Chapter Two Conference Summary prepared by:

Carol Emig and Angela D. Greene Child Trends, Inc.


On March 13-14, 1997, the final conference in a year-long series of conferences and meetings took place to summarize the findings of the work groups and develop an action agenda for improving the quality and quantity of federal data and research. The goal of this conference was to develop a specific action agenda for improving federal data and research on fathering and male fertility. Much of that agenda is directed specifically to the federal statistical agencies that gather data, fund data collection efforts, and conduct or sponsor research on families and children. However, the agenda inevitably goes beyond the federal government to the members of the private research community as well.

The conference format consisted of presentations and discussions of the findings and recommendations of three working groups -- on conceptualizing fatherhood, on issues related to male fertility and family formation, and on methodogical challenges -- followed by intensive work by conference participants in small "breakout groups" to develop further recommendations for future data collection and research. The efforts of the working groups and the conference participants were informed by findings and discussions from three prior conferences that examined, among other questions, what is currently known and potentially available from the federal statistical system, and ways to inform large-scale surveys with findings from small-scale qualitative studies.

The findings and recommendations of the working groups are summarized here, as are the recommendations of the conference as a whole.

Working Group on Conceptualizing Male Parenting Social Fatherhood and Paternal Involvement: Conceptual, Data, and Policymaking Issues

The Working Group on Conceptualizing Male Parenting, co-chaired by Randal Day, V. Jeffery Evans, and Michael Lamb, explored conceptual, data, and policy issues related to fatherhood.

Definitional Issues and A Thematic Framework

"Social fatherhood" is the term this working group used to describe its approach to conceptualizing fatherhood issues. The term encompasses biological fathers -- "the most important group of men we consider" -- but also extends to men who are not biological fathers but nevertheless assume some or all of the roles of a father in a child's life.

Working group members identified four themes they consider central to understanding the variety of issues related to fatherhood in contemporary society: the importance of family structure issues in light of recent sociodemographic changes in family composition;

the role of cultural diversity, specifically the divergent ethnic and cultural patterns that shape fathers' parenting experiences;

the role of gender in shaping the social context of parenting as well as how males and females view and experience their parenting roles; and

the salience of a developmental trajectories perspective that recognizes that fathers, mothers, and children have different needs, goals, and interests which they express at various points throughout their overlapping life courses.Assessing and Measuring Father Involvement Several issues need to be considered when attempting to assess and measure father involvement. They include:

Domains of fathering. Drawing on the thematic framework presented above, the working group conceptualizes father involvement as much more than "hands-on parenting experience," to include the following ways that fathers can be involved with their children:

cognitive involvement, such as making plans for activities together or for the child's future;

affective involvement, such as being affectionate with a child or giving praise; and

behavioral involvement, such as playing sports or games with a child.

Resources. Research needs first to identify the types of resources fathers provide, the amount of resources they share with their children and their children's mother, and the mechanisms for transferring resources. It then needs to distinguish these resources from resources provided by the mother and by others who may be contributing to children's support. Coleman (1992) identifies the following categories of resources that fathers provide to their children:

human capital (e.g., skills, knowledge, and traits that foster achievement in U.S. society;

financial capital, including money, goods, and experiences purchased with income; and

social capital, including family and community relations that benefit children's cognitive and social development.

The working group emphasized the need for more research on how all three types of capital influence children's well-being.

Generativity. Social fatherhood can best be conceptualized using a generative fathering perspective -- one that views fathering as an emergent process that accentuates men's personal growth in relation to their children's well-being.

Responsible fathering. The working group endorsed Levine and Pitt's (1995) proposal that the "responsible man" does not participate in conceiving a child until he is emotionally and financially prepared to support a child, establishes legal paternity, shares in the continued emotional and physical care of his child, and shares in the continuing financial support of his child.

Paternal involvement. Fathers' involvement with their children include a diverse array of potentially overlapping dimensions and is further distinguished by individual and subcultural differences. Recognizing that individuals' implicit definitions of a "good father" may differ widely, the working group nevertheless sought to develop further an understanding of the factors that lead to positive forms of fathers' involvement. Among the elements the working group considered essential to paternal involvement are:

nurturing and caregiving;
moral and ethical guidance;
emotional, practical, and psychosocial support of female partners; and
economic provisioning or breadwinning.

Time Use. While there are a number of problems with father/child time use data, the research nevertheless points to a number of critical issues for data collection and analysis:

Maternal employment does not appear to increase the time fathers spend interacting with their children; rather, the proportion of time fathers spend with children increases because mothers do less interacting as a result of working outside the home.

Maternal employment probably has led to changes in the types of activities in which fathers engage.

The amount of time fathers spend with their children is associated with socioeconomic class, children's age, and gender.

Quantifying the time involved in fathering is difficult. In particular, "the anxiety, worry, and contingency planning that comprise parental responsibility often occur when the parent is ostensibly doing something else."

There are a host of measurement inconsistency problems across studies.

Economic provider. The working group paid particular attention to the role of fathers as economic providers since this role is central to most people's definition of fatherhood, is a critical form of paternal involvement, and is related to several important public policy issues. Accordingly, the working group offered the following points with respect to fathers' role as provider:

Economic resources matter because economic instability can lead to marital conflict, which in turn has negative consequences for children.

Fathers who provide more money to their families often do so at the cost of spending less time with them.

Mothers spend money in more child-friendly ways than do fathers.

Many nonresident fathers do not pay formal child support. However, they may provide heretofore unreported support in the form of informal monetary or nonmonetary contributions to the mother.

Child support has positive effects on children's cognitive achievement and educational attainment that cannot be accounted for solely by the financial contributions.

