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Time With The Kids Is Good For Dads, But So Is Providing For The Family

It’s no surprise that children benefit when fathers take a bigger role in raising them. But it turns out that fathers benefit greatly, too.

A new report titled State of the World’s Fathers, supported in part by the United Nations Population Fund, found that engaged dads live longer than those without close relationships with their children. The report, which aggregated hundreds of studies on the role of the father in household and child work, also found that they experience fewer mental or physical health issues, work more productively in the office and report being happier.

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Fatherhood might also affect men’s behavior more broadly; the study notes a potential decrease in violence and drug abuse. “The bond of empathy formed when children are young may contribute to reduced violence among fathers,” the report says.

But dads can also reap psychological rewards by contributing financially to their families as breadwinners, according to other research.

In a 2010 paper on fathers’ psychological well-being, Holly Schindler analyzed a sample of 538 resident fathers who participated in the Panel Study of Income Dynamics’ Child Development Supplement. Schindler found that both engagement with children and financial contributions were significant predictors of improvements in dads’ psychological state.

Higher levels of both engagement and financial contributions to start with, as well as increases in each over time, were correlated with improved psychological well-being, Schindler found. Increases in fathers’ financial contributions produced improvements in all three measures: self-esteem, self-efficacy and psychological distress.1

A 2011 survey of 963 fathers by Boston College’s Center for Work and Family found that about two-thirds evenly balanced earning money to meet their children’s needs and caring for their children. But while men may be taking on more responsibility at home, some dads aren’t as willing to relinquish their financial roles: Nearly 15 percent named “mostly earning money to meet my child’s financial needs, but also providing some physical/emotional care for him/her” as their primary paternal responsibility. And, according to a survey by Pew Research Center, a 75 percent plurality among fathers with children under 18 say working full time is ideal for them.

Research continues to show fathers’ shifting images of their familial role, but being an economic provider remains a priority. But one thing hasn’t changed: According to the State of the World’s Fathers report, women still spend a disproportionate amount of time — up to 10 times more than men — tending to children. Even when accounting for work outside the home, combined paid and unpaid work consumes more of mothers’ time than fathers’. The gap is narrowing, but the evolution of traditional gender roles still has a ways to go.

Footnotes

  1. Importantly, the research demonstrates a well-known parental role strain between employment and home time, one that is even more complex for low-income families. However, low response rates among households with low incomes and more dependents, as well as exclusion of nonresident fathers, limits the findings’ applicability to those cohorts.

Hannah Fingerhut is a former data reporting intern for FiveThirtyEight.

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