How men feel about fatherhood, and what they contribute

June 10, 1999


ANN ARBOR— In addition to time and money, today’s fathers contribute to their children’s lives in a wide variety of ways, according to a new University of Michigan study of a nationally representative sample of 1,761 children living in two-parent, intact families.

About three-quarters of these fathers say they hug their children or show physical affection to them everyday, reports sociologist W. Jean Yeung, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR).

One-third of U.S. fathers in the study say they tell their children they love them every day and 60 percent say they joke or play with their children on a daily basis. Nearly 90 percent of fathers say that being a father is the most fulfilling role a man can have, and almost as many express a high level of confidence in themselves as fathers. About 87 percent agree or strongly agree that fathers are just as good as mothers at meeting their children’s needs.
For the study, Yeung analyzed data from a variety of sources, including time diaries and questionnaires filled out by both mothers and fathers of children up to age 12. Collected in 1997 by researchers at the ISR, the data are part of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics Child Development Supplement, funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Eighty percent of the dads say they help choose their children’s activities, while 67 percent help choose their children’s day care and schools. But only 29 percent say they help their wives select a pediatrician and make appointments for their children, according to the study.
About a quarter of the fathers have attended at least one meeting of the PTA or similar organizations at their children’s school, and about 22 percent have volunteered at school during the year they were interviewed, Yeung reports.

More than half the fathers know the first and last names of their children’s close friends, and 77 percent say that when their children aren’t at home, they always know whom they are with.

Almost 40 percent of the fathers say they often or very often set limits on how much time a child can spend watching television, and 60 percent set limits on what shows their children are allowed to watch. Fathers also report that they often or very often set the following limits: establishing when it is time for homework (62 percent); limiting snacks (63 percent), controlling whom a child spends time with (40 percent), and controlling how children spend time after school (46 percent).

While 65 percent of the fathers say they often or very often discuss rules with their children, most dads are not the main family disciplinarian. Only 5 percent of fathers say they are primarily responsible for disciplining their children, while 93 percent say they share this responsibility with their wives.
Three-quarters of the fathers earn more than half the family income, and 33 percent agree that a man should earn most of the money while a woman takes care of home and family. After controlling for a variety of family characteristics, Yeung found that a father’s earnings and education are positively related to a child’s math and reading scores.

But no matter how little money a father earns or what his educational level, Yeung found that several self-reported paternal characteristics are related to fewer behavior problems in children. Fathers who have a warm relationship with their children, who monitor what their children are doing in school, and who spend time with their children playing and socializing with others, are most likely to have children with fewer behavior problems, Yeung found. Among these behavior problems are lying, being overly active, crying too much, feeling no one loves them, being fearful or anxious, or having a tendency to withdraw.

“It’s important to remember that these findings reflect the situation for children who live with both of their biological or adoptive parents,” Yeung cautions. “About one-third of today’s American children don’t, and these children are likely to spend less time with their fathers and receive lower levels of support from them, both financially and emotionally.”

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