William J. Doherty, Ph.D., Department of Family Social Science
Edward F. Kouneski, M.A.,Department of Family Social Science
Martha Farrell Erickson, Ph.D.,Children, Youth, and Family Consortium
UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA
1985 Buford Ave.
St. Paul, Minnesota 55108
This report was prepared for the Administration for Children and Families and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation of the United States Department of Health & Human Services, Washington D.C. under contract HHS-100-93-0012 to The Lewin Group. The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not represent the official positions or policies of the Department of Health & Human Services or its agencies.
A consensus is emerging that responsible fathering means establishing paternity, being present in the child's life (even if divorced or unmarried), sharing economic support, and being personally involved in the child's life in collaboration with the mother. The research literature on fathering has been long on empirical studies of specific fathering behaviors and notably short on theory and the bigger picture. And while innovative programs to promote better fathering have multiplied in the past decade, they are often not connected to either research or theory. This report summarizes the research on factors that influence fathering and presents a systemic, contextual framework that highlights multiple interacting influences on the father-child relationship: father factors, mother factors, child factors, coparental factors, and broader contextual factors. A principal finding of this report is that fathering is influenced, even more than mothering, by contextual forces in the family and the community. A father who lacks a good relationship with the mother is at risk to be a nonresponsible father, especially if he does not reside with the child, as is a father who lacks adequate employment and income. On the other hand, this contextual sensitivity means that fathering can change in response to shifts in cultural, economic, institutional, and interpersonal influences.
The principal implication for fathering programs is that these programs should involve a wide range of interventions, reflecting the multiple domains of responsible fathering, the varied residential and marital circumstances of fathers, and the array of personal, relational, and ecological factors that influence men as fathers. In particular, fathering programs should:
For more than a century, American society has engaged in a sometimes contentious debate about what it means to be a responsible parent. Whereas most of the cultural debate about mothers has focused on what, if anything, mothers should do outside the family, the debate about fathers has focused on what fathers should do inside the family. What role should fathers play in the everyday lives of their children, beyond the traditional breadwinner role? How much should they emulate the traditional nurturing activities of mothers, and how much should they represent a masculine sex role model to their children? Is fatherhood in a unique crisis in late twentieth century America (Blankenhorn, 1995; Doherty, in press; Griswold, 1993; LaRossa, in press; Popenoe, 1996)? The recent upsurge of interest in fathering has generated concern among supporters of women's and mothers' rights that the emphasis on the important role of fathers in families may feed longstanding biases against female-headed single parent families, that services for fathers might be increased at the expense of services for single mothers, and that the pro-fatherhood discourse might be used by the "fathers' rights" groups who are challenging custody, child support, and visitation arrangements after divorce. On the other hand, feminist psychologists have recently argued for more emphasis on fathering, suggesting that involved, nurturing fathers will benefit women as well as children (Phares, 1996; Silverstein, 1996). Only an ecologically sensitive approach to parenting, which views the welfare of fathers, mothers, and children as intertwined and interdependent, can avoid a zero-sum approach to parenting in which fathers' gains become mothers' losses.
These cultural debates serve as a backdrop to the social science research on fathering, because researchers are inevitably influenced by the cultural context within which they work (Doherty, Boss, LaRossa, Schumm, & Steinmetz, 1993). In their recent re-analysis of the historical trends of American fatherhood ideals, Pleck and Pleck (in press) see the emerging fatherhood ideal of the late twentieth century as being that of father as equal coparent. (From 1900-1970, the dominant cultural ideal was the genial dad and sex role model, and from 1830-1900, the distant breadwinner.) Research on fathering, then, has attained prominence in the social sciences during an era of historically high expectations of men's involvement in the everyday lives of their children. Not surprisingly, a good deal of that research has compared levels of fathers' involvement with their children to mothers' involvement, since mothers have become the benchmark for norms for fathering (Day and Mackey, 1989).
This post-1970s academic and programmatic interest in fathering has been fueled by the re-appraisal of family roles for women and by unprecedented demographic changes in the American family. In other words, scholarly, professional, and public policy interest in fathering has crystallized during the time that the foundation of traditional fathering--the physically present father who serves as the unique family breadwinner--has been eroding rapidly. With more than half of mothers in the work force, with new marriages breaking up at a 50% rate, and with nearly one-third of births now to single women, the landscape of fathering has been altered substantially in the late twentieth century (Bumpass, 1990; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1994a).
Sociological and historical work on fathering makes it clear that fathering (at least beyond insemination) is fundamentally a social construction. Each generation molds its cultural ideal of fathers according to its own time and conditions, and each deals with the inevitable gap between what LaRossa (1988) terms the "culture" of fatherhood and the "conduct" of fathers in families. Sociological and historical analyses also make it clear that fathering cannot be defined in isolation from mothering and mothers' expectations, and from social expectations about childrearing in the society, and that these social expectations have been fairly fluid in the United States from decade to decade in the twentieth century. LaRossa (in press) has demonstrated how the culture of fatherhood and the conduct of fathers change course from decade to decade as social and political conditions change.
In addition to this historical and social constructivist perspective, fathering also lends itself well to a systemic framework which views fathering not primarily as a characteristic or behavioral set of individual men, or even as a dyadic characteristic of a father-child relationship, but as a multilateral process involving fathers, mothers, children, extended family, and the broader community and its cultures and institutions. Fathering is a product of the meanings, beliefs, motivations, attitudes, and behaviors of all these stakeholders in the lives of children. Indeed, this report will suggest that fathering may be more sensitive than mothering to contextual forces, forces which currently create more obstacles than bridges for fathers but which could potentially be turned in a more supportive direction.
