Unit of Analysis

Current work clearly recognizes the importance of considering fathers from a family systems perspective. However, our conceptual analysis of dyadic and triadic units of analysis is still limited (Barrett and Hinde, 1988; Parke, 1988; McHale et al., 2002). Considerable progress has been made in describing the behavior of individual interactants (e.g., mother, father, child) within dyadic and, to a lesser extent, triadic settings, but less progress has been achieved in developing a language for describing interaction in dyadic and triadic terms. Even if such terms as reciprocal or synchronous hold promise, there remains little real advance in this regard. In addition, greater attention needs to be paid to the family as a unit of analysis. A number of researchers have offered differing taxonomies of family types or typologies that move us to this level of analysis (Boss, 1980; Kreppner, 1989; Reiss, 1981; Sameroff, 1994), but only recently have there been efforts to apply these notions systematically to family relationships in childhood (see Dickstein et al., 1998, Hayden et al., 1998).

Another aspect of the unit of analysis issue concerns the focus on variables versus individuals. As Magnusson and Cairns (1996, p. 25) have noted "most analyses of behavior have been "variable-oriented" rather than "person-oriented." Instead of focusing on a variable approach in which the goal is to examine relations among variables, Magnusson andBergmann (1990) advocate a person oriented approach in which questions are posed in terms of individuals and their profiles. Jain et al. (1996) recently applied this person-oriented approach to the description of types of fathers in intact families. Clusters of four types of fathers emerged: caretakers, playmates-teachers, disciplinarians and disengaged fathers. Moreover, the first two types of fathers were more educated, had more prestigious occupations, were less neurotic, had more confidence in the dependability of others and experienced fewer daily hassles than the disciplinarian and disengaged father types. This person-oriented approach to the classification of fathering types merits more attention by researchers in the future.

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