Chapter 4: Report of the Working Group on Conceptualizing Male Parenting
Randal D. Day, Ph.D. (Co-chair)
V. Jeffery Evans, Ph., D., LLD (Co-chair)
Michael Lamb, Ph.D. (Co-chair)


Primary Writing and Editing
William Marsiglio
Randal Day
Contributing Authors
Sanford Braver,
V. Jeffery Evans,
Michael Lamb,
Elizabeth Peters.

As one of several working groups charged with the ultimate task of promoting research on fathers, we recognize that scholarly and social policy initiatives are linked to decisions about how fatherhood is defined. Our conceptual treatment of fatherhood focuses on both the social and legal definition of "father," (Marsiglio, forthcoming) and the cognitive, affective, and behavioral aspects of male parenting as an ongoing interpersonal process (Palkovitz, 1997). Addressing these complex and interrelated conceptual issues is essential if researchers and policymakers are to improve the quality of data and research on fathers (Fox and Bruce, 1996). Simply put, the research community must attend to these issues if we are to develop a better understanding of fathers' involvement(1) with, and influence on, their children.(2)

Fatherhood, and its many aspects, can be conceptualized in diverse ways. Numerous questions frame the sometimes controversial and often perplexing issues that need to be explored in this regard. Some of these include the following:

1. How should fatherhood be defined? What is the basis for advocating one definition over another? In short, who are fathers?

2. What dimensions or domains define the core and ancillary aspects to men's roles as fathers?

3. How can fathers demonstrate their commitment to their children and their involvement in their lives?

4. How do fathers' varied forms of involvement relate to children's well-being?

5. What does it mean to be a "responsible" father?

6. How do family processes influence fathers' opportunities to enhance their children's well-being?

7. What are the research and policymaking implications associated with the competing ways of conceptualizing these phenomena?

8. How do ideological issues shape the marketplace of ideas about fathers?(3)

Defining fatherhood in the United States is a difficult task, in part, because many factors shape the way fathers are perceived and behave. These difficulties are accentuated by the varied disciplinary and theoretical perspectives that are brought to bear on this task. We attempt to capture some of this complexity in our interdisciplinary report. In addition, we show how four general interrelated themes or foci enrich our definition of social fatherhood and paternal involvement. These themes include: a) family structure, b) cultural diversity, c) the notion that aspects of parenting are fundamentally shaped by dynamic and gendered social roles, and d) the idea that developmental trajectories, expressed at various points throughout the life course, influence fathers' involvement with their children.


In this interdisciplinary report, we address the compelling questions noted above and propose a framework for conceptualizing "social fatherhood" that focuses on key aspects of male parenting. We use the term "social fatherhood" throughout this report to underscore the wide net we cast when we address fatherhood issues. Thus, we are not merely interested in men who are biological progenitors, although they clearly represent the most important group of men we consider (we exclude men who are anonymous sperm donors). For our purposes, being a social father includes many dimensions. It includes, for example, the range of activities outlined by Palkovitz (1997) that expand upon earlier conceptualizations of paternal involvement (Lamb, Pleck, Charnov, and Levine, 1987). This more comprehensive vision of paternal involvement is consistent with our objective of developing a framework that captures the diverse ways fathers help to raise their children and influence their well-being. We underscore the notion that fathers' contributions often go beyond their hands-on care of children. As such, we take into account the resources fathers can provide for their children including human capital (e.g., skills, knowledge, and traits that foster achievement in U.S. society), financial capital (e.g., money, goods, and experiences purchased with income), and social capital (e.g., family and community relations that benefit children's cognitive and social development) (Amato, 1998; see also Coleman, 1988, 1990; Hagan, MacMillan, and Wheaton, 1996). Of these resources, we focus primarily on aspects of fathers' economic provider roles and their contribution of social capital as expressed through coparental and father-child relationships.

Four interrelated issues. We present our framework as the basis for collecting more meaningful data on fathers in order to generate theoretically informed research and policymaking agendas that address issues associated with fathers' involvement with their children and their contributions to their well-being. As such, we take a practical approach to conceptualizing and reviewing literature that addresses four interrelated issues associated with social fatherhood and paternal involvement (including the various forms of capital described above). First, we discuss issues associated with the conceptualization and assessment of fathers' involvement. We highlight the range of activities and dimensions related to fathers' roles, with particular attention to the way fathers spend time with their children and fathers' economic provider roles. Second, we examine some of the factors that underlie men's personal motivation to express themselves as social and "responsible" fathers. Third, we emphasize how paternal involvement is often shaped by the complex web of relationships between fathers, their children, and children's mothers. We use the shorthand phrase "family process" to refer to this set of relationships and the interpersonal exchanges they entail. Within this domain, social capital associated with a healthy coparental relationship provides children with the opportunity to model dyadic skills such as providing emotional support, establishing open communication, and implementing effective conflict resolution strategies. It also exposes them to a united authority structure (Amato, 1998). Fourth, we highlight some of the key social policy issues germane to fathers. This discussion considers the structural barriers/facilitators that either constrain or enhance a fathers' ability to assume active and responsible roles in their children's lives, and, in some ways, is linked to our comments about paternal involvement, motivation, and family process issues.

Based on previous reviews of the literature, we assume that a fathers' positive involvement and resource provision can enhance children's well-being (Lamb, 1997; Amato, 1998). Consequently, we assume that a fathers' negative involvement and inability or unwillingness to provide certain types of resources to their children can hinder children's healthy development. Our discussion of social fatherhood and paternal involvement emphasizes the positive ways fathers can influence their children's lives, though our discussion clearly has implications for the adverse effects that children may experience when their fathers exploit, neglect, or are unsuccessful in contributing to their children's development.

Definitional Issues and Rationales

Researchers, policymakers, and the general public continue to grapple with the definition of "father." Not surprisingly, this question is addressed from a wide range of disciplinary and ideological perspectives (Marsiglio, 1995a, forthcoming; Blankenhorn, 1995; Gershenson, 1983; Popenoe, 1996). Consequently, much of the debate hinges on the legal/policy, genetic, and social distinctions interested observers and stakeholders emphasize. These distinctions are justified in terms of moral, pragmatic, and theoretical rationales. The most typical response points to biological paternity as the defining characteristic of fatherhood, but this approach has increasingly been challenged by scholars and the general public alike for being overly restrictive, and in some cases too simplistic.(4) For many, the more intuitively appealing answer is: It depends. A man may be a father in the eyes of geneticists and the law but not in those of a child; or the reverse may be true. The distinction between the genetic father and the social father has been reinforced because high rates of both out-of-wedlock childbearing and divorce involving children have led to more men assuming father-like roles with children who were not their biological offspring (Da Vanzo and Rathman, 1993). The increasingly large percentage of men who have voluntarily or reluctantly disengaged themselves from their nonresident children's lives also contributes to this pattern (Furstenberg, 1988; 1995). Likewise, the emerging appreciation for the cultural diversity in familial arrangements highlights nontraditional definitions of fatherhood (Gershenson, 1983). These ongoing debates about the definition of fatherhood have grown even more complicated with the advent of asexual reproductive technologies which have muddled traditional notions of paternity and fatherhood roles (Marsiglio, forthcoming).

A man may be genetically related to a child but have no social or legal ties to his genetic offspring, or a man may have no genetic bond with a child but be perceived by individuals and the legal system to have social, and in some cases legal ties to the child. This latter scenario includes many of the millions of men who assume formal or informal step and adoptive father roles. In sum, the definition of fatherhood varies according to the personal and cultural reference points being used.

Obviously, then, the definition of fatherhood is shaped simultaneously by scholarly, political, and cultural forces. Thus, sober discussions about the nuances of fatherhood definitions are essential if we are to develop better research designs and social policies targeted at fathers.

We propose a broad conceptual framework that goes beyond defining fatherhood a priori along biological lines. Instead, we focus on the more general concept of social fatherhood. In many respects biological fathers will remain at the forefront of research and policymaking efforts, but these efforts should not thwart attempts to study and support forms of male parenting that involve men who are not genetically related to "their" children. A more inclusive approach such as ours provides researchers and policymakers with greater latitude in understanding the full range of issues involving men's negotiation and expression of fathering roles (Fox and Bruce, 1996). It also provides scholars with a clear incentive to explore the symbolic and practical significance of biological paternity versus men's purely social ties to children, as well as the legal implications associated with these distinctions.

Social father. As such, we justify focusing on social fatherhood by pointing to both theoretical and pragmatic rationales. From a theoretical point of view, much can be gained by studying the dynamic processes that shape individuals' (e.g., fathers, mothers, children) perceptions about how their sense of fatherhood personally affects them.(5) Biological paternity is clearly not always perceived as the only defining characteristic of who fathers are in contemporary society (Furstenberg, 1995; Gershenson, 1983; Marsiglio, forthcoming). In some cases it may be completely irrelevant (e.g., sperm donors). Furthermore, there are consequences associated with how people define a situation -- whether that definition is consistent or not with commonly recognized objective criteria (e.g., blood or legal ties). Put differently, if individuals define situations as real, they are likely to have discernable consequences for fathers, mothers, and children. Our conceptualization of fatherhood, by emphasizing the social dimensions to fatherhood, takes these issues into account.

We also emphasize the need to view men holistically as procreative beings (Marsiglio, forthcoming). We stress the importance of recognizing the continuity of men's roles beginning with their procreative decision-making choices prior to conception, moving on to the pregnancy process itself,(6) and culminating in fathers' involvement with their children. Unfortunately, little research has explored prospective fathers' feelings and behaviors prior to the birth of their children (May, 1980; May and Perrin, 1985).(7) Because of the limited scholarship in this area and the mission of our working group, we primarily focus on issues directly related to fathers' involvement with their children. Nonetheless, men's pre-birth experiences need to be addressed more systematically by future researchers because some men have the opportunity to affect child outcomes during this period as well as develop their sense of commitment to particular father roles.

Generative fathering. From a practical point of view, our conceptualization is appealing because it encourages policies that reward men's positive and active participation in children's lives. Our approach is consistent with a growing scholarly movement to define fathering in terms of proactive behavior rather than from a `deficit model' (Hawkins and Dollahite, 1997; Palkovitz, 1997; Snarey, 1993). From this generative fathering perspective, researchers can avoid the temptation of looking at father influence as a phenomena characterized by a father's absence. The concept of generativity views fathering as a complex and emergent process that accentuates men's personal growth vis-a-vis the child's well-being. Understanding the reciprocal nature of interaction between parent and child is the key; as both extend and invest in the relationship, both are enriched. The deficit model suggests, on the other hand, that only the child suffers when fathers are absent and that this absence is rather bi-modal (ie., the father is either there or not).

Responsible fathering. Our general definition of "responsible" fatherhood, which is closely linked to generative fathering, acknowledges the need to discuss motivational factors associated with men's desire to be "responsible" fathers as well as their actual paternal involvement. Our conceptualization is therefore consistent with Levine and Pitt's (1995, p. 5-6) description of a "responsible man" as someone who does the following:

1. He waits to make a baby until he is prepared emotionally and financially to support his child.

2. He establishes his legal paternity if and when he does make a baby.

3. He actively shares with the child's mother in the continuing emotional and physical care of their child, from pregnancy onwards [or is willing to assume these responsibilities on his own if the mother does not wish to be involved].

4. He shares with the child's mother in the continuing financial support of their child, from pregnancy onwards [or is willing to assume these responsibilities on his own if the mother does not wish to be involved].

Our General Thematic Framework

Fathers' attitudes and actions are affected by many factors including their immediate social surroundings. In this regard, family structure variables and residential arrangements are quite important. The growing diversity of life course and residency patterns for men and children have fostered new perceptions about fathers' roles (Gerson, 1993; Griswold, 1993; Marsiglio, 1995b). One consequence of these patterns is that, compared to a few decades ago, a decreasing proportion of all children today live in households with their biological fathers, and in no time in U.S. history have so many children had biological fathers living elsewhere (Bianchi, 1995; Mintz, 1998). Moreover, many children have stepfather figures living with them on a regular or irregular basis, and growing numbers of men are assuming the role of custodial single father (Brown, 1996; Eggebeen, Snyder, and Manning, 1996; Larson, 1992; Marsiglio, 1995c). These patterns translate into expanding images of who fathers are and what they do.