Very little is known about the economic contributions to the household and to children of stepfathers or male cohabiting partners.

Motivations for Fathering

The working group also examined issues related to the factors that motivate men to become fathers and to perform responsibly in that role. In general, men's motivation to procreate and to act as responsible fathers are shaped by cultural images of fatherhood as well as men's sociocultural background, their current social circumstances, and their earlier experiences, particularly with their own parents. The primary motivations identified were:

the experience of caring for and raising children;
an opportunity to strengthen their bond with their romantic partners;
to ensure that they are not lonely or financially vulnerable in their later years;
to feel more connected to their extended family and/or friends.

Other motivations noted by the working group include:

Some fathers are motivated to be involved with their children because such involvement is related to healthy adult development;

some men are motivated by recollections of the fathering they experienced as children as well as their interpretations of other men's fathering behaviors in specific social situations;

some are motivated by a desire to seek or enhance a level of maturity and receive confirmation of social status;

some are motivated by their commitment to being a certain kind of man, partner, or father, which affects their desire to be involved with their children in particular ways.

Finally, the group noted a growing thread of research in which sociobiologists suggest that both men and women strive to maximize the representation of their genes in future generations.

The role of motivation in conceptualizing men's parenting role is fertile ground for researchers. Very little is known about why men choose to parent and how those choices vary by age, ethnicity, culture, or social class. Nor is much known about why some men are more motivated than others to be involved in particular ways in their children's lives.

Family Processes and Fathering

Family process research explores how family members think, feel, and act toward each other and is measured by assessing the relationships among multiple family members. There is little research exploring how a parent's gender may affect family processes. Yet there is evidence suggesting that when a father's and mother's contributions are examined separately, the differences predict in discrete ways and reveal more about family outcomes than does research that examines family process only from one parent's point of view or from a combined perspective. The working group therefore emphasized the need for specific studies of fathers' roles in family processes.

Policy Issues

The working group noted that, in the past, public policies related to fathers have been largely punitive or coercive, for example, enforcing child support obligations. Until recently, there has been little discussion of policy initiatives that encourage responsible fathering.

Two recent trends are particularly significant for public policy. First, while it appears that the proportion of fathers who are interested in playing a more active role in their children's lives has been increasing, the proportion of fathers who are either disengaging or are pushed away from their paternal responsibilities has also been rising (Furstenberg, 1988). Second, the increasing frequency of diverse family types requires men (and others) to visualize and negotiate new roles. If social policy is based on the traditional nuclear family model, new forms of responsible fathering by biological fathers or stepfathers are likely to be constrained.

The working group highlighted several areas in which public policies could be developed or refined to promote father involvement. The working group also identified several paradigmatic issues that should be revisited in light of changing roles within families and the influence of various social institutions on the family. These include:

The Divorce Process. Some research suggests that continued positive father interaction after divorce promotes more favorable child outcomes. Among the suggestions offered by the working group are policies that provide couples with easy access to mediation during and immediately after the divorce proceedings and exploring ways to encourage post-divorce relationships that promote children's best interests.

Procreative Responsibility. Researchers and policymakers need to adopt an expanded conceptualization of fatherhood and men's responsibilities as fathers by acknowledging men's prenatal experiences and orientation toward procreative responsibility.

Mother/Father Differences. Do fathers differ from mothers in their family behavior, and do fathers' contributions to and involvement in their children's lives change as children grow up? If so, fathers' disengagement early in a child's life must be evaluated in terms of possible future effects, as well as short-term effects.

Incomplete Institutions. Our culture has changed so rapidly that nontraditional family forms have not had time to become "institutionalized." There are no well-defined "standards" to apply to these new situations. Public policies should acknowledge that in many cases nontraditional families are facing uncharted territory and may need assistance during critical transitions.

Duality. Fathers are traditionally seen as their children's protectors, providers, and guides in the transition to adulthood. But some fathers are negative role models or present a danger to their children through violent or self-destructive behavior. Policymakers need greater insights from research on how to address these competing realities.

Public Policies. The working group report highlighted several proactive roles that public policy, law, and the private sector can develop to assist fathers to engage in responsible fathering. These include greater sensitivity to structural changes in the economy that have marginalized the material contribution that economically disadvantaged fathers can make to their children; reexamination of "man in the house" rules; reevaluation of the latent consequences of administrative rules that require fathers' child support to be used to reimburse the government for welfare support provided to the mother and her children; allowing nonresident fathers of children on welfare to enter job training and other welfare-to-work programs; and inclusion of specific fatherhood programs in either child support and/or maternal health programs.

Divorce and Custody Issues. The working group also noted several areas where divorce and custody policies and practices might be reexamined to promote father involvement. These include improving policymakers understanding of the complexities that characterize divorced families; application of informed research to the child custody decision-making process; additional research on the consequences of family relocation following a divorce; further exploration of the relationship between fathers' visitation patterns and child support payment, and whether greater father contact is related to better child outcomes.

Existing Policies and Programs. The working group pointed out that health insurance determinations and policies around programs like Head Start are places where strong father/family friendly components could be added.

Workplace Policies. Growing social expectations that fathers will increase their caretaking roles suggest that men may have to change their expectations for themselves at work, and that employers may have to change their expectations to adapt to male employees who are more involved fathers.

The working group concluded with several specific recommendations, summarized here:

1. To enhance their understanding of fatherhood in contemporary society, researchers and policymakers should attend systematically to four themes: changes in family structure, the role of social class and race, gender as a major organizing principle of social life, and the salience of developmental trajectories.

2. Researchers should continue to show how conceptual and theoretical concerns, measurement and data questions, and policymaking issues overlap and mutually inform each other.

3. Concepts should be developed that capture the meaning and definition of who fathers are, and should address conceptions of fatherhood throughout the life course.

