The detached dad, turning up his nose at diapering and too busy to bathe, dress and play with his kids, is mostly a myth, a big government survey suggests. Most American fathers say they are heavily involved in hands-on parenting, the researchers found.
The nationally representative survey shows fathers’ involvement has increased slightly since the government first asked in 2002, coinciding with research since then that bolsters the benefits of hands-on fathering.
The results are encouraging and important “because others have found the more involved dads are, the better the outcomes for their children,” said study co-author Jo Jones of the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control Prevention.
More academic success, fewer behavior problems and healthier eating habits are just some of the ways fathers’ involvement has been linked with children’s well-being.
The results build on volumes of research showing changes in the American family since the baby boom years and before, when women were mostly stay-at-home moms and dads were the major breadwinners. As those roles shifted, so did the view that moms are the only nurturers.
University of Chicago sociologist Jennifer Bellamy, who studies fathering, said some old stereotypes persist, “that dads are sort of the co-pilots in their families,” absent or less involved than moms. But, she said, the survey confirms that fathers “are quite involved in a variety of different and important ways.”
The study involved nearly 4,000 fathers aged 15 to 44 who were interviewed in person between 2006 and 2010. One caveat: They self-reported their involvement, without input from their partners. Most men were married or living with a partner.
Overall, almost 90 percent of dads said they thought they were doing at least a good job of fathering. Men with at least some college education were generally more involved with their kids than less educated fathers.
Dr. David Hill, a Wilmington, N.C., pediatrician and author of Dad to Dad: Parenting Like a Pro, said the survey echoes what he’s seen among his patients’ fathers. Increasingly, fathers rather than mothers take their kids to the doctor, he said. Some “are anxious about changing a diaper,” he said, but the study offers reassuring evidence “that everybody’s doing this.”