary, mothers and fathers clearly differ in terms of their degree of involvement with their offspring from infancy through adolescence.

Although the relative difference in mother and father involvement is not markedly different across development, the absolute level of father involvement decreases as the child develops and the types of activities in which fathers and children interact also vary across development. In the survey by Yeung et al. (2001), for example, in the case of infants and toddlers (ages 0-2 years) fathers interact directly or are accessible to their children for approximately 3 hr/day. By the time the children are 9 to 12 years of age the level of involvement has decreased to 2V4 hr. Activities vary across age as well. Time in personal care with fathers (either interaction or accessibility) drops from 1 hr/day for infants to 1/2 hr for 9- to 12-year-old children. Play or companionship activities with fathers are more common among infants and toddlers (44 min/day) than at later ages (23 min for 9- to 12-year-old children). While indoor games and toy play as well as outdoor activities and sports decrease, TV and video watching increase across age. Achievement-related activities, which include reading, educational play, and studying, increase from 7 to 27 min from toddlerhood to preadolescence. The pattern is similar on weekends, but the absolute amount of time in which fathers are either involved or accessible nearly doubles. Not unexpected is the rise in household activities (e.g., shopping) and social activities (e.g., religious services) on weekends for fathers and their children. As the study by Yeung et al. (2001) study clearly underscores, both age and type of activity need to be considered in descriptions of father involvement.

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