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									                                        Fatherhood Research, Rosalie Bakken, March 2002

                         Fatherhood research: A brief summary

                 By Rosalie Bakken, Adolescent Development Specialist
                 University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension Division

       The father’s role in the life of a child was largely overlooked for decades. It has

only been within the past few decades that fathers have been thought of as playing more

than a minor, biological role in the child development process. Because most of the

research on parenting and child development has traditionally focused exclusively on

mothers or has used the word “parent” as a synonym for “mother,” the unique

contributions of fathers were largely undocumented until recently.

       Beginning in the late 1970s, social and demographic trends, including a high rate

of divorce, an increase in the rate of nonmarital births, and a high rate of dual career

families, spurred research focusing on the father’s role in influencing child development.

Throughout the 1990s, there was an expanding interest in fatherhood. Researchers

studied various dimensions of fatherhood, the impact of fathers on child outcomes, and

factors that alter this impact. Social policy began to reflect the recognition that healthy

involvement of fathers helps to facilitate successful outcomes for children and

adolescents, and that father involvement includes emotional, social, and physical

dimensions as well as financial support.

       Research focusing on the paternal role has enormous potential to positively affect

individuals, families, and communities, particularly in Nebraska, as well as in society at

large. Numerous studies indicate that healthy father involvement in children’s lives is

associated with positive outcomes for infants, children, and adolescents in a variety of

ways. For example, father involvement is associated with enhanced cognitive

                                          Fatherhood Research, Rosalie Bakken, March 2002

development and academic performance, competent emotional and social development,

and reduction in delinquent behaviors.

           Research indicates that healthy involvement of fathers enhances child well-being

across the life span, from infancy to adulthood. Studies show that healthy attachment

between infants and fathers is associated with positive social development. Studies also

indicate that adolescent behavioral outcomes are associated with positive father

involvement. For example, rates of drug use are lower for teens who have involved


           These findings are especially important in Nebraska, because Nebraska teens are

engaging in some risky behaviors at rates even higher than the national averages. For

example, statistics show that 65% of Nebraska teens have smoked cigarettes. Compared

to national averages, Nebraska has higher rates of youth death by accident, suicide, and

homicide and higher rates of juvenile property crime arrests (Annie E. Casey Foundation,


           Statistics also indicate that Nebraska youth engage in considerably more alcohol-

related risk behaviors than youth in other states (Johnston, O’Malley, & Bachman, 1999;

Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, 1999). These statistics imply that there is a

great potential to improve behavioral outcomes for Nebraska teens. Research suggests

that healthy involvement of fathers is one factor that may help reduce risky behaviors in


           Consistent with other states, Nebraska also has experienced increases in the

numbers of divorces and nonmarital births in recent decades, which often result in a

reduced level of contact between fathers and children. A greater understanding of the

                                       Fatherhood Research, Rosalie Bakken, March 2002

role fathers can play in helping youth make healthy decisions may ultimately help reduce

adolescent risk-taking behaviors in the Nebraska, particularly in nonintact families.

       It is important for parents to understand that children’s developmental needs do

not diminish as they grow into adolescence; rather, adolescents continue to need high

levels of parental involvement throughout adolescence. Even though adolescents

typically become more capable of caring for themselves in a physical sense, they

continue to benefit from strong parental involvement as they negotiate the delicate path

toward emotional and behavioral autonomy and as their value systems evolve and

become internalized.

       Because working mothers are spending significant amounts of time away from the

home, fathers are increasingly being recognized as playing an important role in child

rearing. Father continue to take on traditional roles, such as provider and disciplinarian,

but they are increasingly embracing their roles as care-givers, providing for the

emotional, cognitive, and social needs of their children as well as for daily care.

       In dual-career families particularly, fathers also are increasingly relied upon to

provide crucial guidance and monitoring of adolescent behavior as families renegotiate

household tasks to accommodate mothers’ work schedules. This may be particularly true

in Nebraska, which, compared with all other states, has the second highest percentage of

mothers participating in the work force. As both mothers and fathers become more aware

of the significant role father’s may play during a child’s adolescent years, they are likely

to maintain or even increase their overall engagement in the parenting role during that

critical time in their child’s development.

                                       Fatherhood Research, Rosalie Bakken, March 2002

   Nationally, there are several important trends and issues related to fatherhood, some

of which include:

      Decreased levels of father involvement among nonmarital and divorced fathers
      Increased levels of father involvement in two-parent families
      Need for research and programming that addresses the needs of fathers (and
       families) from diverse groups (i.e. Latino fathers, incarcerated fathers, etc.)
      Need for programs and policies addressing the needs of fathers of babies born to
       teen mothers
      Delayed age of becoming a father, particularly among those who are highly
      Child support and custody arrangements (and other policy-related issues)
      Influence of the “fatherhood movement” on motherhood
      Father-friendly workplaces
      Roles of non-biological father-figures (stepfathers, grandfathers, etc.)
      The meaning of becoming a father and its effects on men’s personal development
      How father’s roles affect mothers roles and role satisfaction
      Fatherhood within the context of gay and lesbian parenthood

   Although there are hundreds of published studies addressing fatherhood, there still are

many gaps and questions that have not been fully answered. For example, under what

circumstances does father involvement become unhealthy or even detrimental to child

well being, such as when there is abuse, substance use, or family conflict? Clarification

also is needed to determine what aspects of fathers’ involvement with children are most

critical and at what stages in a child’s development. The quantity of time spent together

appears to be less important than the quality of the relationship.

   In spite of these questions and others that require further investigation, the research

does clearly indicate that healthy involvement of fathers is indeed beneficial for child and

family well-being. Programs and policies that facilitate education and understanding of

the importance of fathers, and that help fathers and mothers to negotiate their parental

roles with respect and cooperation, are recommended.


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