4. Researchers and policymakers should attempt to understand individuals' perceptions of the varied meanings associated with biological and social fatherhood and the consequences of these perceptions.

5. Research should explore how individuals distinguish between fathers' investments or perceptions of their status as fathers versus their views and involvement in the process of fathering.

6. Research and social policy need to focus on fathering as a process, in addition to focusing on it as a social or legal issue.

7. More attention should be given to family processes and to specific contexts that either help or hinder specific expressions of fathering and shape children's well-being.

8. Researchers should seek to develop a more systematic and richer portrait of how men, women, and children from different backgrounds view aspects of fatherhood.

Finally, the working group offered four recommendations related specifically to data collection issues of concern to policymakers:

1. Ensure that future data collection efforts in the area of fatherhood are done in an interdisciplinary context.

2. Increase efforts by the research and funding communities to improve large-scale data collection efforts.

3. At the same time, promote smaller-scale studies that focus in-depth on particular fatherhood topics.

4. Focus resources on studying the processes associated with key transitions that affect fathering. In particular, research should examine paternal involvement during crises or transitional periods, e.g., issues associated with nonmarital births, divorce or custody issues, entry or release from prison, and work and family transitions.

Working Group on Male Fertility and Family Formation

Research and Data Needs on the Pathways to Fatherhood

The Male Fertility and Family Formation Working Group, co-chaired by Christine Bachrach and Freya Sonenstein, reviewed the state of knowledge about fertility and union formation and dissolution among men, and suggested data and research necessary to advance understanding of these issues and inform policy.

The Case for a More Complete Understanding of Fatherhood

This working group proposed that a more complete understanding of fatherhood would go beyond simply studying men who are fathers to a consideration of the demographic and social processes that bring men into fathering roles and influence the circumstances under which they act out those roles. Three factors led the group to this conclusion:

First, historical changes in marriage, fertility, and normative attitudes toward family behaviors have played a central role in reshaping fatherhood.

Second, the process of union formation and dissolution and the processes of male fertility themselves have important theoretical implications for fathering. Specifically, the nature of fathering roles, expectations, and behaviors are linked to the circumstances in which biological fatherhood occurs, and to the nature of men's relationships with the biological mother of their children.

Third, the processes of male fertility and family formation are critical to policies and programs aimed at strengthening fathers. Because fertility and family formation processes provide the context for how fathers function in their families, understanding them can help to improve and target interventions for strengthening father involvement. These processes also provide additional points of intervention for programs that seek to promote responsible fathering.

A Model of Biological and Social Fatherhood

The distinction between biological and social fatherhood is critical for understanding how fertility and unions affect fatherhood. Fertility creates biological fatherhood, a status that is fixed regardless of how paternal responsibilities are defined or carried out, and revocable only through the death of the child. Social fatherhood, by contrast, is not a fixed status. It includes all the childrearing roles, activities, duties, and responsibilities that fathers are expected to perform and fulfill. Biological fatherhood is one of several paths to social fathering. Unions formed and maintained with women who are mothers -- whether of the man's child or someone else's child -- are another critical path to social fatherhood.

Male Fertility

To discern how men become fathers, it is critical to go beyond the simple biological facts and understand better the complexities underlying sexual and contraceptive behavior of males, the motivation underlying these behaviors, and the factors influencing them.

Whether or not contraception is used in intercourse is determined by a complicated set of conditions involving two people. The first condition involves choosing or negotiating which partner uses contraception. The second condition involves whether or not the partners desire pregnancy. (In this case, the conscious decision not to use contraception because pregnancy is desired should be differentiated from the non-use of contraception for other reasons.) Very little is known about the "proceptive" behavior of either men or women in the U.S. who are seeking parenthood.

Decisions about sterilization are also important to understand -- particularly why men are less likely than women to undergo sterilization. Another decision in which some men participate involves carrying a pregnancy to term or terminating it. How a man's relationship to his child is colored by the nature of his participation in decisions leading to unintended pregnancy and birth is an open empirical question.

Noting that information about male fertility behavior is scant, the working group made several recommendations about what we need to know about male reproductive behaviors and the factors influencing those behaviors:

Trends in Nonmarital Sex, Unprotected Sex, and Unintended Pregnancies and Births. The National Center for Health Statistics in cooperation with other agencies should develop an approach to institutionalizing the collection of data about male fertility, either by adding to existing surveys or by launching independent efforts.

Motivations and Attitudes. To develop a more complete understanding of male motivation and its links to behavior, the working group recommends:

Research on the motivation of males to engage in sexual activity, to contracept, to impregnate partners, to father children, to obtain vasectomies, and to terminate unintended pregnancies.

Methodological studies to develop better measures of motivation in these areas.

In-depth studies of special populations which focus on theory building and a more comprehensive understanding of the motivational underpinnings of reproductive behavior.

Inclusion of measures of motivation with known levels of reliability and validity in representative sample surveys of males.

Factors That Influence Male Reproductive Behaviors. A wide range of theoretical frameworks have been advanced to explain reproductive behavior, each emphasizing various influences on behavior. The working group identified several of these influences and offered recommendations for research to explore their applicability:

Biological factors. Basic research is needed on the links between physiological traits and reproductive behaviors for men, and also for women.

Family influences. Longitudinal studies of both boys and girls are needed to gain a better understanding of the factors in childhood and adolescence that lead to the development of adult expectations and behaviors regarding sex, pregnancy, childbearing, and childrearing.

Gender role ideology. In sample surveys containing measures of reproductive behavior, more information should be collected about gender role attitudes. In particular, greater information about men and women's attitudes towards male gender roles need to be added to the conventional measures used to gauge attitudes towards women's gender roles.

