Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Influence of Religion on Fathers' Relationships with Their Children

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Influence of Religion on Fathers' Relationships with Their Children

Article excerpt

This study explores how aspects of a father's religiousness are related to the type and quality of involvement with his children. Factors that potentially confound or explain the connection between religiousness and fathering are also examined. Multiple measures of religiousness and father-child ties are considered in a series of bivariate and multivariate regression models. The sample of 810 fathers comes from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS). Results indicate that religious fathers are more involved fathers and that they report higher quality relationships; this is true for both married and divorced fathers. The greater involvement of religious fathers is explained only in part by demographic factors and the mediating influences of traditional attitudes and marital quality.

Key Words: children, divorce, fathers, marriage, religion.

The role of fathers in family life is receiving increased attention as a result of the cultural shift in the role of fathers in families and the public concern over the increase in fathers living apart from their children (Marsiglio, 1995; Pleck, 1997). Prompted by feminism, women's rising workforce participation, and the profeminist men's movement, the new fatherhood ideal that has been growing since the 1970s has led to increasing demands that fathers spend more time with their children (Griswold, 1993). Divorced nonresident fathers are also increasingly being called upon to maintain ties to their children. Increasing scientific and policy interest in father involvement is rooted in the belief that a father's active participation in his child's life has beneficial consequences for child well-being. Evidence for the benefits of father involvement on child well-being is strongest for resident fathers (e.g., Cooksey & Fondell, 1996; Harris, Furstenberg, & Manner, 1998), but some evidence exists for nonresident fathers as well, particularly for more qualitative aspects of father involvement such as closeness and relationship quality (e.g., Amato & Gilbreth, 1999).

Despite demands for greater involvement by fathers in the lives of their children, some fathers remain relatively uninvolved. This is particularly true for nonresident fathers, many of whom have infrequent contact with their children after a divorce (King, 1994) that further declines over time (Furstenberg & Harris, 1992; Seltzer, 1991). Thus, understanding what motivates fathers to become involved in their children's lives is of particular importance. A neglected motivational factor with implications for father-child relationships is the influence of religion and ties to a religious community or faith. Are religious fathers more engaged in the father role than those without religious ties? This study explored how various aspects of a father's religiousness are related to the type and quality of involvement with his children. Factors that potentially link or explain the connection between religious involvement and fathering are also examined.

Prior research on the determinants of father involvement has largely ignored the role of religion. To my knowledge, only three national studies have directly explored the issue of whether religion affects the nature of the father-child relationship. All use the National Survey of Families and Households with two focusing on resident fathers (Bartkowski & Xu, 2000; Wilcox, 2002) and one on nonresident fathers (Cooksey & Craig, 1998).

Wilcox (2002) found limited evidence for a positive influence of religion on father involvement. Church attendance was significantly related to a father's involvement in youth-related activities, although his participation in these activities was not necessarily with his own child. However, church attendance was not significantly related to a father having dinner with his children, and it was negatively related to the father's involvement in one-on-one activities with his children. …

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