With these historical, social constructionist, and systemic perspectives as a backdrop, this report will: a) examine the concept of "responsible fathering," b) summarize findings from the major areas of research on responsible fathering, c) offer a conceptual framework to guide future research and program development, and d) describe implications for programs to promote responsible fathering. Because of the vastness of the literature on fathering and the presence of a number of recent and forthcoming reviews, the review of the literature in this report will be selective rather than comprehensive, focusing on major recent work and pointing out continuing gaps in the literature such as cultural issues in fathering. The goal is one of synthesis rather than comprehensive documentation.
The use of the term "responsible fathering" reflects a recent shift among academics and professionals away from value free language toward a more explicit value advocacy approach. "Responsible" suggests an "ought," a set of desired norms for evaluating fathers' behavior. The term also conveys a moral meaning (right and wrong), since it suggests that some fathering could be judged "irresponsible" or "nonresponsible." The willingness to use explicitly valuing and moral terms reflects a change in the social climate among academics, professionals, and policy makers, who until recently embraced the traditional notion that social science, social policy, and social programs could be value free. In the late twentieth century, there is more appreciation of the inevitability of value and moral positions being part of social science and social interventions, and a greater willingness to be explicit about value positions so that they can be openly debated and their influence on social science and policy can be made clear rather than being covert (Doherty, 1995a; Wolfe, 1989). Indeed, there has always been a strong but implicit value advocacy undercurrent in fathering research, with much of it conducted by men and women with interests in promoting more committed and nurturing involvement by men in their children's lives. Similarly, there has always been a moral undertone to the focus on fathers' deficits that has characterized much of the literature on absent, "deadbeat," and emotionally uninvolved fathers (Doherty, 1990).
Now the value advocacy approach has become more explicit (Dollahite, Hawkins & Brotherson, in press). But with explicitness comes the need for clarity about how one defines responsible fathering. James Levine and Edward Pitt (1995) have made an important start in their delineation of what they mean by responsible fathering. They write: A man who behaves responsibly towards his child does the following:
Levine and Pitt's (1995) elements of responsible fathering have the advantage of referring to both resident and nonresident fathers, a reflection of the diversity of fathers' situations. The authors also assert that commitment to this ethic of responsible fatherhood extends beyond the father to the mother, to professionals who work with families, and to social institutions entrusted with supporting families. We employ Levine and Pitt's definition in this report, but narrow our scope to men who are already fathers; we do not address the issue of postponing fatherhood.
The developmental backdrop for the discussion of fathering reflects children's needs for predictability, nurturance, and appropriate limit setting from fathers and mothers, as well as for economic security and a cooperative, preferably loving relationship between their parents (Hetherington & Parke, 1993). Furthermore, children's specific needs vary by their developmental stage, with higher levels of physical caregiving by parents required during infancy and greater levels of parental conflict management skills when children become adolescents. Although this report does not review the literature on the effects of active fathering on children, an assumption behind this report, and a value stance, is that children need and deserve active, involved fathers throughout their childhood and adolescence. The prime justification for promoting responsible fathering is the needs of children.
The major areas of research on responsible fathering reflect the domains outlined by Levine and Pitt (1995), with the addition of differential attention to fathers inside and outside the home with the child. These domains can be categorized as follows: a) establishing legal paternity; b) nonresidential fathers' presence versus absence; c) nonresidential fathers' economic support for their children; and d) residential fathers' level of involvement with their children. There are not many theoretical models or research studies that cross over between residential and nonresidential fathers. Offering such a model is one of the goals of this report. The review of literature, however, will be organized by the four research traditions delineated above. In order to delimit the review, we focus on biological fathers and not stepfathers, adoptive fathers, or father surrogates--groups deserving considerably more research and programmatic attention.
Fathers and Legal Paternity
Declaring legally that one is a father is the sine qua non of responsible fathering. With legal paternity comes a variety of economic, social, and psychological benefits to the child, and some degree of protection of the father's rights. Tangible benefits include health care benefits if the father is employed, social security benefits, mandated child support benefits, and Armed Forces benefits if the father is in the military. They also include the intangible benefit of knowing one's biological heritage and having a clearer sense of social identity (Wattenberg, 1993).
Unfortunately, only about one-third of nonmarital births in the United States are followed by paternity adjudication (Adams, Landsbergen & Hecht, 1994). There is limited research on the reasons, but they appear to involve lack of information about the benefits of legal paternity, the dynamics of the couple relationship, opposition from mothers, cultural issues, social policy barriers, and low priority actions on the part of social institutions (Anderson, 1993; Wattenberg, 1993). Wattenberg (1993), in a study of new unmarried parents, documented the faulty and incomplete information the young couples had. Nor were they informed by health personnel or social service personnel, who themselves had major knowledge gaps about the advantages of paternity determination. What's more, current institutional practices encourage unmarried fathers in welfare families to remain "underground" because the state generally keeps a substantial portion of the child support the father pays; if he does not declare paternity, any informal, under-the-table payments he makes go directly to the mother and child (Achatz & MacAllum, 1994).
Anderson (1993) and Wattenberg (1993) have also explored the ambivalence of the mother and father themselves about establishing paternity. Young fathers sometimes feel tricked and trapped by the mother, and the mother may feel both protective of the father (not wanting him to be harassed by authorities) and reluctant to tie herself to him in the future. Extended family on both sides may have mixed feelings about legal paternity and father involvement. Social service personnel too have been found to have the same ambivalence and reluctance to encourage the mother and father to establish paternity. Recently, however, federally-mandated reforms have required states to implement programs for paternity acknowledgment. The results thus far have been mixed: Paternity establishment rates have increased, but paternity is still not acknowledged in the majority of cases, for reasons cited in prior studies (Sorenson & Turner, 1996).
The available research on the process of establishing legal paternity supports an ecological model that emphasizes how contextual forces in the community combine with mother-father relationship factors and individual father factors to create a situation where too many fathers stumble on the first step in responsible fathering.
