Why do some dads invest more time and money in their kids than others?
What factors determine how much time and money a dad invests in his children? Psychologists think they have the answer.
New research from NYU psychologists has looked at how dads invest in their children, both financially and emotionally. The findings, published online in the Journal of Family Issues, highlight that a dad's resources, relationships, and parenting beliefs affect how he spends time with his children and financially provides for his family.
Tamarie Macon, the study's lead author and an assistant professor of applied psychology at NYU, says that they looked at activities dads do with their children, the father-mother relationship, and also personal parenting beliefs:
"We found a range of different characteristics influenced father involvement in unique ways, from caregiving to financial investment.
For example, what predicted how often fathers read to their children was not only their level of education, but also their beliefs about gender roles in the family. The bottom line is that both structural circumstances and fathers' personal beliefs matter."
Previous research has tended to focus on two primary ways that parents invest in their children, namely time and money. But what determines exactly how - and how much - a dad invests in his children? The NYU study looked at fathers' income and education levels, relationships at home, and views on parenting relating to a dad's involvement, which was measured by time spent with children in a variety of activities as well as financial investment.
Participants for the study were drawn from the Early Head Start Father Involvement with Toddlers Study. A total of 478 ethnically and racially diverse low-income fathers were included. Researchers visited dads in their homes when their children were two years old to gather information about demographic and personal characteristics, age, ethnicity, and resources as measured by income and education levels.
Dads reported how often they spent time with their children in 33 different activities, including play, caregiving activities like preparing meals, cognitive activities like reading stories to their child, and social activities like visiting friends and family.
Fathers were also asked if they lived at home and about their relationship with their child's mother. Prior research shows that the quality of the father-mother relationship is associated with a father's involvement with his kids, and conflict between parents can result in decreased involvement. Finally, dads were asked about their feelings on whether men should be their family's financial provider, the importance of investing in children to positively influence their development, and beliefs about traditional gender norms.
The researchers' analysis found that a father's resources - education and money - were linked to different forms of involvement in different ways. More educated dads spent more time with their children in caregiving and cognitive activities, but less time in social activities.
Professor Macon says fathers with higher incomes were more involved in taking their children to religious services but less involved in infrequent activities like going to the zoo or a museum:
"Higher-income fathers may have more availability on the weekends versus the workweek and focus their involvement on weekend activities, such as attending religious services.
Separating education and income as two aspects of father resources, which are often combined into a single measure of socioeconomic status, revealed different associations with father investment of time and finances."
Not surprisingly, the researchers found that dads who live with their children spent more time with them across several activities, and disagreements between fathers and mothers were negatively associated with fathers financially providing for their families.
Fathers' beliefs about parenting also influenced their parenting behaviours. Dads who believed their role as financial provider to be highly important reported more financial provision, whereas fathers who reported investment in their children's development to be highly important were more involved in caregiving. Professor Macon says that dads who endorsed more traditional gender norms participated in less caregiving and cognitive activities:
"Fathers' views of their role related to specific aspects of their involvement beyond resources, relationships, and demographic characteristics. Our results reaffirm the importance of designing parenting interventions that consider fathers' beliefs and values, not solely their parenting knowledge and skills."