Family structure. These socio-demographic patterns complicate researchers' efforts to understand divorced fathers' commitment to and involvement with their nonresident biological children. Researchers may need to consider whether stepfather figures alter biological fathers' relationships with these children. Similarly, social fatherhood issues are relevant to never married fathers' relationships with their young, nonresident biological children if former partners mediate their chances for being involved in their children's lives.

Diversity. Our approach highlights how sub-cultural diversity issues are relevant to both definitions of fatherhood and men's experiences with expressing themselves as fathers. We briefly discuss the interrelated factors associated with race and social class. Many of the insights we have gleaned from the research in this area remind us that father roles are quite diverse within the U.S., and that they frequently involve negotiated arrangements between various family members, and in some cases other individuals or groups. This research also highlights how these negotiations occur within a larger ecological context that is fundamentally shaped by economic and culturally based factors (Burton and Synder, 1996, Daly, 1995; Furstenberg, 1995; Sullivan, 1989).

Gender. Gender issues significantly affect the way many men experience their everyday lives as procreative beings (Marsiglio, forthcoming) and fathers (Coltrane, 1996). These issues influence how men think about the prospects of paternity and fatherhood, how men view themselves as fathers, the way men are viewed and treated as fathers, and how fathers perceive their children and are involved in and/or affect their lives. As a fundamental organizing principle of social life, gender influences fathers' lives in numerous ways. For example, it is implicated in the way institutional arrangements are structured (e.g., labor markets, corporate culture, judicial system). In addition, when gender is viewed as a performed activity that is constructed in specific interaction settings (West and Zimmerman, 1987; Thompson, 1993), it provides individuals with opportunities to display and interpret symbolic images of masculinity and femininity that are closely tied to value laden meanings associated with the economic provider and caretaker roles. Moreover, the process of "doing gender" underlies patterns of interpersonal communication (e.g., negotiations about child care). In short, many men and women experience tremendous anxiety and conflict sharing parental responsibilities, due in part to their gendered expectations and competing perceptions of family life (Fox and Bruce, 1996, see also Hawkins, Christiansen, Sargent, and Hill, 1993).

From a macro perspective, conservative and liberal social commentators have each lamented cultural changes in how adulthood masculinity is defined (Blankenhorn, 1995; Ehrenheich, 1983). The basic thrust of these arguments is that cultural and social changes have weakened the connection between masculinity norms and expectations about being a good "family man." Accordingly, adult men have in recent years been able to pursue their individual interests more easily as single men without jeopardizing their sense of masculinity.(8) In other words, they are able to sustain their masculine sense of self without being a married family man. Some observers believe that men's expanded options for achieving adulthood masculinity have led to negative outcomes for many women and children (Blankenhorn, 1995; Popenoe, 1996).

The gender theme is also intimately related to cultural diversity issues. Masculinity norms and images, and the way these cultural elements are associated with marriage and family life, may differ between men from different racial, social class, and religious backgrounds. Determining how men in different types of settings are able to express their manhood, and the importance they place on doing so, is an important aspect to understanding fathers' level and type of commitment to and involvement with their children.

Developmental/life course trajectories. It is generally assumed (Klein and White, 1997) that developmental/life course trajectories are inevitable. As time passes, the complexities of family structure, issues in gender, and larger community/cultural norms about behavior merge together to describe a person's and/or family's journey as their roles and responsibilities change over time. The essence of this perspective is that life is not static nor is it defined by simplistic role definitions that can only capture a father's (for example) involvement level at one time point, when he and his spouse/partner are at certain ages and the children are at a particular stage of life. Further, this perspective also encourages us to examine a family life form using multiple levels of analysis. That is, we need to recognize that families are a type of social group but that within that group are potential dyadic interactions, and further, the dyads are made up of individuals who are passing through a life course. Therefore, the description of family life is one of aggregate clusters of families, communities and individuals. We further assume that all of these levels of analysis have a significant impact on which of life's strategies to choose.

Father Involvement: Assessment and Measurement

By employing a broad definition of father involvement, as we do, three features are particularly striking. First, fathers can be involved with their children in many ways. Palkovitz (1997), for example, identifies fifteen general types of paternal involvement (e.g., doing errands, planning, providing, shared activities, teaching, and thought processes, see Figure 1 for a complete list). Second, there is a diverse array of potentially overlapping dimensions or aspects associated with the numerous ways fathers are either involved with their children and/or make contributions to their well-being (Amato, 1998; Hanson and Bozett, 1987; Fox and Bruce, 1996; Palkovitz, 1997; Lamb, Pleck, Charnov, and Levine, 1987). Third, there are vast individual and sub-cultural differences in how persons define and invest in these dimensions. By contrast, because the core features of mothering (nurturance and protection) are more universally recognized, much greater consensus exists about "good mothers" than about "good fathers." Men committed to being "good fathers" may perform in vastly different ways, with the same performances sometimes being viewed as successful or unsuccessful depending on the implicit definitions held by those making the evaluations. These facts confound efforts to examine fathers' involvement and to articulate the motivations related to it. Ideally, we are interested in determining the factors that lead to positive ways fathers are involved with their children (Pleck, 1997).

Domains of paternal involvement. Efforts to develop a theoretically meaningful and tidy categorization scheme for the varied forms of paternal involvement is fraught with difficulties. Fathers' assorted forms of involvement can be grouped together in various ways. The most rudimentary approach reveals that men's experiences as fathers can be categorized within one of three overlapping domains of functioning: cognitive, affective, and behavioral (Palkovitz, 1997; Doherty, 1997; Hawkins and Palkovitz, 1997). In other words, when we think about what fathers do with and for their children, we are able to place them within one of these three domains. What becomes apparent is that any behavioral expression that can be described as paternal involvement also contains cognitive and affective components. To date, however, researchers have concentrated on measuring and studying fathers' behaviors.

In addition to these conceptual tools, researchers might want to emphasize the key substantive themes or dimensions associated with paternal involvement. These would include fathers' nurturing and provisioning, moral and ethical guidance, emotional, practical, and psychosocial support of female partners, and economic provisioning or breadwinning (Figure 1).

The nurturance and provision of care to young children has typically been assessed using time use data on fathers' activities and it has been referred to in the literature as "paternal involvement" (Lamb et al., 1987; Pleck, 1997). While most observers view fathers' nurturance as a desirable form of fathering, there continues to be widespread disagreement about the importance of this dimension relative to other aspects of fathering. When it is evaluated positively, its importance may still vary depending on the age and gender of the children. Even though (or perhaps because) this dimension approximates "mothering" in many respects, it is almost universally viewed as secondary--less important than mothering by mothers, and less important than the other dimensions of fatherhood.

Second, moral and ethical guidance is viewed as a core feature of fatherhood within most religious traditions even though, in reality, most such guidance or socialization within the family is performed by mothers. Furthermore, when fathers are involved in socialization of this sort, their impact may be indirectly mediated by children's identification with and imitation of their fathers, regardless of any efforts on the fathers' part.

A third aspect involves the emotional, practical, and psychosocial support of female partners (biological mothers or stepmothers). When this third aspect of father involvement is loosely defined, it can also refer to aspects of social capital derived from coparental relations noted earlier.

Finally, economic provisioning, or breadwinning, is the dimension of fatherhood that is probably viewed by many of the stakeholders who define fatherhood as one of the most central aspects to fatherhood and paternal involvement. This dimension has clearly been one of the focal points of many social policy and programatic efforts during the past two decades.

While fathers and evaluators in most subcultural groups tend to acknowledge each of these dimensions of fatherhood to some extent, they may have different views about their relative importance. Thus, it is not very informative to ask individuals about the personal significance of fatherhood without first ascertaining what it means to them and their children. Unfortunately, few researchers have done this; consequently, the motivational bases of fatherhood or paternal involvement remain poorly understood. When studies have been conducted, it is not always clear that the researchers' conception of fatherhood matches the respondents'. In addition, different metrics are needed to assess the fulfillment of each dimension of fatherhood, and performance is easier to measure in some areas (e.g., economic provisioning) than others (e.g., moral guidance). Outside narrow research contexts, the easiest data to gather involve fathers' time use and economic provisioning, though in neither case do the available statistics directly and clearly tap either fathers' involvement or motivations. Moreover, these and other measures of fathers' involvement and subjective phenomena related to fathers are fraught with complex measurement issues resulting from different family members providing competing assessments of relevant variables (see Braver, Wolchik, Sandler, Fogas, and Zvetina, 1991; Seltzer and Brandreth, 1995; Smith and Morgan, 1994). Nevertheless, numerous studies indicate that a considerable amount of similarity exists between fathers' assessments of their involvement and their wives' reports (see Pleck, 1997).

Time Use Data and "Paternal Involvement" Measures

Much of the research on paternal involvement has examined how much time fathers spend with their children and what sorts of activities occupy that time (Lamb, Pleck, Charnov, and Levine, 1985; 1997; Pleck, 1983; 1997). Many of these studies involve small and often unrepresentative samples--a perennial problem in developmental research. Fortunately, this area of research has recently been augmented by several studies based on nationally representative samples of individuals (both mothers and fathers, e.g., NSFH) who have been asked what fathers do and how much they do.

Given the availability of these data, it would seem easy to determine what contemporary fathers really do. Sadly, the task is not as easy as it sounds because the results of different surveys vary dramatically. One problem is that different researchers have invoked very different implicit definitions of parental involvement, using different activities as aspects of paternal involvement. Thus, it is very difficult to compare results.

Components of involvement. One way to make sense of these data is to first group the studies according to the implicit definitions of paternal involvement they use. For analytic purposes, it is useful to consider the three components of parental involvement as they were originally outlined by Lamb et al. (1987). The first and most restrictive type is time spent in actual one-on-one interaction with a child (whether feeding her, helping him with homework, or playing catch on the sidewalk). This form of time use, which Lamb and his colleagues labeled engagement or interaction, does not include time spent in child-related housework or time spent sitting in one room while the child plays in the next room. This latter type of time use represents a second category comprised of activities involving less intense degrees of interaction. These activities imply parental accessibility to the child, rather than direct interaction. Cooking in the kitchen while the child plays in the next room, or even cooking in the kitchen while the child plays at the parent's feet, are examples.

The final type of involvement is the hardest to define but is perhaps the most important of all. It taps the extent to which the parent takes ultimate responsibility for the child's welfare and care. It can be illustrated by the difference between being responsible for child care and being able and willing to "help out" when it is convenient. Responsibility involves knowing when the child needs to go to the pediatrician, making the appointment, and making sure that the child gets to it. Responsibility involves making child-care and babysitting arrangements, ensuring that the child has clothes to wear, and making arrangements for supervision when the child is sick. Much of the time involved in being a responsible parent is not spent in direct interaction with the child. Consequently, survey researchers can easily overlook this type of involvement.

Quantifying the time involved in the responsibility component to involvement is difficult, particularly because the anxiety, worry, and contingency planning that comprise parental responsibility often occur when the parent is ostensibly doing something else. Unfortunately, and as noted earlier, while the mental work associated with parenting is quite important, and most salient to this third type of time use, researchers have focused little attention on how and the degree to which fathers actually think about their children (Palkovitz, 1997). One notable exception is Walzer's (1996) qualitative analysis of the gendered patterns associated with parental care of infants. Not surprisingly, this study revealed that new mothers are much more likely than fathers to think independently about and plan for their infant's care.

Problems in Consistency

When the three different types of parental involvement covered in the more recent studies are differentiated, greater consistency is found from study to study than was apparent in earlier studies (Rebelsky and Hanks, 1971; DeFrain, 1975), but a considerable degree of inconsistency remains. In part, this is because the distinction between the three types of involvement has been applied retrospectively to the results of independent studies conducted years earlier. Thus, there are still differences across studies in specific definitions of engagement, accessibility, and responsibility. For example, in one study using a major national survey, `'watching TV together" was grouped with activities of the interaction type, whereas in another study, it was included as a component of accessibility.

