Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Conditional Fatherhood: Identity Theory and Parental Investment Theory as Alternative Sources of Explanation of Fathering

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Conditional Fatherhood: Identity Theory and Parental Investment Theory as Alternative Sources of Explanation of Fathering

Article excerpt

Two alternative theoretical models of parenting, identity theory and parental investment theory, are investigated as sources of explanation of men's fathering attitudes and behaviors. Four dimensions of fathering are explored: responsivity, harshness, behavioral engagement, and affective involvement. Concepts from identity theory operationalized as predictors include father role salience, role satisfaction, and reflected appraisals. From parental investment theory, concepts included investment maximization, contingent commitment, and paternity certitude. Using telephone survey data drawn from a community-based probability sample of 208 fathers, each of the four individual indicators of fathering and a composite fathering measure were regressed against the theoretical predictors in hierarchical regression analyses. Both theoretical models were significant, with identity theory predictors accounting for a greater proportion of variance than the parental investment theory predictors. This study underlines the importance of social psychological

variables to understanding variations in men's commitments to children.

Key Words: fathering, identity theory, parental investment theory.

How do men transform their attitudes about fatherhood into parenting commitments and actions? We take as problematic the constancy of men's sense of their bonds to their children, that is, the constancy of their self-definitions as fathers and how these self-definitions are manifest in their subsequent behaviors. Understanding men's parenting behaviors becomes a quest for understanding how men's choices of actions under varying circumstances and contexts both reflect and amplify, dampen, or extinguish their commitments to the fathering role.

Some men, upon becoming fathers, may take on fatherhood as an unconditional aspect of their selfhood, as a master status that inserts itself into their interactions, decisions, thoughts, and behaviors across settings. Such men, for example, may organize their leisure time around involvement in their children's activities. Their use of capital resources may be determined by their assessment of their children's best interests. They may also bring their sense of fatherhood into their work roles. When such men have jobs that allow choice and autonomy, they can base work decisions on how their work enhances or diminishes their ability to be the kind of father they strive to be. Men with a broad orientation to fatherhood but without much autonomy in their work roles may be much more limited in their ability to enact their fathering commitments.

The scope of the father role for other men may be quite narrow and confined to a certain segment or sequence of their lives. Their father role may be only incidental to any of a variety of other roles that take precedence. For such men, a sense of fatherhood may be a residual category of commitment and obligation. Such men might use work demands or the lack of material resources as justifications for avoiding extensive involvement with their children (Aldous, Mulligan, & Bjarnason, 1998; Glass, 1998). Others with an abundance of material resources might use those resources as a compensatory means of meeting fathering commitments.

Capturing the complexity of the meanings of fathering and the manifestation of those meanings in men's father role performance and their commitments to children is not a new problem in the social science literature. The continuous involvement of men in the mundane, time-consuming, day-to-day nurturance and support of their children over the many years of a child's development has long been recognized as problematic by observers from a variety of disciplines (Davis, 1949; Goode, 1982; Malinowski, 1927/1966). In the contemporary United States, there exists an impressive array of religious belief and practice, tax and inheritance law, and social convention that works to supplement the presumably transient, wavering, or faltering connections that men have to their children (Gerson, 1993). …

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