Father Presence Versus Absence
After the declaration of paternity, the bedrock of fathering is presence in the child's life. The two major structural threats to fathers' presence are nonmarital childbearing and divorce. In 1993, 6.3 million children (9% of all children) were living with a single parent who had never married, up from 243,000 in 1960 (.4% of all children). In terms of percentages of all births, nonmarital births have risen from 4% of births in 1940 to 31% in 1993, with the biggest increases occurring in the 1970s and 1980s. The nonmarital birth rate for women over age 20 has increased substantially since the late 1970s. For teenagers, although the overall birth rate has actually remained steady for decades, the decision to not marry has led to a dramatic increase in the nonmarital birth rate (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1995).
In nearly all cases, children born outside of marriage reside with their mothers. If fathers do not live with the mother and child, their presence in the child's life is frequently marginal, and even when active for a time, tends to be fragile over time. Until recently, studies in this area have been hampered by small, non-representative samples. Lerman (1993), using data from a nationally representative group of over 600 unwed fathers, found that about three-fourths of young fathers who did not reside with their children at birth never lived in the same household with them. About 50% of these fathers visited their child once a week, but about 20% never visited or visited once a year. The pattern over time was towards less contact as the children got older. There were racial differences in these findings, however, with African American unmarried fathers being more likely to live close to their children and see them more frequently than were white and Hispanic fathers. The figures for fathers who rarely or never visited their children were as follows: African-American (12%), Hispanic (30%), and White (37%). African-American unmarried fathers also had a slightly higher frequency of support payments (Lerman, 1993).
A number of qualitative studies have documented how mothers and grandmothers serve as gatekeepers for the father's presence in the child's life, and how institutional practices create barriers, particularly for young fathers (Allen & Doherty, 1995; Wattenberg, 1993). Many of these fathers relinquish involvement, and many who try to stay involved face strong structural and relationship barriers.
Overall, there appears to be a strong overall negative effect of nonmarital fathering on the father-child bond. Furstenberg and Harris (1993), reporting on their 20-year follow up of new unmarried parents among African Americans in Baltimore (a group who were generally representative of African American unmarried parents nationally) found that only 13% of the young adults reported a strong bond with their biological father if he had not lived with them. The figure was 50% for fathers who lived with the child. These investigators also examined bonds with stepfathers and other male figures in the child's life. Here too the findings were sobering: "Taking all these father figures into account, just 1 percent of the children had a strong relationship with two or more fathers; 30% reported a strong tie with at least one; and 69% had no father figure to whom they were highly attached" (Furstenberg & Harris, 1993, p. 126). Note that this study focused on the quality of father-child bonds among young adult children, not the frequency of contact.
In more than 25% of nonmarital births, although the parents are not married, they are cohabiting (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1995). In these cases, fathers are much more present in their children's lives. However, studies indicate that cohabiting couples have high breakup rates, and those who go on to marry have higher divorce rates (Bumpass, Sweet & Cherlin, 1991; DeMaris & Rao, 1992). Therefore, even when the father lives with the mother of the child, his ongoing presence in the child's life is often fragile.
While the number of nonmarital births has been increasing, an even greater number of children (6.6 million) live with a single parent subsequent to divorce (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1994b). In about 90% of cases, these children reside with their mothers. Research has documented a declining presence of noncustodial fathers over the years after a divorce. One national study of school age children found that, two years after a divorce, about half had not seen their father for a year (Furstenberg & Nord, 1985). A more recent study, using 1990 data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, reported that about one-third of divorced fathers did not spend time with their children in the previous year (Nord & Zill, 1996). In general, although father involvement after divorce seems to be increasing and some fathers are quite involved with their children after a divorce, including the 10% who are custodial parents, the predominant pattern is one of gradual withdrawal from their children's lives (Amato & Rezac, 1994; Kelly, 1996; Seltzer, 1991).
The sequelae of divorce for the quality of father-child relations is also quite sobering. Zill, Morrison & Coiro (1993) followed a large national sample of children and parents through the young adulthood of the children. After adjusting for a variety of demographic factors and vocabulary test scores, the authors found increasing alienation of divorced fathers from their children, as measured by the children's descriptions of these relationships. Among 18-22 year olds, 65% of those whose parents had divorced reported a poor relationship with their father, as compared to 29% of those whose parents had not divorced. The data also showed poorer relationships with mothers after divorce, but the effect for fathers was stronger. Remarriage of one of the parents made things worse; 70% of children of divorce and remarriage reported a poor relationship with their father.
Much of the research on fathers' involvement with their children after divorce has focused on the outcome of children's well being. Although some studies have found that higher levels of father involvement were associated with greater psychological adjustment among children, other studies, especially those with nationally representative samples, have failed to support that conclusion (Guidubaldi, Cleminshaw, Perry, Nastasi, & Lightel, 1986; Hetherington, Cox, & Cox, 1982; Furstenberg, Morgan, & Allison, 1987; Kalter, Kloner, Schreier, & Okla, 1989). A number of scholars who report no effects for father involvement have suggested that, while contact with both parents is desirable in principle, the benefits of father involvement for the child may be neutralized when there is significant coparental conflict. That is, when there is a good deal of interparental conflict, higher contact with the father might create additional strains on the child, strains which offset the advantages of seeing the father more frequently (Hetherington et al., 1982).
Amato and Rezac (1994) tested this hypothesis directly with data from the National Survey of Families and Households. They found that higher levels of nonresidential parent involvement (mostly fathers), as measured by frequency of contacts, was associated with less problem behavior in children only in the presence of low interparental conflict. In other words, when the parents got along well, high contact of fathers with their children had positive behavioral outcomes. When the parents had more serious conflict, however, high contact between father and child was associated with worse behavioral outcomes. This finding, which was statistically significant for boys but fell short of significance for girls, supports the importance of a systemic and contextual model for fathering, rather than a dyadic model that focuses only on the father-child relationship.