To integrate and compare the findings of different studies, each researcher's idiosyncratic definition of involvement must be allowed to stand, but relative rather than absolute measures of paternal involvement must be used to compare results. Instead of comparing those figures purporting to measure the amount of time that fathers spend "interacting with" their children, proportional figures must first be computed (i.e., compared with the amount of time that mothers devote to interaction, how much time do fathers devote to it) and these proportional figures can then be compared. When this strategy is used, the picture becomes much clearer. Surprisingly similar results are obtained in the various studies, despite major differences in the methods used to assess time use (diary versus estimate), the size and regional representation of the samples employed, and the date when the studies were conducted.

Time proportions. Lamb et al.'s (1987) review of data for two-parent families in which the mother is unemployed, suggested that the average father spent about 20% to 25% as much time as the mother did in direct interaction or engagement with their children, and about a third as much time being accessible to their children (see also Pleck, 1983; 1997). The largest discrepancy between paternal and maternal involvement was in the area of responsibility. Many studies show that fathers assume essentially no responsibility (as previously defined) for their children's care or rearing. In two-parent families with an employed mother, the levels of paternal compared with maternal engagement and accessibility are both substantially higher than in families with an unemployed mother (Lamb et al., 1987; Pleck, 1983; 1997). Lamb et al. (1987) reported figures for direct interaction and accessibility averaging 33% and 65%, respectively, whereas Pleck's later review reported that the averages had increased to 44% and 66%. As far as responsibility is concerned, however, there is no evidence that maternal employment has any effect on the level of paternal involvement. Even when both mother and father are employed 30 or more hours per week, the amount of responsibility assumed by fathers appears as negligible as when mothers are unemployed.

In light of the controversies that have arisen on this score, it is noteworthy that fathers do not appear to spend more time interacting with their children when mothers are employed; rather the proportions just cited go up only because mothers are doing less. Thus, fathers are proportionately more involved when mothers are employed, even though the depth of their involvement in absolute terms, does not change to any meaningful extent. The unfortunate controversies in this area appear attributable to a difference between proportional figures and absolute figures. On the other hand, studies focused on time use pay scant attention to the quality of maternal and paternal behavior. Maternal employment has probably led to changes in the types of activities in which fathers engage and new studies may show increases in the extent of paternal responsibility.

Although spending time with children may or may not represent an important aspect of fatherhood to the individuals concerned, time diary studies have shown that the amount of time fathers spend with their children is associated with socioeconomic class membership (lower class fathers tend to spend more time with their children), age (fathers spend more time with younger than with older children), and gender (fathers spend more time with boys than with girls).

Positive paternal involvement.

A recent development in the conceptualization and measurement of paternal involvement includes a series of efforts that focus on the positive content of fathers' behaviors (for a review, see Pleck, 1997). Thus, in the past decade or so, a growing number of scholars have begun to systematically think about and measure the content of paternal involvement (e.g., Amato, 1987; McBride, 1990; McBride and Mills, 1993; Radin, 1994; Snarey, 1993; Volling and Belsky, 1991). For example, using her Paternal Index of Child Care Involvement (PICCI), Radin (1994) has been able to tap five different dimensions of positive paternal involvement which she labels; statement of involvement, child-care responsibility, socialization responsibility, influence in childrearing decisions, and accessibility.

Some of the most promising new work on conceptualizing positive paternal involvement draws upon the generative fathering perspective. In particular, Palkovitz's (1997) expanded conceptualization of paternal involvement should be appealing to those researchers and policymakers who have become more sensitive to the myriad ways fathers affect their children's development and well-being. By restructuring and expanding its treatment of the involvement concept, this preliminary framework may generate a new wave of research on fathers. In addition to his expanded interpretation of the ways fathers can be involved with their children, and his interest in the specific domains in which this involvement operates, Palkovitz explores how paternal involvement can be understood by considering a series of simultaneously occurring continua (described below). Palkovitz, by drawing attention to the continua theme, reminds researchers from various disciplinary backgrounds that thinking of fathers as being either more or less involved in their children's lives in a global sense does little to advance our understanding of paternal involvement, or how fathers' involvement affects children's well-being and development. Instead, it is more meaningful to assess the specific ways fathers are involved with their children in terms of various co-occurring continua.

We briefly discuss five of these continua (time invested, degree of involvement, observability, salience, directness) and mention two others (proximity and appropriateness). The most obvious continuum, and one that we discussed earlier, involves the amount of time fathers invest in any particular form of paternal involvement. When conceptualizing paternal involvement, it is important to keep in mind that the time fathers invest in their children's lives does not always reflect their degree or depth of involvement. Some fathers, for instance, may spend little time playing with their children, but their degree of involvement in this area may be quite high if they make important decisions about how their children's playtime is structured. Other fathers may spend a great deal of time doing certain things with or for their children, but they may invest little of their heart and soul into these situations. They may simply be going through the motions of being involved.

We would also want to be aware of how observable fathers' involvement may be in certain situations (a consideration that is relevant to research and debates that deal with how parenting patterns are influenced by cultural factors, developmental trajectories, and gender differences). Fathers' thoughts about monitoring, planning, or worrying about their children's lives may not represent observable behaviors, but this cognitive activity may significantly influence how they interact with their children in different settings. Those fathers who think at length about how they might help their children deal with personal problems or developmental issues are much more likely to be well-prepared to be involved with their children in a positive manner than fathers who respond to their children without such deliberation.

Another continuum relates to the degree of saliency the paternal function or task has for fathers and their subjective interpretation of this activity. This continuum appears to be closely related to the "degree of involvement" continuum. In some instances, tasks may be highly relevant to fathers because they are aversive or pleased with them. Situations where fathers are completely indifferent to some form of paternal involvement represent one of the extreme poles of the saliency continuum.

The final continuum we mention here is the extent to which involvement is direct or indirect. Given the longstanding importance of the traditional male breadwinner role, much of what fathers have done for their children can be viewed in this way. Resident fathers who work overtime to provider financially for their children are engaged in indirect forms of involvement. Likewise, nonresident fathers who pay child support or monitor their children's lives through third parties are indirectly involved.

While it is beyond the scope of our report to describe or critique this particular approach in more detail, we suspect that scholars with allegiances to various disciplines or methodologies would stand to benefit by becoming more familiar with at least some of this framework's central themes. This work reminds us that efforts to better understand paternal involvement as a multidimensional construct are clearly warranted. Fox and Bruce (1996) provide us with a good beginning by developing an inventory of constructs depicting fathering that is organized according to three categories they label, evaluative, attitude/belief, and behavior. After reviewing the literature on men's parenting behavior, they conclude that the conceptualization of fathering behaviors is thin in several areas that involve: a) the potential for child-specific parenting, b) role sharing and role spelling between father and mothers, c) role cycling or the rotation among fathers' varied activities as disciplinarian, nurturer, etc., d) the distinction between fathers' investments in the status of father versus the process of fathering, and e) the potentially different perceptions of fathering experiences among men from different sociocultural backgrounds. Their largely social psychological approach is relevant to many of the points we make in this report and can serve as a springboard for refining the conceptualization of paternal involvement and proposing future areas of research.

Father's Role as Economic Provider.

As noted above, the role of economic provider is fundamental to most persons' definition of fatherhood and is a critical form of paternal involvement, broadly defined. For these reasons, and given its policy significance, we specifically discuss in this section fathers' provision of money for food, clothing, shelter and other consumption items. While the economic provide role is also linked to symbolic aspects relating to power, intergenerational transmission of values (e.g., work ethic), and the family connections to the larger community (e.g., social capital), we defer our discussion of some of these issues to our subsequent section on family process.

Economic resources. To assess the importance of the economic provider role for children, we first need to ask whether increased economic resources enhance children's well-being. As Brooks-Gunn and Duncan (1997) decisively show in The Consequences of Growing Up Poor, economic resources are particularly important during early and middle childhood, especially for cognitive outcomes. Specifically, higher income is associated with a richer learning environment.(9) In addition, it is suggested that economic resources matter in part because economic instability (e.g., unstable work, income loss, etc.) can lead to marital conflict which itself has negative consequences for children (Conger and Conger, 1997).

Although the results cited above are suggestive of several mechanisms through which economic resources can influence child outcomes, many unanswered questions remain. For example, what is the tradeoff between time and money? Fathers who provide more money to the family often do so at the cost of spending less time with their families. Is the choice of money over time beneficial for children and for other aspects of father involvement with children? Some literature suggests that there is an interaction between being perceived as a good provider (and thus spending a substantial amount of time in the labor force) and the quality of time that fathers spend with their children.

Decisions about money. A second question relates to whether fathers spend money in different ways than do mothers, and which parent has more power over spending decisions. The recent household bargaining literature in economics presents evidence that children are better off (higher calorie intake, lower mortality rates, more education) when mothers have more autonomy over spending decisions. This evidence may suggest that mothers spend money in ways that are more "child friendly" than do fathers. However, there is little direct evidence on spending patterns for specific individuals within the household. To address the kinds of questions posed above, we need data that combine information on family spending patterns, time allocation, and measures of child outcomes.

A related question is how much of the family income is spent on children as opposed to adults? There is a large literature on this topic (see Betson, 1990 for a review). Estimates of the proportion of family income spent on one child range from 16% to 33%. Estimates for two children range from 27% to 49% of income. Thus a substantial proportion of family income is consumed directly by children. Lazear and Michael (1988) find that the proportion spent on children varies by characteristics of the household. More highly educated and older parents spend a larger proportion of income on children. Households with two working parents also spend more.

Nonresident fathers and economic provisioning. The literature on the "cost of children" has been used by policymakers to assess how much absent parents (predominantly fathers) should pay to support their children. As part of the Family Support Act of 1988 all states were required to implement numerical formulas called child support guidelines specifying how much child support an absent parent should pay. These guidelines were intended to mimic the amount of income a nonresident parent would have spent on a child had he/she been living with that child. These guidelines have been criticized both by women's groups as being too low and by fathers' groups as being too high. However, there is some evidence that guidelines may make it easier for parents to reach cooperative agreements by creating a sense of fairness about the process (Argys et al., 1997). When child support agreements are cooperative, fathers are more likely to pay (Nord and Zill, 1996a).

Payment of support. Despite legislative efforts during the 1980s to increase the frequency and size of child support awards and reduce delinquency in child support payments, many nonresident fathers still do not pay any formal child support. In 1991, 66% of ever married custodial mothers had a child support award compared to only 27% for never married mothers. Half of the nonresident fathers (51%) who owed child support paid the full amount; 24% paid a partial amount, and the remaining 25% paid nothing. Overall, about 38% of custodial mothers received any formal child support, and the mean amount received was $3,011 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1995).(10)

Data and research on the provider role of nonresident fathers usually focus on formal child support awards and payments. However, nonresident fathers may also provide support for their children informally through monetary or nonmonetary contributions to the mother. Data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) shows that even in the absence of a legal child support award agreement, some fathers voluntarily provide informal financial support. For instance, among a child support-eligible sample in the NLSY with no awards, 24% of divorced or separated mothers and 47% of mothers of children born outside of marriage reported receiving at least some monetary child support from fathers since their eligibility (Argys, Peters, Brooks-Gunn and Smith, 1996).

Even fathers in marginal or economically unstable conditions are found to contribute food, diapers, clothing, and some financial assistance informally (Hardy, Duggan, Masnyk, and Pearson, 1989; Sullivan, 1993). Interviews with 155 young unmarried fathers enrolled in a pilot project indicated that many of these fathers preferred to purchase items and services for their children rather than to pay money directly to the mother or the child support office (Achatz and MacAllum, 1994). Fathers pointed out that buying needed items allowed them to directly provide support and maintain control over how their money was spent. In addition, they viewed these tangible contributions as symbols of responsible fatherhood that gained them respect in their community. A study of 214 mothers on AFDC (Edin, 1994) revealed that fathers assumed more financial responsibility for their children informally than through the formal child support system. One-third of the women in the sample reported regular financial support from the fathers, while only 14% received this support through the formal child support enforcement system. An additional 30% of mothers reported that in lieu of monetary support, fathers provided items, such as disposable diapers, school clothing and shoes, and/or Christmas and birthday gifts. Similarly, Greene and Moore (1996) examined early descriptive data from the Jobs Opportunities and Basic Skills Child Outcomes Study and found that while about 17% of fathers provided child support through the formal system during the past year, 42% provided informal support, such as money, groceries, clothes, or other items directly to the mother.

