Adolescents with Nonresident Fathers: Are Daughters More Disadvantaged Than Sons?

Article excerpt

This study examined sons' and daughters' involvement with nonresident fathers and associated outcomes (N = 4,663). Results indicated that sons and daughters reported equal involvement with nonresident fathers on most measures of father investment, although sons reported more overnight visits, sports, and movies and feeling closer to their fathers compared to daughters. Sons and daughters generally benefited from nonresident father involvement in the same way in internalizing and externalizing problems and grades. Feeling close to one's nonresident father, however, was associated with lower internalizing problems for daughters than sons. These findings suggest that nonresident fathers should be encouraged to be equally involved with their sons and daughters, as such involvement was associated with higher levels of well-being for both sons and daughters.

Key Words: father-child relations, National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (ADD Health), nonresidential parents.

There is near uniform agreement among family scholars that children with nonresident fathers tend to be worse off with respect to behavioral problems and school achievement than children who reside with both biological parents. Also, with some exceptions, there is consensus that greater high-quality nonresident father involvement with children is beneficial for offspring. There is, however, far less consistency in the literature regarding how offspring gender fits into these family processes. Yet if differential father involvement by gender exists, and if it is associated with better outcomes for sons, then daughters may be strongly disadvantaged compared to sons (Lundberg, McLanahan, & Rose, 2007).

In this project, we studied nonresident father involvement with sons and daughters. We had two primary research aims. First, we examined whether nonresident fathers invest more of their time and resources in their sons or daughters, a question with conflicting results in current research. In doing so, we also investigated whether offspring gender differences in nonresident father involvement vary by marital birth status and whether nonresident fathers are more involved with daughters who have brothers than daughters without brothers. Second, we assessed whether nonresident father involvement affects sons' and daughters' outcomes differently. This investigation is distinctive because, in addition to helping to answer some important research questions, we used recent data from a nationally representative data set, we included multiple measures of adolescent well-being, we used the adolescent's (rather than the mother's) report of several different indicators of father investment, and we considered the influence of marital birth status and siblings.

Do Nonresident Fathers Invest More of Their Time and Resources in Sons or Daughters?

There is general agreement among fatherhood scholars that meaningful nonresident father involvement has benefits for children (Amato & Gilbreth, 1999, but see Hawkins, Amato, & King, 2007, for a contrary view). Several studies have examined the question of whether nonresident fathers are significantly more invested with their sons or daughters, as differential father investment may result in gender inequality in outcomes (Lundberg et al., 2007). A social learning perspective suggests that children's socialization and development are accomplished largely through identification and imitation (Lamb, 1981). Thus, fathers may spend more time with sons because fathers (and mothers) feel that fathers are important role models for their sons.

Some studies found no association between child gender and nonresident father involvement (Cooksey & Craig, 1998; Maccoby & Mnookin, 1992; Seltzer & Bianchi, 1988). In contrast, other studies observed that nonresident fathers have more contact with their sons than with their daughters and may be closer to them (Hetherington, Cox, & Cox, 1982; King, 2002; King, Harris, & Heard, 2004; Manning & Smock, 1 999). …