Academic journal article Fathering

A Time Varying Evaluation of Identity Theory and Father Involvement for Full Custody, Shared Custody, and No Custody Divorced Fathers

Academic journal article Fathering

A Time Varying Evaluation of Identity Theory and Father Involvement for Full Custody, Shared Custody, and No Custody Divorced Fathers

Article excerpt

This study tested identity theory models of father involvement for 230 divorced fathers of young children aged 4 to 11 followed over 18 months. Research questions were (1) Do measures of identity salience and centrality of the fathering role predict fathering involvement over time? (2) Does father involvement predict fathering identity over time? (3) Does father custody moderate these relationships? Involvement was assessed as contact frequency, number of father-child activities, and positive involvement observed during father-child interaction. Comparisons showed that the quantity of involvement differed by custody but there were few differences in the quality of involvement. Fathers did not exhibit significant mean decreases in involvement and custodial groups did not differ in the growth rates for involvement nor identity measures. However, there were significant individual differences in growth rates, meaning there was variance in fathers increasing and decreasing in measures over time. Time I father identities, measured as salience and centrality, predicted days per month, overnights per month, and father child activities aver time. Time-varying predictors suggested that identities were more predictive of growth in involvement than vice versa although father involvement predicted salience and primarily centrality. Implications for practice and future research are discussed.

Keywords: father involvement, identity salience, centrality, custody, growth modeling


National estimates of contact by nonresident fathers (divorced and never married) have ranged from 18-20% in the early 1980s (Furstenberg, Nord, Peterson, & Zill, 1983; Seltzer & Bianchi, 1988) to a range of 24-38% in the late 1980s to the mid 1990s (Amato & Sobolewski, 2004; Stephens, 1996). Separated, divorced and never married fathers are also gaining more custody than in the past (Hofferth, Stueve, Pleck, Bianchi, & Sayer, 2002). At the same time, however, studies also have shown that fathers exhibit decreases in noncustodial parenting in time following divorce (Arendell, 1995). The quality and amount of contact varies. Fathering roles may increase in importance following marital separation with some divorced fathers becoming more involved with their children; while for others, factors such as increased role strains, ambiguities over parenting and conflict with the former spouse may contribute to decreases in father contact (Braver et al., 1993; Stephens, 1996). Historically, therefore, more divorced fathers are becoming involved than in the past but also tend to withdraw from parenting responsibilities over time.

This is unfortunate as studies have demonstrated that quality father involvement following divorce matters in the lives of children and it benefits not only children but mothers and fathers as well (Amato & Gilbreth, 1999; Aquilino, 2006; Simons, Whitbeck, Beaman, & Conger, 1994). As a result, policy makers have been interested in factors influencing fathers' involvement in their children's lives following divorce, primarily focusing on shared custody and noncustodial fathers (Braver, Griffin, & Cookston, 2005; Lamb, 2002). The present study examines involvement including full custody divorced fathers, a relatively understudied group.

Among theoretical perspectives that have garnered attention to explain variation in father involvement has been related identity and role-identity theories for understanding resident fathers (Rane & McBride, 2000), divorced part-time and nonresident fathers (Fox & Bruce, 2001; Madden-Derdich & Leonard, 2000; Minton & Pasley, 1996). Simply stated, identity theories posit that the more a father identifies with the father role and the more important or central it is to his self-conception, the more involved he will be with his children (Ihinger-Tallman, Pasley, & Bueler, 1995). Although identity theory has been evaluated, there remain few longitudinal investigations. …

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