Child support and well-being. There is a growing literature on the relationship between child support and child well-being (see Garfinkle and McLanahan, 1994; Nord and Zill, 1996b). Generally, studies find that child support has positive effects on children's cognitive achievement and educational attainment that cannot be accounted for solely by the financial contribution of child support. The reason for this positive correlation is complex. One hypothesis is that success in fulfilling the economic provider role may free fathers to become involved with their children in other beneficial ways. Another theory suggests that fathers who pay child support may want to continue to see their children as a way of monitoring that investment (Weiss and Willis, 1985). Alternatively, the causation could go in the other direction. Fathers may agree to pay child support only as a means to maintain access to their children. Finally, it is possible that there is a third factor that would lead some fathers to have high levels of both time and money involvement (e.g., altruism towards children).

Stepfathers' and male partners' economic provisioning. Very little is known about the economic contributions stepfathers and male partners in cohabiting relationships make to the household and to their partner's children. Generally speaking, stepfathers' income is included in total family income when determining eligibility for welfare benefits, whereas in many states male partners' incomes are not included. Similarly, an important policy debate in formulating child support guidelines is how (or whether) to account for the additional economic obligations a nonresident father may incur if he remarries. These policies are based on certain assumptions about the degree to which stepparents or male partners provide economic resources to children, but, at present, there is little data on which to base these assumptions.


Having briefly reviewed some of the types and potential consequences of fathers' involvement, it is useful to discuss the key conceptual issues concerning fatherhood, paternal involvement, and motivation. Men may have somewhat separate, yet interrelated views about biological paternity, aspects of social and "responsible" fatherhood, and specific ways of being involved with their children. Obviously, then, different conceptions or definitions of concepts are likely to be associated with different sets of motivations. We must also recognize that in many respects men's desires to procreate are often intimately related to their perceptions about assuming specific social father roles (e.g., economic provider, nurturer), and their commitment to being "responsible" fathers (Marsiglio, 1995a; forthcoming; Tanfer and Mott, 1997). Furthermore, our discussion of motivation issues is affected by our decision to incorporate men's prenatal roles into our conceptualization of social fatherhood.

Reasons for involvement. We are mainly concerned with men's motivations to become "responsible" social fathers who are committed to enhancing their children's well-being through their positive involvement with them. Conceptions of fatherhood, as well as the extent to which individual fathers are motivated to behave in a responsible manner, appear to be shaped by cultural images of fatherhood represented in the media and other outlets, as well as men's socio-cultural background, their current social circumstances, and their earlier experiences, particularly the behavior of their own parents. More specifically, some of the principle reasons men are motivated to become social fathers are because they want:

1. the experience of caring for and raising children,

2. an opportunity to strengthen their bond with their romantic partners,

3. to ensure that they are not lonely or financially vulnerable in their later years of life, or,

4. to feel more connected to their extended family and/or friends.

Likewise, men's motivation to be responsible fathers who are positively involved with their children my stem from some of the aforementioned factors as well as:

1. their genuine love for their children,

2. societal and familial pressures to act like masculine adult males (the "shame" factor in the extreme), and

3. their perceptions of how much their children need their involvement or financial resources owing to their perception of their sexual partner's (or former partner's) financial and relationship circumstances.

As we consider how these or other motivations may prompt fathers to strive to be responsible fathers, we should be aware that this task is made more difficult when we acknowledge the multiple ways in which paternal involvement can be expressed. Moreover, the diverse views held by the various stakeholders about what constitutes "good fathering" adds to this complexity.

Instead of trying to rank motivations in order of importance or associate them with specific expressions or dimensions of fatherhood, it may be more productive to enumerate the most important motivational or explanatory categories that have been hypothesized, recognizing that the empirical research in this area is scanty, at best. As expected, scholars with ties to anthropology, developmental psychological, life course perspectives, social psychology, sociobiology, and sociology each tend to address motivational issues from a different perspective.

Socio-biological motivations. Sociobiologists, for example, emphasize that both men and women strive to maximize the representation of their genes in future generations. Several implications flow from their observation that males (unlike females) can be biologically involved in many pregnancies simultaneously and do not need to make major physiological contributions to the physical survival of their offspring after insemination. The `down side,' according to these same theorists, is that men can never really be sure of paternity, and thus always face the risk of investing resources in someone else's children (genes). Several predictions flow from these simple (if controversial) observations:

1. Men invest less in individual offspring because the opportunity costs are so much lower and the risks of mis-investment are so much higher than they are for women.

2. Men support their partners and offspring economically and socially (rather than physiologically).

3. Biologically determined differences in male and female investment may continue after delivery.

4. Like mothers, fathers invest time in the care and rearing of their children in order to bring children to reproductive maturity. Unlike mothers, their behavior does not appear to be hormonally facilitated.

5. The more men invest in partners and their children, the more they want to be sure of paternity; the extent to which they provide economic and socio-emotional support may affect the extent to which their partners' later children have the same fathers.

6. The fewer the children, the greater the motivation to invest time and resources in the success of each.

The clarity of some of these predictions is offset by the fact that the motivations are unconscious and must therefore be studied, not by probing attitudes and values in interviews, but by studying the effects, often at the level of population groups rather than individuals. Fortunately, the desire to be a father isn't driven solely (or even consciously) by the desire to propagate one's genes, and sociobiological explanations in terms of ultimate causes involve a different level of analysis than psychological and sociological explanations.

Generativity. Theorists who stress developmental issues and the generativity theme contend that some fathers are motivated to be involved with their children because such involvement is related to healthy adult development (Hawkins and Dollahite, 1997; Palkovitz, 1997; Snarey, 1993). Many individuals find fulfillment in shaping the growth and development of another person, and this type of experience represents a motivating force for some fathers. Such participation is hard to quantify empirically, but time-use measures come closest, especially when they illuminate both what and how much fathers do for or with their children. Moreover, large scale studies do not measure how well fathers perform these roles or tasks -- that is the focus of smaller scale studies that are informed by direct observation.

The type and extent of individual involvement in fathering may also be affected by recollections of the fathering men experienced as children as well as their interpretation of other men's fathering behaviors in specific social situations. Some men (particularly those who embrace higher levels of hands-on involvement and avoid being defined solely by breadwinning) are motivated to emulate the behavior of their fathers while others who behave in this way are apparently driven by a desire to be better fathers than their own fathers (Fox and Bruce, 1996). Meanwhile, Daly's (1995) recent qualitative work suggests that fathers may be less likely to turn to concrete figures to model their behavior and more likely to pick and choose actions, values, and standards that are displayed by various parents they encounter in their everyday lives.

Maturity and status. Meanwhile, theorists who focus on life course, identity, and gender issues shed light on some men's motivations by suggesting that being a father denotes maturity and confers status in many societies and subcultures. Fathers can reap the benefits of social status when their partners and children are well-provisioned and successful (as denoted by school performance, sports achievement, college admissions, and career attainment). Attitude surveys may indicate the relative if not absolute importance of these motivations, as well as differing perceptions of the ways in which these desired outcomes can best be hastened by coaching, supervision, warmth, play, and physical provisioning.

In a related social psychological vein, identity theory (Marsiglio, 1995d; Ihninger-Tallman, Pasley, and Buehler, 1995) has been extended to address issues associated with men's paternal identity and involvement. This model emphasizes fathers' commitment to role identities that are negotiated within the context of structured role relationships. As such, it implicitly deals with motivational issues in that fathers' commitment to being a particular type of man, partner, and father may affect their desire to be involved with their children in specific ways. This perspective is valuable because it draws attention to the interpersonal and social context within which men develop their individual dispositions to think, feel, and act toward their children. Moreover, it provides a theoretically meaningful link between fathers' perceptions of themselves and their actual paternal involvement. By emphasizing identity within a complex relational context, this theory also points out how coparental issues may condition men's involvement with their resident and nonresident children (Fox and Bruce, 1996). We deal more explicitly and at greater length with these concerns in the next two sections.

Moderating factors. To conclude this section, we build upon the work of Palkovitz (1997) and Lamb and his colleagues (1987) to summarize the types of factors that condition or moderate fathers' positive involvement with their children. We discuss three broad types: individual, interactional context/process, and macro/meso. As seen in Figure 2, these diverse factors range from developmental and life course considerations for both fathers and their children, to factors associated with the context and processes that shape fathers' interactions with their children (e.g., mothers, school officials), to more macro/meso types of factors that affect fathers' rights and opportunities to be involved with their children in particular ways. Together, these types of factors shape the overall context within which paternal involvement is expressed and evaluation occurs.


As was mentioned in the beginning of this report, fundamental social changes in family structure and generalized definitions of gender roles have raised many questions about the significance of fathers and their interactions with children. In this section, we expand on the dyadic and triadic interactions (with a focus on paternal-child interaction) used to described "family process" (sometimes called family dynamics) and their relationship to important child well-being outcomes.

Definition. Family process informs us about how family members think, feel, and act toward each other in their relationships ( Brodrick, 1993; McKenry and Price, 1994). By definition, family process is measured by assessing the shared relationships of multiple family members. This level of analysis is interactional and the focus is the family group instead of individual or macro-levels. For example, two or more family members' perceptions about how individuality and intimacy are tolerated in a family represents a family process measure (Gavazzi, 1994).

Family process and social capital. One promising model of how family dynamics are employed to enhance the lives of children can be found in the theoretical work of Coleman (1988). He suggests that the co-parental relationship and the dyadic relationship between parent and child represent a resource and these resources are inherently dyadic. He further posits that the level of social capital available from the father that could be transmitted to the child can only be transferred in the context of higher quality dyadic relationships. Higher quality might be, for example, spending time together (a primary feature of the interaction theme in Lamb's work) but is more likely to be found in the nature of the interaction. In particular, higher quality interaction exists when the father is more supportive, has higher levels of effective communication, understands appropriate distance regulation, and is appropriately flexible, his resource base (either human, financial, or social capital) is more likely to be transferable to the child.

The effects of being able to transfer resources is critical and varies by ethnicity and gender. Additionally, the processes are different depending the life course phases of family members and family structure features (i.e. the age of the child, age of parent, number of siblings at home, etc.).

Steelman and Doby (1983) and Rumberger (1983) have found strong links between parental resources and high school completion rates as well as offspring's cognitive skills. These results are modified by the parent-child relationship and vary by race (black/white). Further, when children are young at the time of parental separation, fathers' human capital is more influential when they have close contact with their children (Amato, 1998). Future research in this area needs to examine the effects paternal and maternal income vis a vis family process variables.

Such work is valuable as researchers continue to explore the links between important issues such as poverty and children's well being. Financial capital, distributed in the context of a caring and appropriately supervised parent/child relationships, may be substantially more effective in reducing the effects of lower education, poverty, and higher crime rates than the dispersing of money only. By understanding family processes, we may improve our ability to unravel the question of what fathers potentially contribute to the family besides provisioning and limited child care.

Assumptions About Family Processes

To understand how fathers fit into the discussion of family process, four assumptions need to be examined. First, family process describes the non-static ongoing dynamics of interaction found within a family unit. Second, it is often assumed that most of what happens in families is hidden or latent even to the family. It is only through multi-perception research that researchers can begin to have some understanding about those dynamics. Third, it is assumed that family process interactions are recurring, repetitive patterns of interaction. Therefore, over time, family members (or an observer) can begin to notice and record these redundant patterns of interaction and then induce from them attendant rule structures and belief systems that drive the redundancies. Fourth, family processes usually reflect hierarchically structured rules and interactions. The rules and patterns of interaction tell us who is in charge, who should do what at certain times, who can change the rules, and who can administer them. Often these rules of hierarchy tell us about gendered power differences or cultural imperatives that shape domination patterns within the redundancies.

Examples of Family Processes

A perusal of scholarly family process literature manifests only a few recurring family process ideas. From the larger list of family processes only three examples will be discussed in depth here and they are: distance regulation (i.e., enmeshment, individuation, boundary definition, triangulation, and family intrusiveness), flexibility (i.e., adaptability, coping), and support. A short list of other family process constructs not discussed here are: supervision/ monitoring (which includes rule setting, rule implementation) affection (which includes levels of generosity, caring, loving, and kindness) communication; and ritualization).