Recent analyses of national data by Nord and Zill (1996) also sheds light on the complexities of nonresidential father involvement. They found that joint custody and voluntary visitation agreements were associated with better health among adolescents than were sole custody and court ordered agreements. Generally, while more contact with the nonresident father was associated with better reports of health, the status of the parents' divorce agreements was an important moderating factor.
Overall, it appears that there are many barriers to father presence outside of a marital context. Residential status alone, of course, cannot account for this situation. Although there is a dearth of studies in this area, noncustodial mothers appear to do a better job of maintaining presence in their children's lives. For instance, more noncustodial mothers than fathers live in the same state as their children (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1995) and have more contact with their children than noncustodial fathers do (Amato & Rezac, 1994). It appears that there are personal, relational, cultural, and institutional barriers specific to fathering that inhibit father presence in the lives of children whom they do not live with.
Fathers' Payment of Child Support
For many policy specialists, the principal concern with fathering outside of marriage lies with the payment of child support. The term "deadbeat dad" was coined to communicate moral indignation at the number of fathers who do not contribute to their children's economic well being after a divorce. The research data are clear and consistent on the subject. According to a report on child support by the U.S. Bureau of the Census (1995), only 48% of mothers who are awarded child support by the courts receive the full amount due. The remainder are divided more or less equally between those who receive partial payment and those receiving nothing. Furthermore, other research has found that the amounts awarded and paid are not adequate to support a child, given mothers' often low incomes, even if the full amounts are forthcoming (Rettig, Christensen, & Dahl, 1991).
This economic struggle is even more common for nonmarital childbearing than for postdivorce situations, especially when the fathers have lost contact with their children (Lerman, 1993). In 1993, 38% of children living with divorced mothers but 66% of those living with never-married mothers were living below the poverty line, as compared to 10.6% of children living in two-parent families (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1994b). Only 27 percent of never-married custodial mothers have a child support award (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1995). Since many children born to never-married parents have not had legal paternity established, the prospects of establishing awards for these children are limited.
Researchers have examined factors in nonpayment of child support by fathers. One important predictor is having joint custody and/or visitation privileges; those with these arrangements pay all or part of the payment more often than those who do not (79% versus 56%) (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1995). When asked about their lack of economic support, many fathers point to resentment towards mothers for misusing the funds and for withholding the children from the father (Furstenberg, Sherwood, & Sullivan, 1992; Kurdek, 1986). Indeed, studies have documented that more frequent contact is associated with more child support (Seltzer, 1991). Similarly, a tug of war over visitation and other contacts with children is associated with lower child support payments (Dudley, 1991; Seltzer, Schaeffer, & Charng, 1989).
Researchers and policy makers have tended to assume that failures of noncustodial parents to provide economic support is primarily a problem specific to fathers. Absent studies of noncustodial mothers' child support, many assumed that noncustodial mothers would be better payers of child support in the same way they maintain more contact with their nonresidential children. This appears not to be the case. The most recent U.S. Bureau of the Census (1995) report on child support offered the first national data on child support payments of noncustodial mothers as well as fathers. The findings showed that noncustodial mothers, like noncustodial fathers, do not pay all the child support that is owed. Custodial fathers receive about 53 percent of the child support owed, and custodial mothers receive about 68 percent. Slightly more than half of the noncustodial fathers (52%) and less than half of the noncustodial mothers (43%) pay all of what they owe. Mothers' non-payment cannot be dismissed as stemming from their lower incomes than fathers, since child support awards by the court are partly calibrated to income.
These findings of nonsupport among noncustodial mothers suggest that there is something in the structure of nonresidential parenting, rather than in the culture of fatherhood, which is the principal inhibitor of economic support for children outside of marriage. Structural aspects of nonresidential parenting that may inhibit economic support might include having to send funds to an ex-spouse or ex-partner, having to provide economic support in the absence of day-to-day contact with one's children, and having no influence over how child support funds are spent. Naturally, since there are far more noncustodial fathers than noncustodial mothers, the greater social and policy problem is lack of paternal support. But the solutions should reflect the possibility that there are inherent difficulties in paying money to an ex-spouse or ex-partner when not living with and not having daily contact with one's children.
Residential Father Involvement with Children
A striking aspect of research on father involvement with the residential children has been its emphasis not on the traditional father responsibility of economic support, but on the father's face-to-face interaction with his child in the family setting. However, it is clear that the quality of fathers' interactions with their children is tied to the father's success, real or perceived, as a breadwinner. The classic studies documenting this phenomenon are Glen Elder's and colleagues reports on the effects of unemployment during the Great Depression on the quality of father-child relations for men who became unemployed or who perceived themselves as less than adequate providers. These men increased quantity of time with their children, but showed decreased parenting quality through more arbitrariness and rejecting behaviors. Elder and his colleagues found that the impact of unemployment on fathering was greater than for mothering, a finding replicated by other studies as well (Elder, Van Nguyen, & Caspi, 1985; Elder, Liker and Cross, 1984; McLoyd, 1989). Other studies with more recent cohorts of fathers have shown the same results, and have emphasized that the father's perception of his financial situation, even more than his actual situation, influenced his fathering behavior (Harold-Goldsmith, Radin, & Eccles, 1988; LaRossa & Reitzes, 1993).
It appears that feeling like a failure in the core breadwinning role is associated with demoralization for fathers, which causes their relationships with their children to deteriorate (McLoyd, 1989). This phenomenon has particular relevance for African American and other fathers of color, who often face serious barriers to success in the provider role, with deleterious consequences for the ability to father (McLoyd, 1990; Taylor, Leashore, & Toliver, 1988). At a conceptual level, this connection between fathering and providing opportunities demonstrates the importance of taking an ecological approach to fathering, in which the influences of contextual factors can be made visible (Allen & Connor, in press).
