Does Fatherhood Matter for Men?

By Eggebeen, David J.; Knoester, Chris | Journal of Marriage and Family, May 2001 | Go to article overview

Does Fatherhood Matter for Men?


Eggebeen, David J., Knoester, Chris, Journal of Marriage and Family


Ignored in the flurry of new research on fathers is that fatherhood may have consequences for men. This article explores possible effects on the lives and well-being of men for a range of fatherhood experiences. Data are drawn from the National Survey of Families and Households. The first part of this article examines whether men's varied associations with children (no children, coresident, non-coresident, and stepfatherhood) are associated with men's psychological health and behavior, social connections, intergenerational family relations, and work behavior. We found strong evidence that fathers differ from nonfathers in their social connections, family relationships, and work behavior. There is significant variation in effects among the father types as well. The second section of this article focuses attention only on men who are fathers and examines whether fathering behavior (e.g., the amount of time and nature of the activities that fathers are reported to be spending with their children) is associated with men's well-being. The effects of father involvement on men was found to be most significant for those who were living with their own children.

Key Words: divorced fathers, fatherhood, men's well-being, nonresident fatherhood

Compared with motherhood, fatherhood is not nearly so appreciated as a transforming event in the lives of adults. In fact, the consequences of becoming a father for men has been comparatively neglected by scholars. This oversight is somewhat surprising in light of recent social changes surrounding fatherhood (Bozett & Hanson, 1991; Furstenberg, 1988; Griswold, 1993; Pleck, 1987; Snarey, 1993). Fatherhood, at least in the United States, has become the subject of intense scholarly and popular attention. This attention is driven in large part by social and cultural changes in the image of fatherhood, but also by changes in men's behavior as fathers-they are "fathering" differently than was the case in the past (Furstenberg). Although the reality may not be as advanced as the rhetoric, there is some evidence that fathers are more emotionally connected to their children, more involved in their lives, more egalitarian in their gender role expectations, and more likely to the principal provider of care for their children (Griswold; Lamb, 1987; Parke, 1995). Not surprisingly, we are interested in the consequences of fathers and fathering for the well-being of children.

There is, however, another, almost contradictory change in fatherhood in the United States. At the same time that a "new fatherhood" is emerging and that there is a growing appreciation for the role of fathers in the lives of children, fewer men are experiencing fatherhood. Recent demographic analyses show that nearly 6 out of 10 men were living with children in the mid-1960s, but that this was the experience of only a minority of men (45%) by the late 1990s (Eggebeen, 2001). To be sure, women's experience with parenthood has also declined in the last few decades, but men's retreat from parenthood has been more pervasive (Goldsheider & Hogan, 1999).

These two trends form the backdrop of this article. We address a simple question: In what ways do men who are fathers differ from men who are not fathers? We begin be asking why we should expect differences between fathers and nonfathers, identifying some hypothesized differences. Drawing on data from the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH), we then explore these issues at two levels. First, we examine associations between a variety of father statuses and various measures of well-being, social relations, and family ties. Are fathers better off than men who are not fathers? Do fathers who live with their children differ from nonresident fathers? Second, we move beyond this "social address" model to focus explicitly on the relationship between extent of father involvement and outcomes. In other words, are active, highly involved fathers more likely to be better off than fathers who are less involved?

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