While family process has clearly been shown to have much to do with understanding the well-being of children, unfortunately, research explaining how fathers contribute to these processes is relatively underdeveloped. The selected family processes discussed below have a research tradition and clear methodologies for acquiring data on mothers' and fathers' contribution to children's well-being. Even so, little research on these processes has been conducted that focuses specifically on fathers. Perhaps the exception to this notion is the work on power differences in families. Differentials in power between parents (when there are two) greatly influence the family dynamics associated with decision-making, resource allocation, and goal attainment.

Distance Regulation

Distance regulation contains two primary dimensions: (1) the parent's tolerance for individuality, or the relative tolerance that the system displays for each member to experience a sense of separateness from the family, and (2) the parent's tolerance for intimacy, or the relative tolerance that the system displays for members to be connected emotionally and psychologically to the family (Gavazzi, 1993).

Individuality and intimacy. Distance regulation patterns that tolerate both individuality from the family and intimacy within the family create a well-differentiated family system. If the distance regulation patterns display high tolerance for only one dimension of family differentiation -- individuality or intimacy -- the family is thought to have a moderate level of differentiation. Here, families that retain a sense of intimacy but do not tolerate individuality well have been labeled "enmeshed," whereas families that tolerate individuality among its members without retaining a sense of intimate belonging have been labeled "disengaged" (Minuchin, 1974). Finally, distance regulation patterns that do not tolerate individuality claims and do not tolerate intimacy within the family are thought to be poorly differentiated (Gavazzi et al., 1994).

Individual family members contribute to family differentiation through their multiple interactions with other members of the family, and each member does have their own personal experiences of their family system. By definition, however, no one individual family member can retain a level of family differentiation. Further, the level of family differentiation is not the mere summarization of each member's contribution to the family, but a latent construct derived from the response of each family member.

Adolescence and distance regulation. Distance regulation in the family has received increased theoretical and clinical attention in recent years, especially regarding families with adolescents (Allison and Sabatelli, 1988; Anderson and Sabatelli, 1990; Sabatelli and Mazor, 1985). While most of these researchers focus on parent-child relationships, few differentiate between the gender of the child or parent and how distance regulation may differ for each. Nevertheless, distance regulation strategies between parent (father and/or mother) and child vary greatly by family with differing outcomes.

The ways in which the father and mother regulate individuation and familial intimacy affect the adolescent's ability to make a successful transition into adulthood status (Carter and McGoldrick, 1989; Farley, 1979; Kerr and Bowen, 1988; Lapsley, 1993; Lopez and Gover, 1993). Basically, this family process is the mechanism by which parents promote or retard the development of appropriate child autonomy. One researcher (Broderick, 1993) speaks of family distance regulation as the primary mechanism that defines the bonding and buffering processes associated with healthy functioning in the family with adolescents. Family distance regulation is defined as the amount of individuality and the amount of intimacy that are tolerated within a family system.

Empirical Work on Family Distance Regulation

Recently, studies have generated an empirical foundation for these theoretical and clinical writings, especially with regard to families with adolescents. For instance, Gavazzi (1993) discussed how severity levels in a variety of presenting problems (e.g., school-related difficulties, peer relationship problems, individually oriented difficulties, and illegal activities) could be predicted by differentiation levels in the family. Also, Gavazzi (1994a) reported that distance regulation levels were predictive of Child Behavior Checklist (Achenbach and Edelrock, 1983) total problem scores. Other studies have noted similar links between levels of family differentiation and more specific problematic behaviors in adolescents. Bartle and Sabatelli (1989) reported a link between family differentiation levels and alcohol-related difficulties in adolescents. Sabatelli and Anderson (1991) found a relationship between family differentiation and adolescents' levels of depression and anxiety. Finally, Gavazzi, Anderson, and Sabatelli (1993) reported that both psychosocial development and problematic behaviors in adolescents were significantly predicted by family differentiation levels, a finding replicated by Gavazzi, Goettler, Solomon, and McKenry (1994).

Gender differences. While this research has a promising theoretical and empirical record, little has been done to look at parent gender differences. For example, we do not know if different levels of intimacy tolerance by fathers (versus mothers) has differential familial effects. Nor do we know if it is better (or not) for both parents to agree on a "family" level of tolerance and individuation. Also, little is known about the child outcomes when there is only one parent or only one physically present parent (and the other one is psychologically or physically absent). Neither do we know if there are cultural differences that promote different levels of distance regulation.

Problems in distance regulation. However, families with distance regulation problems (for fathers and mothers) report more pathological indicators, including depressive disorders (Asarnow, Goldstein, et al., 1993), disruptive behavior and obsessive-compulsive disorders (Hibbs, Hamburger, et al., 1991; Hibbs, Hamburger, et al., 1993), eating disorders (Grange, Eisler, et al., 1992), and aggressive and non-aggressive attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (Marshall, Longwell, et al., 1990). Additionally, these families are more likely to report that their teen is involved in "at risk" psychopathological conditions (Albers, Doane, and Mintz, 1986; Cook, Kenny, and Goldstein, 1991; Schwartz, Dorer, et al., 1990; Valone, Goldstein, and Norton, 1984). In general, these studies have linked higher levels of expressed emotion in the family to lower levels of intrapsychic and interpersonal functioning in both clinical and non-clinical adolescent samples. Initial results by Gavazzi (in press) indicate that the distance regulation style of the father may have a greater impact on pre-teen and teenage children than the mother's style. Certainly more research is needed to understand these processes better.

Father and distance regulation. In a recent study by Bartle and Gavazzi (1994), it was found that by analyzing the influence of the father's distance regulation behaviors, one could significantly predict better adolescent outcomes such as behavior problems and ease of on-time developmental transitions. When analyses were conducted in which fathers' and mothers' data were combined, the effect was still there, but when run with mothers' data only the effects disappeared. In other words, when the relationship between father and adolescent (irrespective of gender of child) was strong (i.e., appropriate levels of distance regulation) the child was much less likely to be in trouble with school and/or the law. When that relationship was poor they were much more likely to report problems with both school and local police.

In another study, Gavazzi (in press) reports that father's scores on family distance regulation (in a sample of involved and active fathers) is very different than that of the mother's and/or the teen in a family. In other words, the father's perception of what happens in the family does not statistically resemble the mother's or the teen's and yet the mother's and teen's perception statistically converge. Even when he is there and contributing in a positive way, his view of what is going on inside the family is quite different than other family members. His view is so remarkably different that the statistical models rejected the father's scores as coming from the same family to which he belonged.

Such studies create a research imperative in which multiple views of family events,

feelings, and goals are measured. Only when these family process measures are done with representative large scale studies will we have the confidence to suggest specific policy recommendations about the role of the father in enhancing children's well-being.


An increasingly large amount of family-based literature has been devoted to the study of the amount of flexibility families display in response to internal and external demands for change. In essence, it is believed that families able to demonstrate greater flexibility in the face of demands for change will respond in more healthy ways thereby meeting the needs of its individual members (Terkleson, 1980). This literature contains a number of constructs related to flexibility in the family, including similar constructs which have been used in family research. Among these are adaptability (Olson, Sprenkle, and Russell, 1983; Lewis, Beavers, Gossett, and Phillips, 1976) family problem-solving ability (Aldous et al., 1971; Reiss and Oliveri, 1980) and family coping styles (McCubbin et al., 1980; McKenry and Price, 1994).

Definition. Flexibility assesses the degree to which members are able to change the power structure, relationship rules, and roles in relation to developmental and/or situational stressors (Anderson and Gavazzi, 1990; Olson, Sprenkle, and Russell, 1979). Problem-solving abilities in the family involve the ability of its members to gain resolution to both instrumental and affective difficulties (Epstein, Bishop, and Baldwin, 1980). Coping in the family concerns the degree to which members are able to respond to calls for change by taking direct action, reframing a difficult situation in ways that become more manageable, and/or controlling the amount of stress and anxiety generated by the difficult situation (Boss, 1988; McCubbin and Patterson, 1982).

Empirical Work on Family Flexibility

While few studies have focused on mother/father differences with regard to flexibility, some researchers (McCubbin and Patterson, 1982) have suggested that there is a greater chance for a family to have appropriate levels of flexibility when there are two parents present. They suggest that having two adults (regardless of gender) balances and regulates the stresses and strains of daily living. Better flexibility, it is hypothesized, is created when the two adults can call upon one another for suggestions, creative solutions, and respite from the stress of parenting. However, we know nothing of differences in the process that men and women use to ameliorate or attenuate levels of familial flexibility.

Flexibility and well-being. At a more general level, however, research has shown a strong and generally linear relationship between variables associated with family flexibility and indicators of the well-being of family members (Anderson and Gavazzi, 1990; Beavers and Voeller, 1983; Cluff, Hicks, and Madsen, 1994). For instance, studies have linked lower levels of family adaptability to destructive parent-child interaction (Garbarino, Sebes, and Schellenbach, 1985), the presence of a juvenile offender (Druckman, 1979; Rodick, Henggeler, and Hanson, (1986), sexually abusive behavior (Alexander and Lupfer, 1987), level of psychopathology (Lewis, Beaver, Gossett, and Phillips, 1976) and chemical dependence (Freidman, Utada, and Morrissey, 1987; Olson and Killorin, 1985).

Other studies have linked decreases in problem-solving abilities to families seeking clinical help (Epstein, Baldwin, and Bishop, 1983; Fristad, 1989; Miller, Bishop, Epstein, and Keitner, 1985), families with a juvenile offender (Vuchinich, Wood, and Vuchinich, 1994) as well as the level of risk factors present (Byles, Byrne, and Offord, 1988; Kabakoff et al., 1990).

Additionally, a wide variety of interventions are based on increasing the problem-solving abilities of families who are dealing with a range of disorders (Patterson, Dishion, and Chamberlain, 1992; Kazdin, Siegel, and Bass, 1992). Finally, studies have reported significant association between family coping behaviors and physical health (Ross, Mirowsky, and Goldsteen, 1980), depression (Armsden et al., 1990; Arnold, 1990 Barrera and Garrison-Jones, 1992; Kandel and Davies, 1982; Puig-Antich et al., 1993), and a wide variety of other outcome variables associated with individual and interpersonal functioning (Olson et al., 1989; McCubbin et al., 1980; Perlin and Schooler, 1978).

Parental Support

Definition. Parental support, whether conceptualized as general support, physical affection, acceptance, or companionship, is a diverse category of behavior communicating warmth, affection, rapport, and feelings of being valued (Barber and Thomas, 1986; Peterson and Hanna, in press; Rohner, 1986; Stafford and Bayer, 1993). Parental support is viewed as an expression of the "loving" dimension of relationships in families. Such loving relationships are at least partly rooted in altruistic motives that seem to foster such things as bonding, security, harmony, protection, and opportunity for optimal human development in families (Burr, Day, and Bahr, 1993). In the case of the parent-child subsystem, nurturant or emotionally supportive relationships encourage the young to identify with parents and incorporate their attitudes, values, and expectations.

Outcomes. Consequently, parental support often contributes to moral internalization and conformity to parent's expectations (Hoffman, 1980; Peterson and Rollins, 1987; Stafford and Bayer, 1993). Other positive outcomes for children include autonomy and self-esteem. Consequently, parental support seems to foster seemingly opposite developments -- both responsiveness to or connectedness with parents as well as progress toward autonomy or individuality. Parent-child relationships characterized by considerable nurturance appear to provide a secure base (bonds of connectedness) from which children and adolescents develop confidence to explore outward and meet challenges that exist beyond family boundaries (autonomy or individuality) (Bowlby, 1988: Peterson and Hann, in press; Peterson and Leigh, 1990. Failure to receive sufficient levels of support, in turn, fosters feelings of separation, expressions of hostility and aggression, diminished self-esteem, as well as antisocial and risk behavior (Felson and Zielinski, 1989; Gecas and Schwalbe, 1986; Peterson and Rollins, 1987; Rohner, 1986; Stafford and Bayer, 1993; Young, Miller, Norton, and Hill, 1995).