As for research on the kinds of father involvement inside the home, prior to Michael Lamb's and Joseph Pleck's influential typology, research on father-child interactions was dispersed into a variety of content categories such as warmth, control, sex role modeling, playfulness, and independence training. Lamb, Pleck, Charnov and Levine (1985) introduced the content free dimensions of paternal engagement (direct caregiving, leisure, or play), paternal accessibility (availability to the child) and paternal responsibility (knowing what the child needs and making decisions about how to respond). Subsequently, research began to focus more heavily on the extent of paternal involvement in these three domains (especially the first two, since responsibility proved hard to operationalize). In addition to examining fathers' absolute levels of involvement with their children, researchers also concerned themselves with measuring the proportion of father involvement relative to mother involvement, and with assessing the predictors and child outcomes of different levels of paternal involvement with children of different ages.
Lamb and Pleck also introduced an often used model of the determinants of father involvement: motivation, skills, social support, and institutional practices (Lamb, 1987a; Lamb, et al., 1985). They proposed that optimal father involvement will be forthcoming when these four determinants are present.
Recently, the literature on father involvement among residential fathers has been comprehensively reviewed and analyzed by Pleck (in press) for the third edition of Lamb's classic book The Role of the Father in Child Development. The following summary relies heavily on Pleck's review.
Pleck's (in press) summary of studies during the 1980s and 1990s indicates that fathers' proportional engagement (relative to mothers) is currently somewhat over 40%, and their accessibility is nearly two-thirds. (This indicates a level of engagement of less than half of mothers' level, with 100% meaning an equal level of involvement with mothers.) These figures are higher than those found in studies during the 1970s and early 1980s--by about one-third for engagement and one-half for accessibility.
As for absolute levels of engagement and accessibility (as opposed to the proportion relative to mothers), Pleck (in press) reports that the age of the child and day of the week were important factors in the available studies. For example, McBride and Mills (1993), using a guided interview procedure to determine time of activities, found that paternal engagement time for young children was 2.0-2.8 hours per day, with 1.9 hours for weekdays and 6.5 hours for weekends. Hours with adolescents tend to be lower, with U.S. studies ranging from .5-1.0 hours for weekdays, and 1.4-2.0 hours for Sundays, with more time spent with sons than with daughters. Accessibility estimates are higher across a number of studies, ranging from 2.8-4.9 hours per day for younger children, and 2.8 hours per day with adolescents (Pleck, in press). Pleck notes that these well documented amounts of time are markedly different than the figure of 12 minutes per day which is often cited in the media.
The best data on paternal accessibility are derived from federal surveys of child care arrangements of employed mothers. These studies indicate that fathers are a significant source of primary child care when mothers are working outside the home. They are as common a source as child care centers and family day care homes, with figures in the range of 23% of families with a working mother have a father who serves as the primary parent while the mother works. These figures are up substantially from the 1970s, although recent findings indicate that fathers' involvement as primary caregivers changes in response to the larger U.S. economy and the availability of jobs (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1996).
Overall, Pleck (in press) concludes that, in keeping with the shift towards a cultural ideal of the highly involved, co-equal parent, there is good evidence of increasing engagement, accessibility, and responsibility of fathers in the lives of their children over the past 20 years. However, there remains a large gap between fathers' involvement levels and those of mothers. Research on child and sociodemographic predictors of residential fathers' involvement may be summarized from Pleck's (in press) review as follows:
Theory and research on residential fathers' involvement with their children has not explicitly used the framework of "responsible fathering," although this value advocacy position clearly comes through in the literature. Indeed, engagement, accessibility and responsibility are ways to operationalize Levine and Pitt's (1995) notion of responsible fathering as involving "continuing emotional and physical care of their child." Unresolved is the issue of the utility of comparisons between mothers' and fathers' levels of involvement with children. In much of the literature on fathers, the behavior of mothers is the benchmark for evaluation (Levine, 1993). This leads to what feminist psychologist Vicky Phares (1996) termed a "matricentric" approach to parenting research, family therapy, and parent education, in which mothers are considered the standard parent and fathers are either ignored or studied for how they differ from mothers or how they neglect or abandon children. What is needed is a systemic, ecological approach to parenting in which the behaviors and beliefs of children, fathers, and mothers are viewed within an interdependent web of personal, relational, and community influences. Influences on Fathering:
The fathering literature has been long on empirical studies and notably short on theory. Researchers have mostly adapted concepts from social sciences to fit their particular empirical research area, but work is beginning on overarching conceptual frameworks to guide research and program development. In his review of theory in fathering research, Marsiglio (1995) mentions a) life course theory (which emphasizes how men's experience of fatherhood changes with life transitions); b) social scripting theory (which emphasizes the cultural messages that fathers internalize about their role); and c) social identity theory (which focuses on how men take on the identity of a father in relation to their other social roles). Hawkins, Christiansen, Sargent, & Hill (1995), Hawkins & Dollahite (in press), and Snarey (1993) have used Erickson's developmental theory in their work on how fathering can promote generativity among adult men. Other scholars have explored the utility of economic theories to understand fathers' decisions to invest or withdraw from their children (Becker, 1991).
The most specific conceptual model frequently used in the fatherhood literature is Lamb's and Pleck's four factor model of father involvement, which is not explicitly grounded in a broader theory such as Erickson's theory or social identity theory (see Lamb et. al., 1985). As mentioned previously, Lamb and Pleck proposed that father involvement is determined by the following factors: motivation, skills and self confidence, social support, and institutional practices. These factors may be viewed as additive, building on one another, and interactively, with some being necessary prior to others--for example, motivation being necessary for the development of skills. Ihinger-Tallman et al. (1995) proposed an eight-factor model of mediators between father identity and actual involvement after divorce: mother's preferences and beliefs, father's perception of mother's parenting, father's emotional stability, mother's emotional stability, sex of child, coparental relationship, father economic well being, father economic security, and encouragement from others.
