Was There an Increase in Caring Fatherhood in the 1990s? Two Dutch Longitudinal Studies

Article excerpt

The increase or decrease in caring fatherhood in the 1990s was studied using data from two Dutch longitudinal studies with 256 respondents in total, ranging from noncaring fathers to very caring fathers. The authors first investigated the degree of instability of the fathers' caring arrangements. Then they looked at the factors relating to an increase or decrease in the care given by individual fathers. Using three blocks of variables, an attempt was made to explain the amount of instability in the care and the changes seen between the times tl (1991) and t2 (1997). Their three blocks of variables represented the father's social and cultural context at t 1, the father's value orientation at t 1, and the father's family of origin, respectively. It was concluded that for an increase in caring fatherhood in the 1990s, the father's context was far more important than was his value orientation. Some aspects of a father's family of origin are also important: a good relationship with his own father is positively associated with the continuation of, or increase in, caring fatherhood.

A general conclusion that the international literature on caring fatherhood permits is that men are not very much involved in care work (Lamb, 1997; Radin, 1988; Russell, 1982). Dutch fathers do not differ very much from fathers in several other countries (Social and Cultural Report, 2000). Dutch mothers, however, work mostly in halftime jobs, but this situation is changing in the direction of more fulltime jobs. The Dutch setting is therefore becoming more and more comparable with other countries. In general, the part played by fathers in their children's care and upbringing is increasing only slowly and mothers are still responsible for most of the daily care and upbringing. All the same, there are fathers who are taking a more active part in the home, although there are also some fathers who give up their care tasks after a while. Using two longitudinal studies we looked first at how much fathers actually increased their share of the care in the home in the 1990s. Secondly, we wanted to determine which factors are related to an increase in the fathers' daily care for the children and the household. We studied the changes in the amount of caring fatherhood using three clusters of variables representing fathers' social and cultural context, value orientation and family of origin. We measured the effect of the independent variables at tl (1991) and the changes in them between tl and t2, on the increase or decrease in caring activities at t2 (1997). We used two longitudinal studies, one of which was on rather less caring fathers (USAD study: Utrecht Study of Adolescent Development, based on a representative random national sample, Meeus & 't Hart, 1993) and the other on the more caring fathers (CF study: Caring Fathers Study, based on a sample of effectively caring fathers, Duindam & Spruijt, 1997). The two studies are supplementary: study 1 is based on a representative sample, study 2 is focused especially on caring fathers.


We wanted to determine how stable caring fatherhood was in the 1990s and which factors were related to an increase in the caring arrangements. We studied the literature to discover the stability of care arrangements in the past, and the possible explanations given for the changes. It is remarkable how few longitudinal studies have been done on caring fathers. We found only eight, four of which dated from the 1980s. These older studies focused mainly on the man as the primary, or at least a very important, caregiver and involved very small numbers of men (mostly about 25). We found little stability in caring fatherhood. In a study by Russell (1982: 23 respondents) only 22% of the fathers were still the primary caregivers two years later, while Pruett (1983: 17 respondents) had 48% still providing care after two years. Radin and Goldsmith (1985: 20 respondents) found 25% still the primary caregiver four years later. …