Peer and community influences. Efforts to create multilevel data sets should be supported. The feasibility of adding contextual measures to sample surveys that are currently freestanding should be explored.

The working group also offered several research strategies for exploring the factors that influence male reproductive behavior. These include:

Mining existing data sets thoroughly for insights into male reproductive behavior.

Expanding data collection strategies beyond sample surveys to include studies using a variety of methods.

Initiating a longitudinal study of children that traces their development over the course of their childhood and their transition into adult roles.

Union Formation and Dissolution

The formation and dissolution of relationships with women often have profound effects on men's roles as social fathers. The working group therefore reviewed what is known about the meaning of different types of unions and the determinants of union formation and dissolution, and suggested data and research directions.

The Meaning of Marriage and Cohabitation. Because of the shifts in the types of unions men and women form, the working group noted the need for better information about marriage, cohabitation, and other types of relationships. Specifically, the recommended:

substantive and methodological research concerning the meanings of different kinds of unions today, including marriage, cohabitation, and non-coresidential unions;

research on the historical trends in union formation and dissolution, with particular emphasis on explicating the explanations and meanings of those choices.

What Influences the Formation and Dissolution of Different Types of Unions? Union formation and dissolution are intertwined with, influenced by, and consequential for many other dimensions of life. To identify and explore the factors that influence men and women to form and/or dissolve unions, the working group recommended:

Research on the causes and consequences of union formation and dissolution, particularly the causal processes and mechanisms that lead people into unions, influence them to form different types of unions, and result in the dissolution of their unions.

Exploration of the ways in which individuals and couples make decisions about the formation and dissolution of unions.

Research Agenda and Data Needs. The working group concluded its discussion of union formation and dissolution by noting that the data requirements for describing and explaining behavior and trends in this area have become more complex and rigorous. To address these needs, the group offered the following recommendations:

Ensure that data collections focusing on union formation and dissolution be designed to include information about a wide range of union types.

Wherever possible, basic studies of union formation and dissolution should ascertain complete marriage and cohabitation histories.

Conduct additional data collection and analysis using qualitative approaches. Expand the utilization of multi-method approaches in studying union formation and dissolution.

Expand and maintain data collection systems for monitoring future trends in union formation and dissolution. Current data collection efforts should be expanded and supplemented to include information that permits the monitoring of attitudes, values, and behavior, and other information that is useful for studying the causes and consequences of union formation and dissolution.

Plan and field a new study that is designed explicitly to examine union formation and dissolution. Such a study should be designed explicitly to study causes and consequences, negotiation and decision making, and the processes leading up to the formation and dissolution of unions.

The Interrelationships of Male Fertility and Unions

Whether a man has sex, impregnates a woman, and becomes a biological father are all influenced by the nature and dynamics of his relationships with women. These factors also affect whether legal paternity will be established, whether a man is recognized informally as a child's father, and whether he has access to the child. Similarly, pregnancy and birth can have an important effect on the course of male-female relationships. The working group reviewed what is known about how personal characteristics, relationship dynamics, and fertility interact throughout the life course, noting that our understanding is very incomplete.

The Effects of Relationships on Fertility. Sexual relationships have both demographic and interactive dimensions, each of which can affect sexual behavior, contraception, abortion, pregnancy intentions, and birth. For example, relationship commitment seems to have a positive effect on attitudes towards having a birth with that partner.

The Effects of Fertility on Relationships. Research indicates that, just as relationships affect fertility, pregnancy and birth can prompt changes in relationships. For example, the probability of marriage increases sharply in the short run in response to pregnancy or birth. Pregnancy can also lead to conflicts and stress within relationships. Finally, research shows that the presence of children deters union dissolution among married couples.

The Effects of Prior Unions and Births on Later Family Formation. Evidence is beginning to accumulate that suggests that prior union and fertility experiences influence the formation and stability of later unions and fertility within them. One study, for example, demonstrates that nonmarital childbearing reduces a woman's likelihood of marrying during her childbearing years, while another demonstrates that children deter remarriage after divorce among white women.

In addition, there is evidence that unions formed by individuals who already have children appear to be less stable. There is also some evidence that appears to suggest that husbands with children from prior marriages have lower fertility in new unions.

Gaps in Research and Data. With respect to the interrelationships of male fertility and union formation/dissolution, the working group again noted serious gaps in our knowledge and offered recommendations:

New data are needed to provide a more comprehensive view of the intersection of fertility with relationships of all types.

Information about relationships is needed from both men and women in order to understand gendered views of relationships, sex and contraception, and childbearing, and in order to capture both parties' motivations and influence on decisions that affect the likelihood of pregnancy and birth.

Relationship data should be longitudinal, so that researchers can disentangle self-selection into relationships from relationship effects on childbearing.

Research and data are needed to understand better how and why patterns of fertility and family formation vary among groups that differ in socioeconomic status, nativity, race, and ethnicity.

The potential of new and emerging studies for answering these research questions should be thoroughly exploited through analyses of existing data.

Existing data should be reinforced through the expansion of ongoing data collection efforts.

Efforts to strengthen quantitative data should be accompanied by further qualitative studies in a broad range of communities and populations.

Health Education/Reproductive Health

The working group reviewed what is known about males' receipt of reproductive information from schools and other sources, as well as their utilization of reproductive health services.

Sex Education/Information. While survey data exist that measure school age males' knowledge of reproduction and whether they receive sex education, there is little detailed information about the kinds of instruction that occur. Nor is much known about other sources of information related to reproductive health, such as peers, parents, and the media. There is also an abiding need to identify promising program approaches to reducing the risk of early sexual involvement, unintended pregnancy, and STD transmission, and to evaluate these interventions rigorously.