Based on the research literature, the systemic ecological orientation described earlier, and prior theoretical work on fathering, we present in Figure 1 a conceptual model of influences on fathering. Unlike prior work, the model is intended to be inclusive of fathering inside or outside of marriage and regardless of co-residence with the child. The focus is on the factors that help create and maintain a father-child bond. The model attempts to transcend the dyadic focus of much traditional child development theory by emphasizing first the child-father-mother triad and then larger systems influences.
The model highlights individual factors in the father, mother, and child; mother-father relationship factors; and larger contextual factors in the environment. Within each of these five domains the model outlines a number of specific factors that can be supported by the research literature. The center of the model is the interacting unit of child, father, and mother, each formulating meanings and enacting behaviors that influence the others. The three are embedded in a broader social context that affects them as individuals and the quality of their relationships.
As we describe the model, we are particularly interested in highlighting factors that especially pertain to fathers, since one of the goals of this report is to guide father-specific research, program development, and public policy. All of the factors in the model affect the mother-child relationship as well, because they are generic to parenting (see Belsky, 1984), but many of them have particular twists for fathers. Because so often theory and research on parenting have been derived from work on mothers, it seems particularly important to illuminate the distinctive influences on fathering. The arrows point to the father-child relationship, in particular to the four domains of responsible fathering covered in this review--paternity, presence, economic support, and involvement. Although the model can depict fathers' indirect influence on their children through their support for the mother, the focus here is on direct father-child interaction and behavior. And although the influences depicted in the model can also be viewed as influencing the father directly, we prefer to focus on effects on father-child relations since enhancing those relations, and therefore the well being of children, is the ultimate goal of programs for fathers.
The research reviewed for this report supports the notion that father-child relations are more strongly influenced than mother-child relations by three of the dimensions of the model: the coparental relationship, factors in the other parent, and larger contextual factors.
A number of studies have shown that the quality of father-child relations both inside and outside marriage is more strongly correlated with the quality of the coparental relationship than is true for the mother-child relationship (Belsky & Volling, 1987; Cox, Owen, Lewis, & Henderson, 1989; Feldman, Nash, & Aschenbrenner, 1983; Levy-Shiff & Israelashvili, 1988). Fathers appear to withdraw from their child when they are not getting along with the mother, whereas mothers do not show a similar level of withdrawal. This is one way to understand the tendency of fathers to remove themselves from their children's lives after a breakup with the mother, especially if they have a negative relationship with the mother (Ahrons & Miller, 1993). As Furstenberg and Cherlin (1991) have asserted, for many men, marriage and parenthood are a "package deal." Or one might say that in American culture, a woman is a mother all of her life, but a man is a father if he has a wife. Furthermore, if he has a wife but does not get along with her, he may be present as a father, but the quality of his relationship with his children is apt to suffer.
One reason that fathering is particularly sensitive to the marital or coparental relationship is that standards and expectations for fathering appear to be more variable than those for mothering. There is more negotiation in families of what fathers will do than what mothers will do, and hence more dependence among fathers on the quality and outcome of those negotiations (Backett, 1987). As Lewis and O'Brien (1987) state, men have a less clear "job description" as fathers than women do as mothers. Therefore, fathers' behavior will be strongly influenced by the meanings and expectations of fathers themselves, as well as mothers, children, extended family, and broader cultures and institutions.
One of the most sensitive areas of research on fathering is the importance of fathers being married to the children's mothers. Since many fathers are not married to the mother, it can seem prejudicial to these men and their children--and perhaps to single parent mothers-- to emphasize the importance of marriage. On the other hand, an implication of our review of the research and our conceptual framework is that, for most American fathers, the family environment most supportive of fathering is a caring, committed, and collaborative marriage. This kind of marriage means that the father a) lives with his children, and b) has a good partnership with their mother. These are the two principal intrafamilial determinants of responsible fathering, and they are most likely to be found in a caring, committed, and collaborative marriage.
Some of the controversy over the role of marriage in responsible fathering can be circumvented by specifying the quality of the marriage as we have done. It is the quality of the marital process, rather than the legal status, that most affects fathering. One might argue, then, that being married is not important, because cohabiting couples could have the same relationship qualities. While in principle this is true, the research on cohabitation clearly indicates that cohabitation is a temporary arrangement for most heterosexual couples; they eventually either marry or break up (Bumpass et al., 1991). We conclude that in practice the kind of mother-father relationship most conducive to responsible fathering in contemporary U.S. society is a caring, committed, collaborative marriage.
Among external influences on fathering, the role of the mother has particular salience, since mothers serve as partners and sometimes as gatekeepers in the father-child relationship, both inside and outside marriage (De Luccie, 1995) Mother factors in the conceptual model, of course, interact with the coparental relationship, since the mother's personal feelings about the father no doubt influence the coparental relationship. But there is also evidence that, even within satisfactory marital relationships, fathers' involvement with their children, especially young children, is often contingent on the mother's attitudes towards, expectations of, and support for the father, as well as by the extent of her involvement in the labor force (De Luccie, 1995; Simons, Whitbeck, Congar, & Melby, 1990). Marsiglio (1991), using the National Survey of Families and Households data set, found that mothers' characteristics were more strongly correlated with fathers' involvement than fathers' own characteristics were. Indeed, studies have shown that many mothers, both inside and outside marriage, are ambivalent about the fathers' active involvement with their children (Baruch & Barnett, 1986; Cowan & Cowan, 1987). Given the powerful cultural forces that expect absorption by women in their mothering role, it is not surprising that active paternal involvement would threaten some women's identity and sense of control over this central domain of their lives. The evolution of a social consensus on responsible fathering, therefore, will necessarily involve a consensus that responsible mothering means supporting the father-child bond.
