Academic journal article Fathering

A Prospective Study on Father Involvement and Toddlers' Behavioral and Emotional Problems: Are Sons and Daughters Differentially Affected?

Academic journal article Fathering

A Prospective Study on Father Involvement and Toddlers' Behavioral and Emotional Problems: Are Sons and Daughters Differentially Affected?

Article excerpt

Using data from the Dutch cohort study Generation R (N = 1,523), we investigate to what extent the association between father involvement and toddler's behavioral and emotional problems varies by child's gender. This research addresses important limitations in prior work by (a) differentiating between different father involvement tasks, (b) incorporating a diverse set of behavioral and emotional problems, and (c) using a prospective design to answer our research question. Our findings reveal that the negative association between father involvement and toddler's behavioral and emotional problems only holds for boys, and mainly for behavioral problems. The results showed that it is fathers' relatively stronger involvement in tasks labeled as "responsibility" which contributed to toddlers' lower levels of behavioral problems.

Keywords: father involvement, gender differences, problem behavior, toddlers

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A cultural shift in the image of fatherhood during the past three decades has enhanced and diversified fathers' roles in family life. Although historically fathering was largely defined by being a good provider, 'good' fathering today also encompasses being directly involved in childrearing in numerous ways, including nurturing and caregiving, and engaging in leisure and play activities (Cabrera, Tamis-LeMonda, Bradley, Hofferth, & Lamb, 2000). These changes have occurred against the backdrop of increasing numbers of mothers who have remained in the work force after childbirth, changed attitudes towards the fatherhood role, and increasing numbers of fathers living apart from their children. These trends, and the accompanying changes in the roles and expectations of fathers (and mothers), have demanded a closer look at fatherhood and the implications of paternal involvement for children's development and well-being (Eggebeen, 2002; Marsiglio, Amato, Day, & Lamb, 2000; Pleck, 2004).

With a general consensus in the literature that fathers' involvement in childcare is related to children's behavioral and emotional problems (e.g., Aldous & Mulligan, 2002; for reviews see Cabrera et al., 2000; Lamb, 2000; Sarkadi, Kristiansson, Oberklaid & Bremberg, 2008), scholars are now gradually moving away from broadly linking fathers' involvement in childcare to their children's behavioral and emotional problems and looking instead for specificity: understanding the conditions under which and for whom father involvement has positive consequences (for a review, see Flouri, 2010). Based on social learning and gender socialization theory, scholars not only expected that father involvement would vary by the gender of the child, but also that the association between father involvement and children's outcomes would be stronger for sons than for daughters. Both theories emphasize that, in particular, sons learn by observing their fathers and modeling problem-solving strategies, organization of aggressive impulses, and other behavior. In addition, these theories pose that fathers have a stronger influence on their sons than their daughters due to their comparative advantage in doing so (Harris & Morgan, 1991) and societal expectations (Morgan, Lye, & Condran, 1988).

Despite strong theoretical expectations, both strands of research yield inconclusive findings. First, findings are disparate when examining whether fathers spend more time with their sons than with their daughters. Some studies show that fathers are more involved with their sons than daughters (Bronte-Tinkew, Moore, Capps, & Zaff, 2006; Bronte-Tinkew, Moore, & Carrano, 2006; Harris & Morgan, 1991; Yeung, Sandberg, Davis-Kean, & Hofferth, 2001) and that fathers prefer to interact with their sons rather than with their daughters (Barnett & Baruch, 1987). Others find that fathers are more involved with their daughters (Lamb et al., 1988), while still others find no differences in the hours spent or in the types of activities undertaken with sons and daughters (Snarey, 1993). …

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