Doing the Scut Work of Infant Care: Does Religiousness Encourage Father Involvement?

By DeMaris, Alfred; Mahoney, Annette et al. | Journal of Marriage and Family, April 2011 | Go to article overview
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Doing the Scut Work of Infant Care: Does Religiousness Encourage Father Involvement?


DeMaris, Alfred, Mahoney, Annette, Pargament, Kenneth I., Journal of Marriage and Family


Considerable debate exists regarding whether religiousness promotes or impedes greater father involvement in parenting. Our study addresses this issue using a Midwestern longitudinal data set that tracks the transition to first parenthood for 169 married couples. We focus on performance of the "messier" tasks of infant care. We find little evidence that religiousness enhances father involvement in this domain. Biblically conservative couples exhibit a greater gender gap in child care than others, with mothers more involved than fathers. The gender gap is also greater the more fathers work outside the home, the greater mothers' knowledge of infant development, and the less adaptable the infant. Average daily child care is lower the greater spouses' work hours, but higher with difficult pregnancies or fussy babies.

Key Words: child care, fathers, growth curve analysis, infancy, religiosity, spirituality.

Recent scholarship has been concerned with factors that promote greater father involvement in child care, one such element being religiousness (see, e.g., Bartkowski & Xu, 2000; King, 2003; Petts, 2007; Wilcox, 2002). Several researchers argue that religiously engaged fathers are more involved with their children than others. Conservative Protestant denominations, in particular, are said to encourage men to take a leadership role in the socioemotional stewardship of the family (Bartkowski & Xu). Several studies found that conservative Protestant men were more affectionate with their children and more involved with child care and other activities with children, compared to their less conservative or unaffiliated counterparts (Bartkowski & Xu; King; Petts; Wilcox). At the same time, other social scientists have a less sanguine view of the influence of religiousness. Their position is that conservative religious ideologies are a force for "gender reaction" in the American family (Hunter, 2007, p. 1). Because they promote a traditional, gendered division of family responsibilities, more conservative religions are said to reinforce gender stereotypes with respect to father - mother roles. Not surprisingly, these authors found little evidence for a positive effect of religion on fathering (Anderson, 2005; Civettini & Glass, 2008; Glass & Nath, 2006), or that the beneficiaries of any such effects were sons rather than daughters (Hunter).

Some of this controversy may revolve around the measurement of father involvement. Many studies that found a beneficial effect of religiousness in this arena focused on activities involving older children. These include supervision, the provision of emotional support, playing games, helping with homework, taking meals together, or spending one-on-one time (Bartkowski & Xu, 2000; King, 2003; Petts, 2007; Wilcox, 2002). Almost no studies have examined whether religious fathers are more likely than others to undertake the messy and unglamorous tasks - the "scut work" - of infant care, such as changing diapers, feeding, dressing, waking in the middle of the night to respond to cries, or soothing a distressed infant. These more demanding activities consume considerable time and energy, can be stressful, and may well be tasks mothers desire to share. Whether a gender-egalitarian division of child care is achievable rests largely on sharing this more menial aspect of parenting. Investigating the influence of religiousness in that endeavor was the mission of the current study.

In the process we institute a number of refinements that address limitations in prior research. For example, most studies on religiousness and child care have examined father involvement in itself, but have not addressed the relative division of tasks between mothers and fathers. We address this by employing a statistical technique that parses the influence of religiousness into its effects on both the average level of, and the gender gap in, infant care among couples. Additionally, studies of religion's influence have typically been either cross-sectional or have involved, at most, two waves of data.

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