Fathers' and Mothers' Participation in Research

By Phares, Vicky | Adolescence, Fall 1995 | Go to article overview

Fathers' and Mothers' Participation in Research


Phares, Vicky, Adolescence


Fathers have historically been underrepresented in research related to their children. Until the mid-1970s, investigations into paternal effects on normal child development were very rare. Since that time, investigations into the role of fathers in their children's normal development have increased (for reviews see Biller & Solomon, 1986; Bronstein & Cowan, 1988; Lamb, 1981). The same increase in investigations into paternal effects has not yet taken place with regard to the role of fathers in child and adolescent psychopathology (Phares & Compas, 1992). The majority of investigations into paternal effects on children's psychological problems have included only mothers (Caplan & Hall-McCorquodale, 1985). When fathers have been included in research, they have been found to influence their children's development both directly and indirectly in both positive and negative ways (Lamb, 1981; Phares & Compas, 1992).

Investigations of the father's role in both normal and clinical development have yielded important information. It appears that fathers are willing to participate in research when they are asked, as evidenced by the growing number of completed studies with fathers. Why, then, are fathers still rarely included in studies related to their children, especially in relation to child and adolescent psychopathology? One possible answer is that researchers assume that fathers are less willing and less available to participate (see Phares, 1992 for a discussion of other reasons such as research based on sexist theories and assumptions about parental responsibility). Participation rates of fathers and mothers have not been directly investigated within an empirical study, but a review of differential participation rates between fathers and mothers has been completed.

Woollett, White, and Lyon (1982) reviewed child development studies that included fathers and found that fathers and mothers did not differ in their research participation rates. Overall, it was no more difficult to recruit fathers than it was to recruit mothers. However, they found that both fathers and mothers were more likely to refuse participation if the study was laboratory based, if there was more than one data collection point, and if the researcher was unknown to the potential participants. Woollett and colleagues (1982) also noted that their review was based on only a limited sample of possible studies because refusal rates were not included for fathers and mothers in 66% of the studies they initially identified for review.

The small percentage (34%) of child development studies covered by Woollett and colleagues (1982) may have led to a review that was not representative of child development studies in general. The conclusion that fathers are no more difficult to recruit than mothers seems to contradict a widely held belief by researchers that fathers are more difficult to involve in research than mothers (Phares, 1992). Thus, it seems important to empirically test whether fathers are in fact more difficult to recruit. It will also be important to investigate whether those fathers and mothers who participate in research differ from those who do not in order to address the issues of representativeness and generalizability.

The investigation of characteristics of nonparticipants has long been a difficult issue for researchers in the behavioral sciences (Rosenthal & Rosnow, 1975). It is often assumed that participants are representative of the population of interest; however, adult volunteers for research have been found to be better educated, more intelligent, higher in socioeconomic status, more sociable, and more in need of social approval than are nonvolunteers (Rosenthal & Rosnow, 1975). With regard to child participants, several studies suggest that children who receive active parental consent to participate in research are less psychologically maladjusted than children who do not have active parental consent (Beck, Collins, Overholser, & Terry, 1984; Frame & Strauss, 1987; Severson & Ary, 1983; Weinberger, Tublin, Ford, & Feldman, 1990). …

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