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Fatherhood

Determinants Of Father-involvement

Father-involvement is highly variable and determined by a variety of factors including biological, individual, family, and societal influences (Parke 1996). It is not just females who undergo hormonal changes in preparation for parenthood. Human fathers, too undergo hormonal changes during pregnancy and childbirth. In a study men experienced significant prenatal and postnatal changes in several hormones (prolactin, cortisol, and testosterone)—a pattern which was similar to women. Testosterone levels, for example, were lower in the early prenatal period, which may increase paternal responsiveness to infants, in part, by reducing competitive, nonnurturing behaviors (Storey et al. 2000).

There are individual differences in men's attitudes toward fathering, including the motivation, knowledge, and skill to become involved in child-rearing. Men who are more motivated, who value the paternal role, and view themselves as capable are likely to be more involved fathers, not only with infants, but with older children as well.

Family factors are important, and fathers are best understood from a family systems perspective. Mothers can either facilitate or inhibit fathers' involvement in their role of gatekeepers in both intact families and postdivorce contexts (Parke 1996). The quality of the marital relationship is a further determinant: when the marital relationship is positive, the level of father-involvement is higher.

A variety of societal and occupational changes have altered father-involvement. Two shifts will be explored: the timing of fatherhood and shifts in patterns of maternal employment.

Men are becoming fathers at earlier and later ages than in earlier eras. Findings show that most teenage males are unprepared to assume the role of parent and provider. Compared to more mature fathers, teenage fathers have unrealistic expectations, lack of knowledge about child development, and are more likely to be abusive. Adolescent fathers often have problems fulfilling their paternal responsibilities as they are unprepared financially and emotionally to undertake the responsibilities of fatherhood. Many leave school, assume lowpaying jobs, and live a marginal existence. The detrimental effects of early fatherhood seem less problematic for African-American males even though there is a higher incidence of young, unwed fathers among African-American than Euro-American men.

The stereotypic notion that all teenage fathers are irresponsible, uncaring, and unconcerned about the mother or the infant is incorrect. Many young fathers are deeply involved in the lives of their partners and their babies (Marsiglio and Cohan 1997). Data suggests that half of unwed young fathers visit their children at least once a week and a quarter almost daily. Only 13 percent are reported as never visiting. However, other studies also reveal that as children develop, this contact is likely to decrease. Historically, teenage fathers had no legal rights regarding the children they fathered, but the availability of legal recourse is changing. As rates of adolescent fathering have increased, the social stigma has decreased, paving the way for more social services designed to promote positive father-involvement.

In contrast, men who delay their entry into the fatherhood role until their thirties or forties are more involved with their children than "on time" fathers and contribute more to indirect aspects of childcare such as cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry. Moreover, the style of interaction varies with timing. As fathers age, they are less physically playful and more likely to engage in cognitive stimulatory activities (e.g., reading, verbal games).

One of the major determinants of father-involvement is the shift toward the dual career family. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, over 70 percent of mothers are employed outside the home. Fathers are more likely to increase their level of involvement when mothers' work, a finding that holds for Euro-American, African-American, and Mexican-American fathers. However, this link is complex and may depend on whether mothers work full- or part-time and whether fathers hold traditional or nontraditional views of parenting. When mothers work part-time, fathers increase their involvement only when they hold egalitarian beliefs. Father beliefs are a less important determinant when women work full-time. However, fathers, regardless of maternal employment, still do less than mothers (Pleck 1997).

It is not only maternal employment that influences father-involvement, but the nature of the father's job characteristics as well. The demands and the nature of the fathers' occupations (e.g., travel, hours of work, or proximity to workplace) can facilitate or prohibit their daily involvement in childcare, as can workplace policies for families (e.g., flextime or paternity leaves.) (Parke and Brott 1999). Moreover, aspects of the work environment may carry over into the family environment and influence the quality, as well as the amount, of father-child interaction. For example, Rena Repetti (1994) found that men with high-stress jobs tended to be more withdrawn from their children after returning home from a high-stress shift at work. On the other hand, positive work experiences can enhance the quality of father-involvement.


Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaPregnancy & ParenthoodFatherhood - Historical Perspectives, Fathers Across The Life Span, Determinants Of Father-involvement, Divorced And Single Fathers