The working group therefore recommended that:

Surveys of teenagers and adults should collect data about the sources of information that are used to gain knowledge of reproductive health issues and to support the examination of the relative effectiveness of different information sources in increasing knowledge and influencing behavior.

Trend information is needed about the types of instruction about reproductive issues that schools are providing.

Promising prevention programs need to be identified and to undergo rigorous evaluations.

Reproductive Health Services. No comprehensive source of information about the use of reproductive health services by men is currently available, although administrative records and a few national surveys provide some limited information. The working group therefore recommended:

Surveys of men that collect information about their receipt of a broad array of medical and health services and assess their awareness of attitudes toward, use of, and experiences with male reproductive health services, alone or in the company of partners.

Studies of the determinants of males' use of reproductive health services, including provider characteristics and social or structural barriers that may deter use.

Indicators of Male Fertility and Family Formation

Because there are no institutionalized mechanisms in the U.S. for collecting data on male fertility or union formation, the working group recommended establishing a set of indicators to monitor key aspects of the fertility and union processes that influence fatherhood. These indicators should include both attitudes and behaviors and be drawn from a variety of relevant domains. The group further recommended that existing data collection efforts be strengthened to provide valid and timely monitoring of key indicators of male fertility and family formation.

Theory and Methodology

There is no unified and accepted theory that explains union and fertility behavior among men and women; rather there are many useful perspectives drawn from a variety of disciplines and research traditions. The working group therefore recommended that:

Any data collected should permit the testing of a broad range of hypotheses drawn from relevant theoretical perspectives.

Theoretical frameworks should incorporate the perspectives of both men and women, and take account of the dyadic nature of fertility and family formation.

Theoretical advances need to address issues of gender explicitly.

Methodological Issues. Theory development must be accompanied by methodological research to facilitate valid tests of hypotheses. While identifying a range of methodological challenges, the working group nevertheless stressed that adequate methodologies are already within reach to pursue much of the research agenda outlined in its report, and that research and data collection should therefore occur simultaneously with methodological work.

To meet the methodological challenges it identified, the working group recommended:

Development of survey methods that facilitate the inclusion of "missing populations" in studies, such as incarcerated and homeless men, men loosely attached to households, men in the military, and male partners who are loosely attached to relationships.

Research to identify and correct sources of bias in men's reports about their fertility and family formation experience.

Development of new measures in several domains, including the study of nonmarital relationships; motivations for sexual, contraceptive, fertility, and union-related behaviors; and the meanings of and attitudes toward gender, unions, and parenthood across different population groups.

Further development of statistical methods that permit analyses of dyadic decision-making and behavior while accounting for selection effects.

Steps for the Future: Indicators, Data Collection and Research on Male Fertility and Family Formation

The working group concluded by summarizing its key recommendations for federal agencies concerned with research and data collection related to fatherhood. These include three areas of effort: developing indicators, collecting data, and mobilizing research.

Indicators. A core set of indicators should be developed to monitor key aspects of the fertility and union processes that influence fatherhood. Consideration should be given to including this set of indicators in Trends in the Well-Being of America's Children and Youth, an annual report by the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in the Department of Health and Human Services. One or more key items might also be included in America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, a shorter volume produced by the Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics.

Data Collection. Data collection efforts should be strengthened and, in some cases, institutionalized to provide a reliable basis for producing indicators and provide data for analytic studies. NCHS, in collaboration with the Census Bureau and other agencies, should take the lead in expanding or modifying current data collection systems to provide indicator data on a timely (approximately every three years) and reliable basis.

There is also a need for new longitudinal data to provide the basis for analytic studies of the processes involved in male fertility, union formation and dissolution, and the interrelationships among fertility, unions, and parenting.

Research. Various agencies, including ASPE, OPA, NICHD, and ACF, should promote and stimulate research on male fertility and union formation and dissolution. The working group recommended that this research focus on the following major substantive areas:

Research on gender roles and attitudes, and the influence of gender on the processes of family formation and fertility.

Research on union formation and dissolution, including studies of the causal processes associated with the formation, maintenance, and dissolution of unions, and the meaning of different union types, and studies that explain and interpret historical changes in union formation and dissolution.

Research on the factors influencing male fertility and fertility-related behaviors, motivations, and attitudes, including those relating to sexual behavior, contraceptive use, pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes, paternity establishment, and fathering; and including influences at the individual, family, peer, institutional, and community levels.

Research on the intersections among fertility, union formation and fathering, including the effect of planned or unplanned fatherhood, paternity establishment, and transitions in union status on fathering, and the influence of changing meanings of fatherhood on fertility and family formation behaviors.

Research on the nature, availability, use and effectiveness of reproductive health education and services that help to prevent unintended pregnancy and contribute to the health and well-being of men.

Working Group on the Methodology of Research on Fathers

Methodological Issues in Improving Data on Fathers

The Working Group on the Methodology of Research on Fathers, co-chaired by Andrew Cherlin and Jeanne Griffith, examined important methodological issues that need to be addressed to increase confidence in data to be collected on fathering and fatherhood.

Studies of Methodological Interest

The working group's report began with brief summaries of some of the major national surveys with protocols of methodological interest, including Add Health, Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS), National Adult Literacy Study (NALS), National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY-97), National Survey of Adolescent Males, National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH), National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), National Survey of Men, Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), and various surveys conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. These surveys are currently the primary sources of information on fathers and thus serve to inform the discussion of further methodological advances that may be required.

Methodological Issues

The working group addressed methodological issues in three major areas: population identification, data collection procedures, and study design.