Research reviewed earlier in this report demonstrates the particular vulnerability of fathering to contextual and institutional practices, from the establishment of legal paternity to the greater impact of unemployment on fathering than on mothering. Lack of income and poor occupational opportunities appear to have a particularly negative effect on fathering (Thomson, Hanson, & McLanahan., 1994). The prevalence of the abandonment of economic and psychological responsibilities among poor, unemployed men, and among other men who undergo financial and employment crises, is partly a function of the unique vulnerability of fathering to perceived success in the external environment (Jones, 1991; McLoyd, 1989). This analysis suggests that fathering is especially sensitive to changes in economic forces in the work force and marketplace, and to shifts in public policy. It also suggests that fathering suffers disproportionately from negative social forces such as racism, which inhibit opportunities in the environment. McLoyd (1990), in a review and conceptual analysis of economic hardship in African American families, describes how poverty and racism combine to create psychological distress, which is in turn associated with more negative parenting styles and more difficulty in the coparental relationship.
Our conceptual model also depicts the positive contribution of ethnic and cultural factors to fathering. One aspect of responsible fathering, that of economic support, is nearly universally expected of fathers by their cultures (Lamb, 1987b). LaRossa (in press), in his historical analysis, has demonstrated how changing cultural expectations in the first part of the twentieth century led to more nurturing father involvement in the United States. Allen & Connor (in press) have examined how role flexibility and concern for children in the African American community create opportunities for men to become involved in surrogate father relationships with children who lack day-to-day contact with their biological fathers. But unfortunately there has not been much empirical research examining fathering in its cultural context, using representative samples of fathers to explore how cultural meanings and practices influence fathers' beliefs and behaviors.
The final contextual factor in the model is social support, which Belsky (1984) has emphasized in his theoretical model of parenting and which McLoyd (1990) has documented as a crucial factor in diminishing the negative effects of poverty on parenting behavior. Most of the research on social support specifically for fathers, however, has focused on mothers as sources of social support. Pleck (in press) reviewed the limited research on extrafamilial social support for fathering and found the studies skimpy and inconsistent, except for the pattern that highly involved fathers tend to encounter negative attitudes from acquaintances, relatives, and fellow workers. Clearly there is need for studies examining the sources and influences of social support on fathering, particularly the role of other fathers.
From the perspective of both the contextual factors and the mother factors discussed thus far, fathering can be conceptualized as a more contextually sensitive process than mothering is. Not that mothering is not also contextually sensitive, but the cultural norms are stricter on the centrality and endurance of the mother-child dyad, regardless of what is happening outside that relationship. Father-child relations, on the other hand, are culturally defined as less dyadic and more multilateral, requiring a threshold of support from inside the family and from the larger environment. Undermining from the mother or from a social institution or system may induce many fathers to retreat from responsible fathering, unless their own individual level of commitment to fathering is quite strong.
This point about the ecological sensitivity of fathering is a principal conclusion of this report. It suggests that fathering programs and policy initiatives that focus only on fathers will benefit mainly those fathers who already have a supportive social and economic environment. Fathers whose context is less supportive--for example, fathers who do not live with their children, have strained relations with the mother, or are experiencing economic stress--will need more extensive and multilateral efforts to support their fathering.
Individual child factors are included in the model for completeness, but the child factors studied in the research literature do not appear to be as salient as the other dimensions in influencing fathering. As reviewed earlier, fathers do appear to find it easier to be more involved with their sons, especially older sons, presumably because they identify with them and are more comfortable communicating with them (Marsiglio, 1991). Most of the other child factors such as age appear to influence mothers equally as much as fathers, although Larson (1993) and Larson and Richards (1994) have documented how fathers withdraw more from parent-adolescent conflict than mothers do. More research is especially needed on the influence of the child's temperament and developmental status on relations with nonresidential fathers. Similarly, research is needed on how the child's beliefs and meanings about father involvement influence fathers' and mothers' expectations and behavior.
Father role identification, skills, and commitment are important influences on fathering (Baruch & Barnett, 1986; Ihinger-Tallman et al., 1995; Pleck, in press). These three factors also appear to be quite variable among fathers, fluctuating from low to high levels along with a number of interpersonal and contextual factors such as the mother's expectations and the father's residential status with his children (Marsiglio, 1995; Ihinger-Tallman et al., 1995). And as mentioned before, in American culture, fathers are given more latitude for commitment to, identification with, and competence in, their parental role. This latitude brings the price of confusion among many fathers about how to exercise their roles (Daly, 1995).
The variability of the individual father factors suggests two important implications of our conceptual model: a) that the positive support from mothers and the larger context can move men in the direction of more responsible parenting even in the face of modest personal investment; and b) that strong individual father commitment, knowledge, and skills are likely to be necessary to overcome negative maternal, coparental, and contextual influences. This latter point is similar to Lamb's (1987a) hypothesis that high levels of father motivation can override lack of social support and institutional barriers.
As for the father's own family of origin experiences, some research suggests that the father's relations with his own father may be a factor, either through identifying with his father or compensating for his father's lapses, in contributing to his own role identification, sense of commitment, and self efficacy (Cowan & Cowan, 1987; Daly, 1995). Snarey (1993), in an impressive longitudinal study, has documented the role of multigenerational connections between fathers.
The final father factors, psychological well being and employment characteristics, have been studied extensively. Studies examining psychological adjustment and parenting quality consistently show a positive relationship between fathers' (and mothers') psychological well being and their parenting attitudes and skills (Cox et al., 1989; Levy-Shiff & Israelashvili, 1988; Pleck, in press). The research on job loss and economic distress has generally examined declines in psychological well being as mediating factors leading to poorer fathering (Elder et al., 1984; Elder et al., 1985; Jones, 1991). And fathers' work situations have been shown to have mixed relationships with involvement with children. Specific work schedules are not strongly related to involvement, but greater flex time and other pro-family work setting practices are associated with more father involvement (Pleck, in press). Indeed, consistent with much other research on fathering, mothers' employment characteristics are more strongly associated with father involvement than father employment characteristics; when mothers are employed, fathers' proportionate share of parenting is greater, although studies are inconsistent about the absolute level of father involvement (Pleck, in press).
