Too often today, we as a society tend to minimize the parental strengths of fathers and the unique role they play in children’s lives, despite the growing body of research that shows otherwise. My own research suggests that the role of the father is salient and should not be diminished.
Recently, I undertook a meta-analysis of 34 studies that found statistically-significant effects highlighting the unique role of fathers in childrearing. This association between fathering and the outcome variables held across social measurements, psychological indicators, and academic achievement. It also held for both boys and girls and across age groups.
The first research question the meta-analysis addressed is whether fathers make a unique contribution in raising children, as distinguished from the effects of mothers raising children. The second question sought to determine what kinds of outcomes result from good fathering. We obtained a total of 52 studies that addressed these questions and found 34 that had a sufficient degree of quantitative data to include in this meta-analysis. Among those 34, the total number of subjects was approximately 37,300. In the study, we defined the unique fatherhood contribution as paternal monitoring, involvement, and childrearing activities that can be distinguished from activities undertaken by the mother, another guardian, relative, or caregiver.1
Based on the results, a clear theme emerged: while mothers often tested as being more nurturing in their relationship with children, fathers tended to be more involved in preparing children to deal with life. Fathers also appeared to have more of a realistic assessment of their children. That is, their ratings served as better predictors, than did mother ratings, of problem behavior that would eventually arise in their children’s lives. Father ratings were, in some cases, also better predictors of children’s future cognitive performance than was true with the ratings of mothers. Fathers often played unique roles in that their involvement and/or monitoring was associated with lower rates of delinquency and substance abuse among boys and girls. Father monitoring not only helped students do better in school but also helped them to maintain better attitudes while in school.
The results also suggest that there is often a balance established when the unique role of the father is combined with the distinct role of the mother. Granted, there is clearly some overlap in the advantages provided by father and mother monitoring. Nevertheless, mothers consistently demonstrated higher average levels of patience and nurturing than did fathers, but fathers tended to have higher expectations of their children than mothers and tended to emphasize the preparatory aspect of child-rearing more than mothers did. The effects for father involvement were smaller than those found for parental involvement because addressing the influence of fathers specifically leaves out the contribution of mothers. In addition, it also does not include the influence of mothers and fathers working together jointly. Nevertheless, this analysis indicates that the salience of fathering is undeniable.
To be sure, the involvement of fathers is greatly connected to family structure. Father engagement is best facilitated in two-parent families, mainly because single-parent families tend to be headed by mothers.2 According to a 2015 article appearing in Education Next, children living in two-parent families consistently receive more schooling than those in single-parent families, with the gap increasing over time.3 To the extent that education is often the tool that helps realize the American dream, this has major ramifications for government policy, personal decision-making, and even one’s philosophy of life. Furthermore, statistical analyses of nationwide data sets indicate that, on average, children raised by their biological parents in intact married families academically outperformed their counterparts whose parents lived in cohabitating families and never-married, single-parent families by the equivalent of over .5- and about .6- of a grade point on a 4-point scale, respectively, across all school subjects.4
Clearly, coming from a two-parent intact family is conducive to experiencing high levels of mother and father engagement, although originating from this environment does not guarantee that mothers and fathers will be involved. Nevertheless, the changing make-up in family structure in recent decades has ultimately made father involvement more difficult. This Father’s Day, one of the most child-sensitive and family-sensitive actions one can take is to develop a greater appreciation of the value of fatherhood. It is not only unwise to diminish the salience of fathers, it is mindless to do so. Moreover, it is blatantly unkind to America’s current and future children to detract from the role of the parent that is so vital to their future fulfillment. To be truly pro-child is to be pro-father.
William Jeynes is a professor at California State University, Long Beach, a Harvard graduate, and has been a speaker/advisor for three presidential administrations, several members of the G20, and the EU.
1. Levine, S. Father courage: What happens when men put family first. (New York: Harcourt, 2000); Marsiglio, W., Amato, P. & Day, R. D. “Scholarship on fatherhood in the 1990s and beyond,”Journal of Marriage & the Family, 62 (2000):1173-1191.
2. Woessmann, L. “An international look at the single parent,” Education Next, 15 (2015): 42-49.
3. Ziol-Guest, K. M. Duncan, G. J. Kalil, A. “One-parent children leave school earlier: educational attainment widens,” Education Next, 15, no. 2 (2015): 36-41.
4. William Jeynes, Divorce, family structure, and the academic success of children(New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis, 2012).