Population Identification: Undercounting. Fathers who are not located or are not included in the survey process at all are undercounted in large scale sample surveys. Undercount rates are higher for men than for women, and for minorities relative to whites and Asians. They are also higher for unrelated persons, such as men who are not married to the household respondent. Undercounting also appears to be greater for never-married fathers than for previously-married fathers. In addition, men in the military, prisons, jails, or other institutions are typically excluded by design from household-based surveys.

One promising technique for reducing the undercount within household surveys is to use expanded rosters with multiple probes, as the Census Bureau did in an experimental "Living Situation Survey" in 1993. Other surveys are planning dual rosters. The NLSY97, for example, will include a household roster and a second roster of relevant individuals who live elsewhere, such as noncustodial parents, nonresident children, etc. Future studies might benefit from a typology of living arrangements, which would help with the creation of a list of terms and probes, while also moving survey researchers beyond thinking in terms of traditional families.

The use of administrative records will help reduce both undercoverage and undercounting. Household members not identified by respondents can sometimes be found through these records. Absent family members, especially those institutionalized or homeless, also could be identified.

The working group urged that the interviewer's role in undercoverage and undercounting be addressed. For example, vacancy checks could be conducted both to find missing households and to evaluate interviewer reports. The eligibility rates obtained by individual interviewers could be compared to one another or to historical estimates. Interviewing techniques for persuading reluctant households to participate in a survey could be refined and improved.

Finally, weighting represents another way to reduce the effects of undercoverage and undercounting, and the working group noted that work to develop adjustment models is already underway.

Population Identification: Underreporting. Absent male parents tend to underreport their parental status to a large extent. Technological advances in survey research may reduce this underreporting. For example, ACASI technology, which involves giving respondents earphones and a laptop, has boosted reports of abortion in tests of women conducted by NCHS and may be a useful technology for increasing reports by males of children and of sensitive behavior.

Population Identification: Changing Family Structures. Most large scale sample surveys reflect more traditional two-parent family models or parents living singly. It has been less common for surveys to take into account multiple family forms such as cohabiting unmarried couples or families with other relatives who play important parenting roles. In multi-family households, CAPI methodology allows for creating spinoff cases with new family rosters. Spinoff cases could be created for parents or children not living in the household, who could be linked to the household by special relationship codes in the original roster.

Population Identification: Sampling Strategies. Much of the interest in fathers focuses on men who are relatively rare in the population, such as fathers in varied employment statuses. Problems of adequate sample size are exacerbated in analyses that need to cross-classify by race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age and gender of the child, or various family configurations.

One of the basic problems is the large sample size needed to arrive at an eligible sample which can provide sufficient statistical power. This requires either substantial funding or the ability to piggyback onto other research or find other cost-effective approaches. Research which investigates the cost and error implications of the choice of mode would be useful.

Another problem is following movers in longitudinal surveys, which is important for measuring long-term outcomes. The working group noted that much can be learned from the NLSY, SIPP, and other surveys which attempt to track respondents across significant periods of time. Administrative records might also be explored as a way of following families that separate.

Population Identification: Institutional Populations. Typically, large scale national surveys of the population represent the civilian, noninstitutionalized population only. A large share of men excluded by these approaches are fathers. It is therefore important to examine better ways to obtain information from men who are in various types of institutions or in the military.

Data Collection Procedures: Response Burden. Two types of response burden need to be addressed. The first involves the difficulty of the task and relates to length of questionnaire, how many respondents are interviewed, and the difficulty of the questions. Much more research is needed to develop less burdensome data collection instruments for fathers and children. Research is also needed on the problems associated with recall of family history and the usefulness of available records in the household. The optimal frequency of data collection for recurring surveys should also be determined.

The second type of response burden is related to sensitive items. Here, mode of administration is important, since distance from the interviewer can affect the respondent's feelings of privacy and confidentiality. Methods for reducing this burden include randomized response techniques, self-administered survey instruments, and question order.

Data Collection Procedures: Reporting. Further research is needed on subject areas for which previous partners or children are able to serve as proxy respondents and which ones require the additional expense of locating and interviewing the fathers to achieve needed accuracy and reliability. With respect to accuracy, it is not clear that self-response is always more accurate than proxy reports.

Data Collection Procedures: Administrative Records. The usefulness of administrative data depends on the topic being studied and the availability of information in different records systems. In any application, researchers must investigate whether access to records can be obtained, what information is available, the quality and completeness of the information, and how such information might be linked to other data being obtained in the study.

Data Collection Procedures: Mode of Data Collection. The consequences of gathering data using different modes (mail, telephone, or personal interviews; degree of computer-assistance; observational studies; diaries; or other modes) are closely related to the type of study being undertaken. Most studies of the effects of interviewing mode have examined the more typical respondent, in this case, the mother or the child. Further research is needed into how various modes may influence data quality and response rates.

Study Design: Questionnaire Design and Measurement Issues. Compared with mothers, fathers may have unique ways of interacting with their children, and such relationships cannot be discerned using traditional survey questions. Further research is needed on what aspects of fathering are important to men, what aspects are important to children, and ways to improve the quality of information through improving the questions asked. New questions will be needed to assess what fathers contribute to their children, and the ways fathers and children view their relationships with each other. All questions must be thoroughly tested to ensure data quality.

Among the working group's other recommendations are that research should also be undertaken to develop methods which overcome problems of memory and recall; questionnaires should be designed that work well with the mode of data collection; and multiple measures from multiple sources will be necessary to ensure the quality and/or accuracy of the data.

Study Design: Linking Quantitative and Qualitative Designs. Enhancing quantitative survey designs with qualitative research methods has the potential to enhance knowledge. The working group pointed to examples of the effective use of qualitative methods to inform and guide quantitative research and highlighted lessons from these experiences. One is that qualitative methods are useful for designing questionnaires which interviewers can administer more easily and that respondents can understand. They can also help explain seemingly conflicting or confusing findings from quantitative research.

