Academic journal article Fathering

Effects of Fathers' and Mothers' Cognitive Stimulation and Household Income on Toddlers' Cognition: Variations by Family Structure and Child Risk

Academic journal article Fathering

Effects of Fathers' and Mothers' Cognitive Stimulation and Household Income on Toddlers' Cognition: Variations by Family Structure and Child Risk

Article excerpt

We used resource theory and stress theory to examine the associations among fathers' and mothers' engagement of children, household income, and the cognitive abilities of toddlers residing in single mother households and two parent households. This study used the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort (N = 8,400) and found that at 24 months, the positive association between fathers' cognitive stimulation and child cognition was significantly stronger for children living in single mother households at 9 and 24 months than for children in two parent households. The effect of fathers' cognitive stimulation on child cognition was also significantly stronger for high risk children living in single mother households than for high risk children living with both parents.

Keywords: child cognition, family structure, father involvement, single mother, toddler


Almost 23 percent of U.S. children under the age of 18 lived in single mother households without the presence of the biological father in 2009 compared with about 11 percent in 1960 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2009). A growing number of studies have examined the effects on children of being raised in these households. Most research has shown that children do more poorly when raised in single mother households, although the effects sizes are small to medium (Amato, 2001). In addition to family structure, nonresident fathers' involvement has received more attention from researchers. Numerous studies have shown fathers' and mothers' positive involvement with the child is associated with better child outcomes in both two parent and single mother families (e.g., Flouri & Buchanan, 2004).

Single mother and two parent households differ in the resources available to them (e.g., education, income, child care support) (Avellar & Smock, 2005). Researchers have suggested that the availability of resources (e.g., high levels of father engagement with the child) may have a stronger positive effect on child outcomes among single mother households compared with two parent households (Carlson, 2006). Yet, studies have not examined whether the effects of resources such as father engagement on young children differ in these family arrangements. In the present study, we used resource and stress theory to suggest that father engagement with the child will be more strongly associated with young children's outcomes in single mother households than in two parent households. We suggest: (1) resources (e.g., fathers' cognitive stimulation with the child) will mediate the association between family structure and child outcomes; (2) family structure will moderate the association between resources and child cognition: and (3) child risk will moderate the association between resources and child cognition.

The present study focused on toddlers' cognitive abilities using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey-Birth data. Toddlerhood is an important developmental period for children as it sets the foundation for later growth and development and ultimately school readiness. It is also a challenging time for parents (particularly single mothers) who must provide consistent positive and nurturing opportunities for children to promote their development. Furthermore, prior research shows that children from high stress families begin to show cognitive deficits as young as 2 years of age (Klebanov, Brooks-Gunn, McCarton, & McCormick, 1998).

We focused on mothers and fathers that are co-resident or nonresident when the child is both 9 and 24 months of age because most previous studies assess family structure at one point in time and therefore do not account for the length of time the individuals have lived in that family arrangement. In addition, transitions in family structure have been linked with family stress and changes in father engagement (McBride, Schoppe, & Rane, 2002). Therefore, it is important to distinguish families with configurations that are consistent over time from those that undergo transitions in residence. …

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