Methodological Considerations in Measuring Paternal Identity

By Maurer, Trent W.; Pleck, Joseph H. et al. | Fathering, June 2003 | Go to article overview

Methodological Considerations in Measuring Paternal Identity


Maurer, Trent W., Pleck, Joseph H., Rane, Thomas R., Fathering


This study discusses methodological considerations in assessing paternal identity with scale versus pie chart measures as they relate to paternal involvement. Additionally, it compares data on paternal identity and behavior at the role level (father) versus the domain level (more specific aspects of fathering, such as caregiving). Results indicate that pie chart and scale measures of identity both are positively correlated with measures of involvement. Further, domain-level measures of identity are more frequently correlated with measures of involvement than role-level measures of identity are. Findings suggest that domain-level pie chart measures of identity may be a viable alternative to scale measures of identity.

Key Words: fathers, parenting, identity, methodology, pie chart

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Recent research on fatherhood has employed multiple methodologies to assess several different aspects of fatherhood. The most frequently assessed aspect is paternal involvement or behavior (e.g., Bonney, Kelley, & Levant, 1999; Bruce & Fox, 1999; NICHD Early Child-Care Research Network, 2000; Yeung, Sandberg, Davis-Kean, & Hofferth, 2001). Less frequently assessed, though receiving more attention recently, is paternal identity (e.g., Burke & Cast, 1997; Ihinger-Tallmann, Pasley, & Buehler, 1993; Maurer, Pleck, & Rane, 2001).

Research on paternal identity evolved out of prior, more general work in identity theory. Identity theory posits that identity is "internalized sets of role expectations" (Stryker, 1987, p. 90). As applied to paternal identity, a man's identity as a father comprises all the expectations for his behavior that he has internalized as being associated with being a father (e.g., being a breadwinner, being a caregiver, etc.). To the extent that a man internalizes those expectations for the role of father, one would expect his behavior to be consistent with those expectations. For example, a man who internalizes the expectations of being a caregiver to his child into his identity as a father should in fact provide care to his child (thus matching his expectations to his actual behavior). In this sense, paternal identity theory posits that fathers' identification with the role of father should predict their enactment of expected behaviors (i.e., their involvement). Indeed, prior research on paternal identity has found fathers' self-reports of paternal identity to be linked to paternal involvement (e.g., Bruce & Fox, 1999; Ihinger-Tallmann et al., 1993; Maurer et al., 2001). Much of this research has been based on assessments of paternal involvement at the role level, rather than investigating the connection between paternal identity and more specific areas of paternal behavior, such as caregiving.

Most research on paternal identity has also employed closed-ended, multiple-item scales to assess both paternal identity and paternal involvement. However, recent scholarship evaluating the last decade of fatherhood research has suggested that new and improved methods for measuring these constructs are needed (Day & Lamb, in press; Marsiglio, Amato, Day, & Lamb, 2000). This paper explores the advantages and disadvantages of scale and pie-chart methodologies for assessing identity at both the role and domain levels. It also compares the extent to which these measures of paternal identity predict paternal involvement.

Past studies have demonstrated that multi-item scales have adequate internal reliability and significantly predict paternal involvement (e.g., Maurer et al., 2001). In contrast to scales, an alternative new method of evaluation, the identity pie chart, is relatively easier to use, and often requires significantly less time to complete. Pie-chart measures of identity provide parents with a list of roles (e.g., parent, worker) and ask parents to divide a pie according to the relative importance of the listed roles to them (Cowan et al. …

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