What Do Fathers Contribute to Children's Well-being?

Child Trends Research Brief
Research brief
Year Published: Not Dated
Child Trends Research Brief
Child Trends Research Brief

High rates of divorce and non-marital childbearing have increased the percentage of children and fathers who live apart from one another. The available research on how this separation affects a child's development has been limited. Most of the studies of fathers have been conducted In the context of intact families. This report focuses on that body of research, with information on how fathers influence their children's development. Information from smaller studies of fathers who live apart from their children is also included in the report. The contribution that fathers make to their children's development is unique from mothers. Fathers were found to spend more time in physical play than mothers, yet each contribute to their children's intellectual development and social competence. When fathers assume more than 40% or more of the care of their young children, their children registered higher scores on assessments of cognitive development. The first year of life is an especially important time for fathers to assume significant child care tasks. Those children who were cared for by their fathers (and mothers) in the first year of life scored higher on developmental assessments than children who were enrolled in child care centers. The involvement of the father is a significant predictor of a child receiving high grades in school. Students whose fathers were actively involved in their children's lives were less likely to be behavior problems or to be suspended or expelled from school. Fathers who do not live with their children can still impact positively on their children's cognitive development, academic achievement, and behavior. One of the ways in which they can make a positive impact is through the provision of child support. If that financial support is provided freely without the need for a court order, the beneficial effects are greater. Some studies indicate that the frequency of contact is less important than the quality of the father-child relationship.

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