Empirical Work on Support

Fathers' role in fostering the best outcomes for children has often been portrayed as one of showing children (even at early ages) how to become autonomous. In past research, the father was characterized as the one who showed the child how to be independent in the world (Adelson and Doerhman, 1980; Shulman-Klein, 1993). Additionally, the traditional view of the father is that he was summoned to, on occasion, reinforce stern rules, reaffirm boundaries, and administer harsh discipline (Sterns, 1991). Some have suggested that this type of figure-head, distant father who rules and demands had the purpose of preparing the young person for the harsh world (Collins and Luebker, 1991).

Support and child-well being. Contrary to previous research that highlighted the benefits of fathers' sternness, more recent research suggests that fathers are more likely to produce positive child outcomes when they contribute to youthful autonomy within the context of relationships characterized by closeness, mutuality, and support (Baltes and Silverberg, 1994; Baumrind, 1991; Grotevant and Condon, 1983; Peterson, 1994; Quintana and Lapsley, 1990). That is, adolescents become more self-directed when parents (especially fathers) promote a family environment in which the teen can seek advice, experience validation, and realize a sense of security.

In turn, an increased sense of autonomy and independence promotes other desirable outcomes (e.g., higher academic achievement, better mental health, and ease of transition in adult roles) in children as they mature and grow into adulthood. Limited research about the role of the father (cf Peterson and Day, in press) in this type of family process has greatly hampered efforts to understand the complexity of the parent-child dyad.


For public policy to be effective in promoting responsible fathering, it will need to be proactive, theoretically informed, and research based (Furstenberg, 1988; Marsiglio, 1995b). Recent government policy concerning men's family life has been dominated by punitive strategies to address domestic violence and child support issues. While these strategies and issues remain relevant to the prevailing social policy agenda, there is growing sentiment that the search for better policy results will depend on research that considers fathers' participation in family life in new ways.

Increasingly, policymakers and the general public acknowledge that many fathers want to be more involved, and in some cases are more active in their children's lives than previously thought. Even in those situations where fathers are physically estranged from their children, many observers believe that fathers can still be involved with their children in productive ways and provide social capital to them. These observers also recognize how important responsible fathering is for children's well-being. As a result, individuals seem eager to support social policy that promotes the desirable aspects of fathering, while at the same time minimizing the barriers that limit fathers' options for making a positive contribution to their children's well-being.

At present, there is a paucity of information about men's positive contribution to their families, and how family responsibilities may motivate men to behave in the world of work and the larger society. The development of social policy is therefore based on an incomplete understanding of how men behave in response to policy stimuli. The stakes are high and social policy regarding fatherhood may be much more important to areas such as crime, education, economic development, welfare, and human capital development than has been widely believed.

At least two historically novel trends related to fathers' experiences have significant implications for public policy. One trend involves the bi-polarization of fatherhood. This trend is evidenced by the simultaneous growth in the proportion of fathers who are interested in playing a more active role in their children's lives and the increasingly visible segment of fathers who are disengaging (or are pushed) themselves from their paternal responsibilities (Furstenberg, 1988). The other trend involves the growing diversity and dynamic nature to men's life course patterns and paternal roles as they find themselves in step, blended, cohabiting, and fictive families. These family types require men (and others) to visualize and negotiate new roles. To the extent that social policy is constructed through the lens of the traditional nuclear family model, new forms of responsible fathering by biological fathers or stepfathers are likely to be constrained.

General Policy and Research Issues

In this section, we briefly explore some of the key features of social policy and research germane to our conceptualization of responsible fatherhood and positive paternal involvement. Unfortunately, our understanding of fathers from a policy perspective is impeded because they are often considered in a piecemeal manner, usually within the context of narrowly defined policy-related questions.

Father's attachments to their children. The first issue to consider is how biological fathers establish relationships with their children. Fathers (biological and step) often develop attachments to their children and become committed to them, at least in part, because they have established a sexual relationship with their children's mother (Furstenberg and Cherlin, 1991; Marsiglio, 1995c). As a result, when men's romantic relationships with the mother is interrupted through a divorce or informal breakup outside of marriage, men's relationships with their children often deteriorate (Furstenberg and Cherlin, 1991). A key question, then, is: How can fathers sustain a relationship with their children in spite of their severed romantic ties to the mother of their children? Additionally, are men capable of rekindling a relationship with their children after it has waned? Can fathers establish relationships with their children even if they failed to do so when their children were much younger?

Divorce and coparental situations. As noted above, the unraveling of a marriage often leads to attenuated relations between fathers and their children. Intervention efforts to help fathers (and mothers) deal with the emotional turmoil induced by separation and divorce processes involving custody and visitation rights are warranted.

Despite some legal scholars' strong reservations about the feasibility of professional mediation for partners undergoing separation and divorce (Levy, 1993), it seems prudent to give serious consideration to public policies that would provide couples with easy access to mediation during their divorce negotiations as well as subsequently when they may need to address new family situations (Arditti, 1991; Arditti and Kelly, 1994; Lamb and Sagi, 1983; Thompson, 1994). Thompson convincingly argues that policymakers should move away from "clean break" perceptions about divorce and instead encourage new types of postdivorce relationships that are in children's best interests. Voluntary or perhaps mandatory mediation classes for parents who are applying for a divorce could enable parents to understand existing or potential co-parenting issues more fully. Mediation sessions, and other pre/post divorce intervention strategies, should encourage mothers to realize that promoting access and positive interaction between fathers and children is a worthy goal. In addition, these programs could help fathers understand the unique features of their particular circumstances as nonresident, single, and perhaps even stepfathers. In general, it is essential that a concerted effort be made to ensure that fathers feel connected to their children and maintain a feeling of obligation toward them--without relying exclusively on punitive strategies. Evaluation research is therefore needed to assess the program features of interventions, particularly ones with a two-parent focus, that are most effective in promoting responsible fathering and children's well-being.

Procreative responsibility and related activities. Another general issue focuses on how the act of procreation and men's subsequent paternal involvement are related to men's larger quest for meaning in their lives. The relationship between men's family roles and their roles in other spheres of life (e.g., work, school, religion, community) are reciprocal in many respects. One question is: how do different forms of paternal involvement promote male responsibility with respect to future fertility, labor force participation, and community involvement? This question is particularly relevant to socioeconomically disadvantaged men who are often marginalized from the paths to "success" typically deemed appropriate by the mainstream public. Most of these men are poorly educated and have limited job skills. Some are also shadowed by a history of criminal behavior and other self-destructive patterns. What do these men want out of life?

Ethnographic research hints that many desire the traditional formula for success as a man -- a stable job, the sense of belonging to a family, and a respected place in the community. Charles Ballard's innovative outreach program for fathers, established in 1982 in Cleveland, provides additional evidence that helping low-income fathers establish an emotional commitment with their children can provide an enormous incentive for men to develop their own human capital and community involvement (Levine and Pitt, 1995).

Perhaps the recent reforms to the AFDC program will enhance men's commitment to family roles and spark an increase in disadvantaged men's economic productivity and pro-social behavior. Research evaluating the effects of welfare reform should therefore consider how these innovations affect men's lives as fathers and in other spheres of life (e.g., education, work, community, church).

Father/mother differences. Do fathers differ from mothers in their family behavior during the course of a child's life? We have a better understanding of mothers because research has disproportionately focused attention on their intense involvement with their children in the early years of their lives. Fathers are often seen as mothers' helpers in these early years, but do their contributions and involvement in children's lives change as children grow up? Are there life course and developmental processes that require different levels and types of father involvement and support? Do these potential needs vary by the age and gender of children? These questions require us to consider men as individuals rather than as merely supports for mothers. We do not know what to expect from fathers in general, and estranged fathers in particular, as they age with their children. It may be the case that fathers play a poorly appreciated role as the adolescents transition to productive, independent adults. If so, fathers' disengagement early in a child's life must be evaluated in terms of its impact on children that may manifest later in their lives. These issues loom large in questions of custody and living arrangements subsequent to a divorce.

Family transitions and instability. One consequence of the instability of modern family life is that many fathers find themselves disengaged from their families and searching for a new family experience. Cherlin (1978) has suggested that we are in a cultural transition in which the plethora of emerging family types and situations has created a phenomena that could be described as an "incomplete institution." By this, he means that the changes in our culture have occurred so rapidly that the new emerging family forms have not had time to become "institutionalized." When family transitions (e.g., marriage, engagement, and death of spouse) are institutionalized, members are aware of norms to guide their behavior, ie., they have some sense of placement, the procedures to follow, and what to expect. In the case of remarriage, families are left to invent their own norms and transitional procedures. There are no well-defined "standards" one can easily adapt to the new situation. Consequently, individual family members must decide, with little guidance from cultural scripts, what the new parent should be called, how distance should be regulated, who should discipline and when, and how money should be transferred.

While men in remarriage situations are generally older and perhaps wiser as they prepare to establish a new family, their circumstances are complicated because they often have family obligations from a previous family. These obligations can collide with future fertility behavior in a subsequent marriage, cause role confusion, and create a sense of detachment from one or both families.

Also, if the new marriage or non-marital union involves a mother with children from a previous relationship, then a stepfather may be forced to negotiate a relationship with his stepchildren within a context marked by the presence of a living, active biological father. A stepfather must ask: How does forming a serious romantic union affect my new and pre-existing paternal roles? How should I treat my stepchildren relative to my biological ones? Where do my loyalties ultimately reside with respect to children?

In some ways, the law treats paternal involvement in remarriages as a secondary commitment. Biological fathers, irrespective of their new marital status and family circumstances, are expected to fulfill their child support obligations to their nonresident children. This often causes conflict within both families to the detriment of each. Also, the law is quite vague about stepfathers' relationships with stepchildren. Indeed, social and legal perceptions of stepfathers are still evolving and worthy of continued study, especially in light of current demographic patterns that suggest that a large percentage of children will at some point live with a stepfather figure.

Dual aspects of fatherhood. A final issue involves the competing ways in which fathers may influence children's lives. Fathers obviously may help protect children and teach them how to negotiate the difficult experiences they will encounter as they make the transition to adulthood. In stark contrast to these acceptable roles, fathers sometimes present a danger to their families and trigger their children's self-destructive behavior. Fathers have the potential to bring about real harm when they are physically or mentally abusive, or when they induce children to leave home before they are able to sustain themselves in a risky world.

How can we fashion laws and public policy to encourage the protective aspect of fathering while discouraging fathers' potentially harmful actions? Attentive and caring fathers bring safety and stability to the home, and communities filled with these types of fathers add an extra measure of security to children's lives. Unfortunately, modern public policy has tended to discourage men's participation in families which has lead to interpersonal instability within households and dangerous communities where concentrations of households without coresiding fathers are high. As we contemplate strategies for assisting high risk families, no one knows for sure how to arrive at the optimal balance between promoting fathers' positive participation in their children's lives and restraining their negative influences. This represents an important area where future research needs to inform policymaking.

The Role of Public Policy, Law, and Business Practices

How does government constrain and/or promote responsible fatherhood and positive paternal involvement? We highlight what we believe to be the most important ways that public policy, law, and business practices currently influence fathers' behavior, either positively or negatively. While social initiatives are relevant to fathers' paternal involvement in a wide range of situations, most deal with fathers who are either struggling because they are poor, or their paternal rights and obligations have become a focal point due to a divorce or a nonmarital birth. Obviously, many men are affected by both sets of circumstances.

Welfare reform. As mentioned previously, the provider role is a central construct in fathering. The structural transformation of the U.S. economy away from manufacturing and extractive industries to an information and service economy, coupled with the displacement of jobs from inner city areas, has disproportionately diminished the ability of economically disadvantaged fathers to provide for their families relative to what mothers can provide, especially when mothers are aided by government transfer programs. From a national policy perspective, many fathers have been marginalized in their role as provider and this has coincided with a marked increase in family instability. For example, government support programs that require mothers to remain single in order to receive benefits offer more attractive alternatives to the traditional notion of fathers as providers when the eligible men are poorly educated and have few work skills. In addition, administrative rules that require that fathers' child support be used to reimburse the government for welfare support provided to the mother and her children, and incentive programs that prod welfare mothers to target child support enforcement actions at fathers, have sometimes discouraged fathers from playing a more active role in their children's lives.