The conceptual model outlines the multiple factors that influence fathering, from individual to relational to contextual. The factors can be viewed as additive. For example, low paternal role identification combined with low expectations from the mother would be strongly associated with low father involvement in both residential and nonresidential contexts. Conversely, high parental role identification combined with high expectations from the mother would lead to greater father involvement in any residential context.
The factors in the model can also be viewed as interactive. For example, high role identification and good employment and income might be sufficient to offset low expectations from the mother. Similarly, not living with the child could be offset by the father's strong commitment to his children and the support of the mother. And strong institutional support through public policies could mitigate unmarried fathers' and mothers' reluctance to declare paternity.
Although the conceptual framework is intended to apply to the four domains of responsible fathering covered in this review (paternity, presence, economic support, and involvement), most of the research has focused on one or another of these areas; indeed, the bulk of the empirical research has been on father involvement. Researchers have tended to assume that economic contextual factors uniquely influence economic support and that father factors uniquely influence father involvement. Putting a wide range of factors into one model challenges researchers to examine how all the factors might influence all the domains of responsible fathering. We acknowledge, however, that some components of the model are likely to influence some aspects of fathering more than others.
Finally, the model should be seen as depicting a dynamic set of processes rather than a set of linear, deterministic influences. Systemic, ecological models run the risk of reducing the target behavior, in this case responsible fathering, to a contextually determined phenomenon stripped of individual initiative and self-determination. Therefore we want to emphasize the pivotal role of fathers themselves in appropriating or discarding cultural and contextual messages, in formulating a fathering identity and developing fathering skills with their own children, in working out their feelings about their own fathers, and in dealing collaboratively with their children's mother. The social construction of fatherhood is an evolving creation of all stakeholders in the lives of children, and contemporary fathers have a central role in this creation. The active construction of fathering by fathers themselves is not a prominent theme in the research literature, although it is crucial to programs that work with fathers. More qualitative research is needed to explore the kinds of identity development and social negotiation that constitute the experience of fathering in contemporary society.
This review and conceptual model have a number of implications for the development and evaluation of fathering programs. The overarching implication is that fathering programs should involve a wide range of interventions, reflecting the multifaceted influences on fathering. In fact, many of the best programs already use a systemic, ecological approach. This section delineates a number of specific implications and recommendations.
Unfortunately, there is a paucity of research evaluating the effectiveness of these programs. Evaluation research on fathering programs has largely been confined to one-time father education groups, which have been found effective in increasing fathers' involvement and sense of competence with their young children (McBride, 1990, 1991), and to limited interventions to enhance specific fathering behaviors such as infant care (Pfannenstiel & Honig, 1991). Other evaluations have focused on pilot projects aimed at young unwed fathers and unemployed noncustodial fathers (Achatz & MacCollum, 1994; Bloom & Sherwood, 1994). Absent a solid body of research on multifaceted fathering programs, the recommendations that follow are based on the research literature, our conceptual model, conversations with practitioners and experts in the field, and a review of descriptions of leading fathering programs and consensus strategies for promoting responsible fathering (Levine & Pitt, 1995; Ooms, Cohen and Hutchins, 1995).
A notable effort to organize the implications of research for practice is underway at the National Center on Fathers and Families. Several literature reviews have been completed, along with extensive abstracts of the literature (Arendell, 1996; Davis & Perkins, 1995; Sorenson & Turner, 1996). These reports address the following "core learnings" from the experience of agencies and programs working with fathers: how fathers care for children, the benefits of father presence, the negative effects of unemployment, systemic factors inhibiting father involvement, the need for extra support for coparenting, the developmental needs of young fathers, and intergenerational influences on fathering attitudes and behaviors.
There is an important need for dialogue and mutual education between researchers and practitioners in the fathering area. Practitioners in particular have been at the forefront of emphasizing the effects of unemployment and family-of-origin relationships on fathers, and the importance of peer support. They also understand better than most researchers the subjective experience of men struggling with their fatherhood identity. On the other hand, researchers can offer practitioners a theoretical base for their work, important information about fathering from representative samples of fathers, and evaluation methods to help determine whether policies and programs are helpful to fathers in the community.
Following are the specific programmatic recommendations stemming from this report. Each recommendation will not apply to all programs and every population. For example, an employment dimension is most salient for programs that work with unemployed fathers, and directly involving mothers, while potentially useful for all programs, might be especially important for fathers with tenuous relationships with their children's mother. Furthermore, programs can still be useful even if they are not fully comprehensive.
This report has delineated a conceptual model of influences on fathering that can serve as a stimulus for future research, programming, and policy development. The main premise, which is supported by a variety of studies, is that fathering is uniquely sensitive to contextual influences, both interpersonal and environmental. Fathering is fundamentally a multilateral relationship in addition to a one-to-one relationship. A range of influences including mothers' expectations and behaviors, the quality of the coparental relationship, economic factors, institutional practices, and employment opportunities all have potentially powerful effects on fathering. These contextual factors shape the major domains of responsible fathering discussed inthis report: acknowledgment of paternity, willingness to be present and provide economic support, and level of involvement with one's children. When these influences are not supportive of the father-child bond, a man may need high identification with the father role, strong commitment, and good parenting skills to remain a responsible father to his children, especially if he does not live with them. An encouraging implication of this systemic, contextual analysis is that there are many potential pathways to enhancing the quality of father-child relations. Fathering can potentially be enhanced through programs that help fathers relate to their coparent, that foster employment and economic opportunities if needed, that change institutional expectations and practices to better support fathers, and that encourage personal and economic involvement with their children.
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