Study Design: Longitudinal or Cross-sectional Designs. While longitudinal designs tend to be thought of as more expensive, they may be more cost-effective through providing richer information with a smaller sample than may be achieved with repeated cross-sectional studies.

Study Design: Population Diversity. In studies characterized by uniform administration (such as large-scale sample surveys), conscious compromises will need to be made to develop items that are understandable to a wide variety of respondents. In other types of research, special, more targeted approaches may be taken when dealing with different populations.

Study Design: Measuring Time Use. The most accurate ways to collect time-use data (observation, time sampling) are also the most expensive. Yet the most common method used in survey research -- asking parents directly -- is known to be biased. Fortunately, substantial methodological work has established the validity and reliability of data collected in time-diary form.

How Should New Data Collection Be Undertaken?

Two fundamental issues for the research community to consider in designing studies on fathers are whether to initiate a new study or add on to an existing survey, and whether the study should be conducted by federal statistical agencies or as a privately sponsored effort. The working group provided some guidance about factors to consider when addressing these questions.

New versus Supplemental Studies. New studies have a distinct advantage in that the designers and sponsors have greater latitude in defining the scope of the study. They have the disadvantage of higher costs and longer start-up times. Supplemental studies are typically lower in cost and have a faster start-up time, but the study directors generally have little control over the design of the survey and sample.

Federal versus Privately Sponsored Studies. While federal studies historically have had more secure funding sources, this may no longer be the case in the current budget climate. Federal surveys have a small advantage in easier access to national sampling frames. In addition, requirements making federal data publicly available enhance the value of the study for the broad research and policy community. And despite concerns about response burden, the federal government still tends to achieve substantially higher response rates than are achieved in private surveys.

Federal surveys also have disadvantages, many stemming from a generally long lead time from conceptualization to development to data production and analysis. Privately sponsored studies or studies conducted with federal grants avoid some of these disadvantages. On the other hand, private studies can be less likely to provide timely public use data files to allow the broader research community access for analysis.


The working group concluded with a summary of the implications of its report for future research on fathers. The group stated these implications as a series of recommendations.

1. Include men and fathers. Male fertility and fatherhood are complex aspects of social life that are inadequately understood. National surveys need to provide an accurate and in-depth profile of fathers that goes beyond concerns about absent fathers. In particular, the ECLS and the NSFG should consider including fathers as respondents. In addition, studies of what nonresident fathers do should include reports from nonresident fathers -- a substantial change in research design.

2. Improve household survey methodology. Underrepresentation of fathers in household surveys is due partly to an undercount of fathers who are tenuously attached to households, and partly to underreporting by men who do not disclose that they have children living elsewhere. Both of these issues can and should be addressed through methodological improvements.

3. Add expanded household and extra-household rosters to existing surveys. Experimental surveys have increased their coverage of underrepresented groups of fathers by using an expanded set of questions and probes. Existing surveys should further test these questions and probes along with their standard restoring techniques. In-depth studies (particularly long-term longitudinal studies) should consider including fathers. The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (both the kindergarten cohort and the planned birth cohort study), in particular, should make every effort to include a father supplement at some point in the study. In addition, some effort should be made to include men in correctional institutions in household surveys.

4. Develop questions that are relevant to fathers and result in accurate responses. New questions are needed to assess fathers' contributions to their children's development, as well as better methods for interviewing.

5. Improve procedures for asking sensitive questions. Some promising techniques for survey research have been developed, such as audio computer self-administered segments of interviews. Ethnographic studies may also provide useful guidance.

6. Reduce response burden. Studies are needed of ways to reduce the response burden imposed by extensive sexual histories and reproductive careers. The life-history calendar is one promising way to reduce response burden. But little methodological research has been conducted specifically on men.

7. Conduct intensive observational studies. The gaps in our knowledge of what fathers do suggest the importance of smaller, intensive observational studies for providing valuable insights about fathering and for generating hypotheses that can be tested in larger surveys.

8. Use supplementary and alternative sampling strategies. Because the standard household sample-survey appears not to find many unmarried fathers, other sampling strategies should be considered either as supplements to household surveys or as alternatives. The other strategies include use of administrative data to locate absent fathers, the addition of the incarcerated population and the military population whenever possible, and the development of alternative designs, such as sampling of births at hospitals.

9. Recognize population diversity. The roles of fathers are embedded in larger family processes that can differ by class, race, and ethnic groups, and differ again within these groups. Studies need to take this diversity into account.

10. Be careful of unobserved sources of bias. Research designs that can reduce bias should be used where possible. These include so-called panel data, studies of families that are affected by external assignments of fathers' roles such as military transfers or court orders, and statistical models that attempt to correct for incomplete and self-selected samples.

11. Carefully consider additions to existing data programs. It is not clear that completely new, large-scale studies should be undertaken at this time. There is a great deal to be learned from working with existing survey mechanisms. Important contributions can also be made with small scale work and through expansions to existing studies of family conditions and processes.

12. Conduct more methodological research. Many important facets of research on fathers need to be improved before we can be satisfied with the quality of current and future studies. These include the basic problems of finding nonresident fathers, of underreporting of fatherhood by men, and of obtaining full and accurate answers. We need to know more about how to combine and analyze responses from mothers and fathers in data in which couples are the unit. We also need to know more about what aspects of fathering are important and valuable, probably through detailed observational studies.

Final Plenary Session: Conference Recommendations

Following presentations and discussion of the working groups' reports, conference participants worked in small groups to develop specific recommendations for research and data collection. Each small group's recommendations were presented and discussed in a final plenary session. Below is a summary of their recommendations.

