Academic journal article Fathering

Perceived Paternal and Maternal Involvement: Factor Structures, Mean Differences, and Parental Roles

Academic journal article Fathering

Perceived Paternal and Maternal Involvement: Factor Structures, Mean Differences, and Parental Roles

Article excerpt

This study was designed to compare the factor structures and means for mothering and fathering, as retrospectively perceived by young adult children. Three dimensions of perceived parenting were examined: nurturance, reported involvement, and desired involvement. We used the existing Nurturant Fathering and Father Involvement Scales, and the newly developed parallel Nurturant Mothering and Mother Involvement Scales. Confirmatory factor analyses indicated that the originally validated factor structure of the fathering measures fit the data well and that the factor structures of paternal and maternal nurturance and involvement were isomorphic. These scales appear to index parenting functions that generalize across mothers and fathers. Mean-difference analyses indicated that fathers were significantly less involved than mothers in all of the domains surveyed except providing income, and that the patterns of means for fathers (but not for mothers) were highly consistent with the seminal work of Parsons and Bales. Implications for the study of parenting are discussed.

Keywords: fathers, mothers, parenting, involvement, nurturance, scales


Research on families has gained increasing momentum in recent decades, due in large measure to broad social changes in family forms and family roles. Although scholars long have recognized that parents are among the most important contributors to child development (e.g., Maccoby, 1992; Steinberg, 2001), more research is needed regarding the differential contributions of fathers and mothers (1) to developmental outcomes (cf. Andrews, Luckey, Bolden, Whiting-Fickling, & Lind, 2004; Finley & Schwartz, 2006).

Theorists and researchers recognize that mothers and fathers play different roles in the family system (Craig, 2006: Parke, 2002, 2004). Indeed, more than 50 years ago, Parsons and Bales (1955) wrote that fathers would be expected to fulfill largely instrumental functions, such as providing income and disciplining children, whereas mothers would be expected to fulfill largely expressive functions, such as caregiving, companionship, and sharing leisure activities. Parsons and Bales spoke not only of the division of parenting roles into instrumental and expressive components, but they also stated that these roles would be distributed by parent gender (i.e., instrumental roles for fathers and expressive roles for mothers). This distinction between instrumental and expressive involvement has been shown to apply well to young adults' perceptions of father involvement, both in terms of factor structure (Finley & Schwartz, 2004) and in terms of differential endorsement of instrumental versus expressive involvement (Finley & Schwartz, 2006). In the present study, one objective was to examine the applicability of Parsons and Bales' theoretical perspective to mothers, in terms of both factor structures and mean levels of endorsement.

Testing the extent to which Parsons and Bales' (1955) perspective is applicable to both mothers and fathers requires identical measures of mother and father involvement. Finley and Schwartz (2004) developed measures of young adults' retrospective reports of father involvement and nurturance. The development of parallel measures of mother involvement and nurturance provides us with a much needed opportunity to make direct comparisons between perceived mothering and fathering. Because obtaining equivalent factor structures across parents is a prerequisite to comparing mean levels of endorsement (Little, 1997; Vandenberg & Lance, 2000), we locus first on comparability of factor structure of nurturance and involvement between mothers and fathers, and second on mean levels of endorsement.

Conceptual and Methodological Approach to Parenting ill the Present Study

Three core conceptualizations underlie our approach to the study of parental involvement. First, parental involvement is viewed as a highly differentiated construct with many different domains of a child's life in which a parent may or may not be involved (cf. …

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