The advent of welfare reform provides an excellent opportunity to reconsider these policies and many states are experimenting with ways of realigning government policies to be more father-friendly. For example, many states have received permission to allow nonresident fathers of children on welfare to enter the JOBS program which currently provides the mothers of these children access to job training and education opportunities. By making these services available to fathers, policymakers hope to improve fathers' ability and desire to provide for their children. Some states (e.g. Virginia and Maryland) have embedded specific fatherhood programs in either child support and/or maternal health programs (Brenner, 1996).

"Man in the house" rules have also been a prominent feature of public housing and other types of welfare transfers. These rules have had the effect of producing large concentrations of households in which fathers are "around" but not living with their children. This may have the unfortunate effect of undermining fathers' roles and preventing fathers from being responsible fathers. Some states have started to abolish these policies. In Connecticut, for example, parents can receive public assistance when both parents live in the home. Moreover, the Hartford Housing Authority and the Child Support Enforcement program have joined to create a program giving nonresident fathers jobs related to the maintenance of a public housing project. These men also receive special help in resolving child support related issues. Programs such as these increase fathers' ability to contribute to their children's lives and encourages their positive involvement with them. Such efforts are expanding and must be evaluated rigorously with respect to all aspects of fathers' involvement as well as children's and families' well-being (Brenner, 1996).

Complexities of divorced families. The debates about fathers' degree of commitment and involvement with their children post-divorce are volatile and complex (Griswold, 1993; Marsiglio, forthcoming). One side of the debate focuses on the emotional crises many fathers experience because of the formal and informal impediments they must deal with as they struggle to maintain close relationships with their children after the dissolution of a romantic relationship--often marriage. For many men, the pain is real and long lasting. Despite the obvious anguish some fathers feel in this area, harsh critics of some efforts to expand nonresident fathers' rights present the other side of the debate in compelling fashion (Bertoia and Drakich, 1995). Among other points, they suggest that many fathers are less concerned about the day-to-day care of their children, the "moral labor" of parenthood, than they are in controlling their former partners. These critics warn against being duped by some men's "rhetoric of equality." As is often the case in debates such as these, there is an element of "truth" associated with each position. What must not be forgotten is that the processes that feed into this perplexing situation occur within a society that remains highly gendered.

Having alluded to the complexity of these issues, it is useful to point out that research has recently revealed a surprising array of structural barriers to father involvement in divorced families (Arditti and Kelly, 1994; Thompson, 1994 p. 39, l 1). While it was previously thought that fathers in such families remained uninvolved because they simply didn't care about their children (deadbeat dads or runaway dads), research is accumulating that suggests that this portrayal is vastly oversimplified. In many instances, government policies (state and national) combine to deny fathers a more important -- and more beneficial -- role in their children's lives.

Joint custody. One specific post-divorce policy challenge is to deal with multi-household living environments that arise out of joint legal or legal/physical custody arrangements. The advent of controversial joint custody arrangements has prompted researchers to consider how these arrangements affect post-divorce parenting; their research has produced mixed results. Interestingly, Maccoby and Mnookin's (1992) research on California families, and Seltzer's noncustodial fathers' income, did not find that joint legal custody was related to child support, visitation, and child-related decision-making (see also Fox and Kelly, 1995). However, Maccoby and Mnookin did find that joint legal/physical custody was related to positive post-divorce parenting. Some recent research also shows that joint legal custody appears to be associated with more positive forms of paternal involvement such as child support payments than with parental conflict (Seltzer, 1996). Braver's (1994) research with families in Arizona has shown that when joint custody is awarded father involvement is at very high levels. Moreover, the U.S. Census Bureau has found that 97% of joint custody fathers pay child support, as opposed to about a 2/3 rate for the population as a whole (US Bureau of Census, 1991; Braver, 1996).

Fathers without custody. While some men want and gain either joint or sole custody, some observers contend that our current court system mitigates toward disproportionate custody awards to mothers (Braver et al., 1993). Braver and his colleagues found that fathers indicate strong preferences (over 70%) for a joint legal custody award, and only a distinct minority (11%) preferred the mother to have sole legal custody. However, in 77% of these families the ultimate award was indeed for sole maternal legal custody. Warshak (1988) has made compelling data-based arguments that joint custody is in the best interests of children in many cases.

Why fathers so seldom receive the full custody or joint custody they say they would prefer is a matter of some dispute. Weitzman (1984), for example, reports that mothers believe that the fathers don't really want custody, they just raise the possibility as a threat or a bargaining chip, and relinquish their bid when they wring financial concessions. Others (Levy, 1990) argue that attorneys discourage fathers from pursuing their preferences because of a biased legal system, and usually only those with unassailable cases, such as those involving the mother's severe mental illness, persist.

Father-child visitation. Some divorced fathers without custody don't receive the legal right to visit their children and this, of course, can be viewed as a severe structural barrier. In many cases, there are clearly legitimate reasons for denying fathers access to their children (e.g., history of abuse). Although fathers are seldom denied legal visitation rights, greatly restricted rights are far more common. This is particularly true when allegations of spouse or child abuse are made. One difficult policy issue is deciding how government programs should balance the safety of mothers and children when bona fide violence is present, while at the same time not confusing an allegation with proof of abuse. While strong incentives for spurious claims of abuse clearly exist, there are few disincentives for such claims.

The most frequent visitation problem involves fathers who are legally entitled to spend time with their children, but are either completely or sporadically denied access by the mother. According to several studies (cf Braver et al, 1993), this occurs in between 25% and 40% of divorced families. There can be little dispute that there is minimal enforcement of visitation rights, especially in comparison to the vast legal machinery that exists to enforce non-payment of child support. We are not proposing that a federal Office of Visitation Enforcement be created with a parallel budget. However, the imbalance in efforts to protect visitation rights vs. the enforcement of child support obligations no doubt conveys a message to fathers that the "system" doesn't care about them nor about whether they are active in their children's lives.

Pilot research is currently underway to explore the feasibility and effectiveness of visitation enforcement (Braver et al., 1993). The Dads For Life Program currently being conducted and evaluated in the Phoenix area attempts to teach divorced fathers how to be a positive force in their children's lives irrespective of the constraints a divorce may impose on their family relationships. Preliminary reports from participating fathers, mothers and children suggest the program is having profound and apparently long-lasting benefits. Perhaps the best remedy is educating mothers on how healthy father-child relationships can benefit children -- as well as the mother herself.

Mothers as gatekeepers. As the previous discussion suggests, mothers often serve as gatekeepers in divorced families (and in informal unions leading to nonmarital births). This can hamper fathers' motivation to remain involved. In the most definitive research, using a representative sample, and a longitudinal design, Braver et al. (1993) found that the factor best predicting fathers' long term involvement was the fathers' feeling "parentally enfranchised." Many fathers felt that issues related to their divorce, especially concerns about their children, were out of their control. When divorced fathers felt they shared control with the mother over child rearing issues they were less likely to feel alienated. When fathers did not feel they shared parental control, they felt as if their children were not theirs anymore. Many reported that they felt the society, the legal system, and their ex-wives had conspired to fracture their connection with their children while expecting them to fulfill their financial obligations as fathers.

Geographic relocation. A barrier of another kind is when one divorced parent moves to another geographic area. Clearly, if the child stays with the mother, fathers can not retain the same day-to-day involvement that is possible when both parents remain in the same location. This type of relocation is also associated with a significant decrease in child support payments and enforcement is far more difficult. This hotly debated area finds feminists arguing that no restrictions should be placed on mothers' (or fathers') mobility, while opponents argue that custodial parents who want to relocate and take their child should be forced to demonstrate that such a move is necessary, for either health or employment reasons. Additional research on the consequences of relocation on all involved parties is needed to inform policy in this area.

Child support enforcement. Child support enforcement is related to circumstances stemming from either divorce or a nonmarital birth. It also is a difficult public policy area because it stresses a strict financial discipline on nonresident parents who are usually fathers.

An important component of child support enforcement is paternity establishment. States are using a variety of methods to establish paternity in cases of nonmarital births as soon after the birth as possible. While this is done to maximize the ability of the state to enforce child support claims against the father, this procedure may encourage fathers to develop a stronger commitment to their children. To the extent this objective is achieved, fathers may be more involved in their children's lives.

One of the key issues associated with child support enforcement policy is the extent to which the resources of the program will be used to mediate conflicts arising over visitation. At least one state, Utah, will suspend a mother's drivers license if she refuses to cooperate in allowing visitation access. Policymakers face a major challenge in finding an optimal child support enforcement policy that maximizes the financial commitment of nonresident fathers while ensuring that fathers have ample opportunity to spend quality time with their children.

Experience with attempts to enforce child support obligations has revealed that fathers' visitation patterns are related to child support payment, and greater contact may be related to better outcomes for children (Zill and Nord, 1996; Argys, 1996). While researchers are uncertain about the complex causal direction of these statistical associations, the apparent relationship between father-child contact and child support payments should serve as an incentive for researchers to examine these issues more carefully.

Health insurance. Health insurance for children is a major consideration for poor families. The advent of a service economy has meant that many fathers must work more than one job, many of which are without health insurance benefits. Medicaid, like AFDC welfare, has posed problems for fathers in the past because these programs were formally linked. Medicaid will not pay for any Prepared Childbirth training for fathers and this may hinder the bonding between fathers, mothers, and children in poor families which are already often very fragile. The beginning of welfare reform offers an opportunity to consider ways in which health insurance can be provided to poor families without discouraging fathers from co-residing with their children and/or being responsible fathers (Staff, 1995).

Early childhood education programs. Early childhood education programs including developmental day care, Head start, and preschool programs have largely ignored how fathers might be connected to their children in these formative years. While these early childhood programs were initially developed to assist mothers, ongoing experiments such as Early Head Start are examining ways to connect fathers to their children (Levine, Murphy, and Wilson, 1993).

Criminal justice system. Officials within the criminal justice system have taken notice that many prisoners are fathers and that there is a substantial intergenerational transmission of experience about the subculture of crime. This has stimulated a new awareness that intervention programs that help imprisoned fathers be better fathers might break the intergenerational transmission of institutionalization. Some states (e.g., Louisiana and California) are experimenting with intervention programs in the juvenile justice system and states such as California, Illinois, Arkansas, Delaware, and New Jersey are doing the same in adult corrections facilities (Staff, 1997). Policymakers are thus faced with the prospects of figuring out innovative ways of promoting styles of fathering that will break the intergenerational transmission of anti-social behavior.

Workplace barriers. The debate about how to balance work and family roles has generally focused on women, because women have traditionally taken the primary responsibility for child rearing while participating in the labor market as secondary earners; men have been considered the family breadwinner. Debates in recent years, however, have begun to incorporate discussions about the "new" father who is expected to be more involved with children (Hyde et al., 1993). For these reasons, a discussion about workplace barriers to participation in family life is important for both men and women.

Parental leave. In 1993 President Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that allowed parents to take up to six weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or adopted child or another family member who is sick. The federal law further restricted these benefits to those working in establishments with 50 or more employees, employed for a full year, and working at least 1,250 hours during the year prior to taking the leave. Before the passage of FMLA, 11 states had similar family leave policies (Klerman and Liebowitz, 1997).

Paid parental leave in the U.S. is fairly rare. In 1993 only 3% of medium and large establishments and 1% of small establishments offered parental leave (Blau, Ferber, and Winkler, forthcoming). Other countries have much more generous family leave provisions. For example, parents in Sweden can take up to a total of 15 months in paid leave to be shared between the mother and father.

Despite the availability of these benefits, fathers are much less likely to take parental leave, or they take leave for much shorter durations than do mothers. In the U.S. it has been estimated that fathers take about five days of leave when their child is born. The good news is that 91% of fathers took at least some leave (Hyde, Essex, and Horton, 1993). When fathers take time off from work, they are much more likely to use paid vacation or sick leave than parental leave which is most often unpaid.

