Academic journal article Fathering

A Longitudinal Investigation of Mothers' and Fathers' Initial Fathering Identities and Later Father-Child Relationship Quality

Academic journal article Fathering

A Longitudinal Investigation of Mothers' and Fathers' Initial Fathering Identities and Later Father-Child Relationship Quality

Article excerpt

Children benefit from high quality relationships with their fathers in a number of ways. However, little is known about the origins of father-child relationships. Here, identity theory and data from the Fragile Families dataset are used to investigate associations between mothers' and fathers' fathering identities at the time of the child's birth and nine years later, and the father-child relationship as reported by children at age nine. Neither mothers' nor fathers' role identity standards at birth were associated with father-child relationship quality, but greater father status centrality and not having considered abortion were associated with better father-child relationships. The association between abortion consideration and relationship quality was mediated by whether parents were romantically involved at Year 9. Implications for theory, policy, and practice are discussed.

Keywords: father-child relationships, identity theory, father identity, fatherhood


It has been well-established that positive fathering behaviors have extensive benefits for children (Lamb, 2010). However, more research has been conducted regarding the outcomes resulting from various forms of father involvement (Hofferth, Pleck, Stueve, Bianchi, & Sayer, 2002; Marsiglio, Amato, Day, & Lamb, 2000; Marsiglio & Cohan, 2000; Pleck, 1997) than the benefits or predictors of relationships between fathers and their children. This largely has been due to the difficulty of defining and modeling a concept such as father-child relationships in contextually and developmentally appropriate ways (Palkovitz, 2007). Extant research suggests that relationships with fathers are important to children, affecting outcomes in childhood as well as into adulthood (Harper & Fine, 2006; Mallers, Charles, Neupert, & Almeida, 2010; Seiffge-Krenke, Overbeek, & Vermulst, 2010). However, little has been done to examine the predictors of father-child relationships beyond comparing the relationships of children with resident and nonresident fathers or across various family structures (Aquilino, 2006; Fabricius & Luecken, 2007; Jones-Sanpei, Day, & Holmes, 2009).

One factor found to predict fathering behaviors (quantity and quality of involvement and interactions with children) has been fathers' identities. Based upon identity theory's proposition that identity predicts behavior (Stryker, 1968), numerous studies have examined associations between various aspects of father identity and father involvement (Christiansen & Palkovitz, 1998; DeGarmo, 2010; Dyer, 2005; Pasley, Kerpelman, & Guilbert, 2001; Rane & McBride, 2000). Much of the research on father involvement is valued because of its implications for children's (and to a lesser extent, fathers') outcomes (e.g., Amato, 2000; Marsiglio et al., 2000), and such implications operate largely via the influence of involvement on father-child relationships. Amato and Gilbreth (1999) noted that "the strength of the emotional tie between children and nonresident fathers would appear to be a relationship dimension with clearer implications for children's well-being" compared with frequency of involvement or contact, and that "studies of two-parent families [also] generally show that feelings of closeness between fathers and children are associated with positive child outcomes" (p. 559). However, fathering scholarship has yet to examine potential associations between identity and the quality of father-child relationships. Therefore, the present paper uses identity theory to frame a longitudinal predictive model of father-child relationship quality.


The central tenet of identity theory is that identities (self-meanings tied to the occupation of particular social statuses, such as father or employee) guide behavior (Stryker, 1968, 1980). Via interactions with important others (e.g., mothers, children), individuals receive information about the roles and expectations society associates with a given status (e. …

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