Build on existing research. The conference highlighted gaps and weaknesses in existing research. However, a great deal is known about fathers, and existing research provides a firm basis for future work.

Further analyze existing data. Although there is a need for new data on fathering and male fertility, several existing data sets contain untapped information. It is important to maximize the use of existing data sets to determine specifically what is known and what is needed before embarking on the development of a new survey on fathers. One important way to encourage investigators to use existing data and research is to increase their awareness of the available resources through publicity.

Conduct basic methodological research. The dual goal of methodological research is to improve existing surveys and to design a well conceived, focused study of the issues of fertility and parenting. There is a need for basic methodological research to help refine constructs and measures related to fatherhood, to look more closely at what it means to be a father, and to focus on attitudes and perceptions of fatherhood, in particular, how attitudes and perceptions may differ across race/ethnicity or family types.

Further examine specific topics related to fathering and male fertility. The groups identified several topics that various participants felt warranted closer examination with both existing and new measures. These topics, which were not prioritized, included:

- the role of moral development and character as they pertain to fertility, family formation, and fathering;

- sexual behavior and fertility and their association with union formation and dissolution;

- the definition of "intendedness" and whether a man's attachment to his partner affects intendedness;

- how the relationship between a mother and father affects father-child attachment;

- the expectations and responsibilities of fathers;

- the role of fathers as primary caregivers;

- the role of social versus biological fathers;

- family processes in general, and how activities vary by gender;

- how fatherhood and union formation affect the wellbeing of both the child and the father; and

- how a father's relationship with his child affects his participation in self-development activities like job training programs.

Focus on both the father and the child. Perspectives of the father and the child regarding the father's roles and the father-child relationship may differ markedly. Because both perspectives are important, research should encompass interviews with both fathers and children whenever possible.

Construct new models to examine union formation and dissolution. Current models that examine union formation and dissolution are based on economic models focusing on traditional marital unions. There is a need for new models that incorporate how and why nonmarital unions, including cohabiting and noncohabiting unions, form and dissolve. However, many surveys do not collect the data needed to develop alternative union formation models. Perhaps content changes can be incorporated into on-going surveys, such as the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY-97), the National Education Longitudinal Survey (NELS) and the Adolescent Health Survey.

Revise and/or expand existing surveys. There is general consensus that existing surveys should be revised or expanded and that, for instance, a male supplement should be added to the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG). Other recommendations are to add a fatherhood module, including more items on custody, visitation and child support, to the Survey of Program Dynamics (SPD) the Current Population Survey (CPS), and the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP); to include enhanced father-related questions on the NLSY's child interview and on the Youth Risk Behavior and the Behavior Risk Factor Surveys; and to readminister the family functioning segment of the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).

Include a core set of items on surveys. New or revised surveys should include a core set of questions to facilitate analyses and comparisons across surveys. For instance, they should include questions that identify both the mother and the father and their relationship as biological, step, or adoptive parents of the focal child. In addition, a basic question about whether there is a nonresident parent should appear consistently and with the same wording across surveys, along with items about the nonresident parent including race/ethnicity, age, education, and employment status at the birth of the child.

Design a new survey. After careful consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of existing surveys, one long term goal is the design of a new survey on fathering with a sampling frame that includes males who are often underrepresented in current data collection efforts. In addition to a new survey on fathering, another recommendation is a national survey of men's sexual behavior that includes both teen and adult males.

Identify fathers on birth certificates. Birth certificates are a practical place to identify marital and nonmarital relationships between mothers and fathers. A long-term recommendation is a fuller set of birth certificate information about the father and the parental relationship. A short-term recommendation is to require states to request the father's name and address information on the birth certificate in both marital and nonmarital circumstances, when the father has acknowledged paternity.

Conduct more research on the undercount and underreporting of fatherhood. Part of the underrepresentation of fathers in surveys is due to an undercount of fathers who are tenuously attached to households and part is due to underreporting by men who are interviewed but do not report that they have children living elsewhere. New methods are needed for finding fathers and asking appropriate questions. Suggested sampling strategies include the addition of the incarcerated population and the military population when feasible and the use of administrative records to locate fathers whose names are not reported by respondents in household surveys. The use of smaller qualitative studies could be particularly useful in learning how to better ask specific questions. It should be noted that since finding fathers is difficult, the tendency to move more and more toward phone surveys may not be productive.

Conduct more qualitative research. Ethnographic and other qualitative studies that include a diverse representation of fathers have the potential to capture the full range of fathers' roles and activities. In addition, qualitative methods provide the opportunity to explore specific questions from large surveys in greater depth and to determine the appropriate wording of questions and the interpretation of answers. The insights gained through qualitative investigation can enhance survey methodology. For example, ethnographic findings have been used to distinguish between tenuous attachment and permanent residency in households, which has been useful for large survey construction.

Improve methods used for collecting both sensitive and subjective information. The use of audio computer-assisted self-interviewing and monetary incentives appears to increase the reporting of sensitive information. Additional methodological research is needed to determine the most effective ways to collect sensitive information and information on subjective realms, such as motivations, attitudes and values toward male fertility, family formation, and parenting.

Carefully train interviewers. Careful selection and training of interviewers is especially important in light of the sensitive and subjective nature of some of the items suggested for future studies. For instance, in the case of qualitative studies focusing on very in-depth and personal information, interviewer-respondent rapport is very important. Establishing trust and legitimacy in the community and the household is essential to gaining cooperation from respondents.

The conference ended with a commitment from the working group on Targets of Opportunity and Trade-Offs to incorporate substantive points and methodological recommendations from the conference in their report to the Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics.

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