The availability of parental leave in the U.S. is a fairly recent phenomenon. Comparisons with studies of parental leave in Sweden provide us with what is likely to be a "upper bound" estimate of how U.S. fathers;'paternal leave tendencies might change over time. Haas and Hwang (1995) report that in 1974, the first year that parental leave was available, only 3% of Swedish fathers took parental leave. Over time that number increased gradually, and by 1994 about one-half of fathers took parental leave. Even in Sweden, however, fathers of children born in 1989 took far fewer days of leave than mothers (43 vs. 60) (Haas, 1993). Two reasons for this difference are 1) the importance and prevalence of breast feeding during the first year of a child's life, and 2) the fact that men generally earn more than women. Thus, unless income replacement is 100%, the income loss to the family is greater when men take a leave and is likely to act as a disincentive for fathers to take leave at the same rate as do mothers.

Surveys of workers and employers also find that fathers are concerned that taking parental leave will reduce their chances for promotions and raises (Hyde, Essex, and Horton, 1993). Employers state that those fears may be justified. Although women of child-bearing age have traditionally faced these same prejudices, some employers are beginning to make allowances for family responsibilities because so many women are now in the labor force. The idea of men taking paternal leave, on the other hand, is still largely viewed as unacceptable in the corporate culture (Hass and Hwang, 1993).

Jobs. The structure of jobs and workplace policies may facilitate or hinder working parents' ability to spend time with their children. The key to parental care when both parents work is flexible hours, including flextime, irregular work schedules, part-time employment, job sharing, and home based work. In addition, the parental leave policies mentioned above allow a parent to be at home full time during critical periods in a child's life without the fear of losing a job or losing seniority in that job.

Flexible hours. One measure of co-parenting fathers' involvement with their children is the frequency that they provide child care while the mother works. For married couples with children under age 15, it has been estimated that about 13% of fathers serve as the primary child care provider when the mother works outside the home (O'Connell, 1993). Most of these fathers are employed. Studies have found that fathers are more likely to provide this child care if 1) the mother works part-time or a non-standard shift or 2) the father works part-time or a non-standard shift (Casper and McConnell, 1996; Averett, Gennetian and Peters, 1997). Part-time or non-standard shift work allows parents to work at different times from each other and for each parent to provide some care while the other works. Presser (1995) estimates that 54% of men and 56% of women work a fixed day schedule, Monday through Friday only. Presser has also found that women are more likely to respond to family responsibilities by choosing non-standard work schedules. Specifically, 27% percent of women who had children under age 14 reported better child care as the reason for working a non-standard shift compared to almost 5% of men (Presser, 1995).

Part-time work. Part-time work is also more prevalent for women than for men. In 1995, 34% of women, but only 18% of men worked part-time (Blau, Ferber, and Winkler, forthcoming). Although part-time work has the advantage of allowing parents to share child care and spend more time with the family, it also has costs in the form of lower earnings, lower pay per hour, fewer opportunities for promotion and fewer benefits such as health care and retirement savings plans.


Another way we can begin to understand father involvement is to examine how survey researchers have measured this construct in large scale data sets such as the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH), Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), High School and Beyond (HSB), the National Survey of Children (NSC), and the forthcoming Adolescent Health Survey (Add Health) from the University of North Carolina Population Center. In this section of the report, we review what we found when we canvassed these and other data sets and categorized the types of measures that were included. The collection of massive data sets is an obviously expensive and time consuming undertaking. Therefore, the constructs that survive that scrutiny are deemed essential to the data collection effort. By performing an audit on some of these larger data sets we are able to determine how fatherhood issues have been measured and, therefore, what many researchers deem significant. This exercise contributes to the conversation about what information still needs to be collected about father involvement in large-scale data sets, most of which are longitudinal in nature.

Our search was guided by the categories, topics, and domains suggested earlier in this report where we discussed conceptualizations of father involvement. At the most basic level, we appraised each data set with regard to general father presence/absence issues. Next, in each of the 14 data sets, we looked for any of Palkovitz's (1997) suggested categories of involvement. Table 1 is a distillation of what was found in the data sets. Further, Tables 4 through 15 give examples drawn from particular data sets of how questions were asked in reference to an involvement category. (see Appendix J)

Data Sets. We chose data sets based on two criteria. First, we selected those which featured family-related variables (e.g., Add Health, NSFH, NSC). Second, we chose data sets if they represented an area of study for which information about fathers would seemingly be important (e.g., Baltimore Study of Unplanned Teen Pregnancy, High School and Beyond). This selection process is in no way meant to be exhaustive or even representative of secondary data sets. Instead, our purpose is to demonstrate the kind of father-related research variables that have been used to date.

Findings. We provide a short analysis of what we found when we examined father measures. First, as an historical note, recent data sets that have been collected (or are being collected, e.g., Add Health, PSID Supplement, NSFH II ) have many more items that can be construed as fitting into the father involvement categories. Surprisingly, some of the more widely used data sets such as the NLSY, have very few father related variables. The HSB, for example, has practically nothing a researcher can use to consider the effect of differing levels of father involvement on school performance. Nevertheless, we conclude that many researchers are beginning to attend to father involvement issues. Of particular note is the recent extensive work done on the PSID. In the past, this survey has focused heavily on income dynamics as its name suggests. New data are being collected (1997) using this supplement and the resulting information should provide a wealth of opportunities to research father involvement issues.

Also, in the recent panel wave of the NSFH, much more attention was paid to involvement categories like activities, emotional support, and monitoring. In the new Add Health Survey, a specific effort has been made to assess quality and substance of communication between fathers and teen children. Additionally, these researchers have paid careful attention to other father involvement variables like teaching, monitoring, availability, and levels of affection. Unlike several of the other data sets, the Add Health also examines in more detail the types of shared activities that fathers and children experience. Our guess is that this data set will be used extensively by researchers interested in father involvement issues.

We recognize that organizers of large data sets often include measures for the parents who are in or out of the immediate environment. Some go to great lengths to assess where that parent is and what his/her contact is with the family. However, the usual pattern is to ascertain a general dichotomous reading of family structure (i.e., is the father there or not) and then to let his absence stand as a token marker variable. Again, this deficit model of research suggests a simple two-variable linear connection that father absence leads to poorer family well-being.

None of the data sets began with the notion of examining a father involvement construct central to ongoing family processes. However, there are some data sets (e.g., Add Health, NSFH, PSID, and NSC) that have a few scattered family process variables in them. These usually reflect an effort to collect some information about monitoring, communication, or affection. Family process variables such as flexibility and distance regulation have not been assessed in these types of data collection efforts. Additionally, very few of the data sets attempt to collect information from multiple respondents within the family. Therefore, even when a family process measure happens to be included, it is usually appraised from only one person's perspective. As such, the latent family process constructs remain poorly measured and under-researched.

The new supplement to the PSID offers researchers a better look at fatherhood issues by using a diary system. The respondents are given a time diary in which they are to record time use and some interactions with family members. One challenge facing large data collection efforts is how to move away from having data about attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions that are reported from one respondent. By using video recordings, time diaries, and other observational techniques, researchers can begin to respond to the common critique that assessing marker-like variables from one person's perception tells very little about the inner dynamics of a family.

We also learn from a perusal of these data sets that only one or two items are typically used to measure a construct. For example, several data sets have some measure of monitoring. Often, however, there is only one item that could be considered a monitoring question. The richness and texture of that construct is therefore compromised. It is understandable that they are limited in this way given the expensive nature of data collection and that these collection efforts were not directly targeting fatherhood issues.

The most common categories of questions that have been covered (at least superficially) in this sampling of surveys are questions about teaching, monitoring, caregiving, availability, and affection. Also, several of the surveys focused on the negative involvement aspects of fathering and proposed some measure of conflict and harsh punishment.

We hasten to add, however, that in some cases such as measures of communication, the smattering of questions asked ranges from in-depth exchanges about sexual issues to frequency of letters received from fathers during the year. This leads to an important lesson we can gain from this exercise. There is apparently very little consensus on how these constructs are defined and operationalized from one researcher to next. The secondary data researcher who employs these data sets must make do with the items that were chosen. One outcome of this rather chaotic approach is that it is practically impossible for researchers to compare findings across data sets. Only on rare occasions (such as measures of depression) is there a consensus on how to measure an idea.

The least common father involvement categories that were measured were sharing interest, protection, emotional support, child maintenance, and other family processes. Virtually no studies have ventured into the realm of ritualization, distance regulation, and flexibility for example. Surprisingly, very few ask questions about protection which is a fathering stereotype that is almost universal. Also, it is surprising that few have asked fathers about what activities they wish to or do share with their children (NSFH is one exception on the latter point). This is particularly odd given that many researchers have characterized fathers as being notably interested in play activities.

In sum, recent data collection organizers (e.g., Add Health, PSID, NSFH) are to be applauded for including survey questions that help us better understand father involvement as a complex and intricate construct. They should also be recognized for moving away from the sterile environment of presence/absence questions. However, much work is yet needed. As more conceptual work proceeds and researchers/policymakers begin to agree on central constructs, we will need to wrestle with designing and using measures that provide the broadest picture of father involvement. Ideally, these measures should also appeal to a research community with diverse disciplinary interests.

Summary and Applications

We began this report by discussing our preference for using the term "social fatherhood" to underscore our perspective on conceptualizing fatherhood issues. Thus, we are not merely interested in men who are biological progenitors, although they clearly represent the most important group of men we consider. Being a social father involves a diverse set of ways "fathers" can be involved in their children's lives that may or may not be tied to biological paternity.

An understanding of several general issues is essential as researchers and policymakers approach the task of conceptualizing social fatherhood and paternal involvement. Our broad conceptualization of these issues is informed by four overarching themes:

1. We use the phrases "father involvement" and "paternal involvement" interchangeably to capture the wide range of things fathers do with or for their children. Blankenhorn (drawing on a conservative ideological stance) and Popenoe (relying on the tenets of evolutionary psychology) are likely to take issue with this trend. Blankenhorn in particular suggest that it is folly to think that persons other than biological fathers can replace all of the contributions men and uniquely capable of making to their genetic offspring.

2. Given our recognition of the major social policy issues affecting children in our society, and the limited scope of our report, we focus on fathers' involvement as it relates to minor children. We believe, however, that many of the issues we address are likely to have long-term implications for children once they become adults. Moreover, many of the issues central to our report are directly relevant to those young adults who have not yet become financially self-sufficient.

3. While our report focuses on questions dealing with fathers specifically, we should be mindful that these questions are relevant to the more general public discourses about the definition and meaning of family life in industrialized societies today (see Beutler, Burr, Bahr, and Herrin, 1989; Delaisi de Parseval and Hurstel, 1987; Edwards, 1989; Griswold, 1993; Jurich, 1989; Menaghan, 1989; Scanzoni and Marsiglio, 1993; Scanzoni, Polonko, Teachman and Thompson, 1989).

4. 4. See Blankenhorn (1995) and Popenoe (1996) for notable exceptions to this trend. They both emphasize the biological relationship as the only legitimate way to conceptualize fatherhood. Each also suggests that it is folly to think that persons other than biological fathers can replace all of the contributions men are uniquely capable of making to their genetic offspring. These views are often buttressed by an appeal to a religious fundamentalist doctrine.

5. 5. See Fox and Bruce (1996) and Marsiglio (forthcoming) for discussions about how symbolic interactionists theorize the interpersonal processes that foster or hinder men's opportunities to develop a sense of having a "father-like" identity.

6. 6. Some psychoanalytically inclined theorists with interests in object relations theory and self psychology have recently emphasized the need to explore unconventional and controversial innate variables such as "father presence" (see Krampe and Fairweather, 1993).

7. 7. The NICHD working group "Male Fertility and Family Formation/Dissolution" address some issues related to this area.

8. 8.See Nock (forthcoming) for an alternative perspective.

9. The evidence presented in this research does not allow us to determine whether the spending on a higher quality home environment (e.g., a good neighborhood and school system, higher quality child care, or cognitively stimulating toys and books) itself causes better outcomes, or whether that spending is, instead, only a marker for parents who value cognitive success and who spend time nurturing their children's cognitive abilities.

10. The data cited here are reports from custodial mothers. Several studies (Peters and Argys, 1996; Seltzer, 1996; and Smock and Manning, 1996) show that fathers generally report paying more than mothers report receiving.

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