NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Don't Underestimate the Power of a Father's Presence

June 13, 2003

Worldwide interest in the contribution fathers make to their children's development inspired research with compelling results: A father's interaction with his children is even more powerful than mom's in some cases.

According to researchers, fathers have an important influence over their children's development. For instance, the child's bond with the father at age five was shown to have a bigger effect on development than the child-mother bond in a study at Catholic University in Belgium. Researchers found that:

  • Children less attached to their fathers at age five were, at age nine, more anxious and withdrawn, less self-confident, and less likely to be both warmly accepted by their peer group or well-adjusted at school.
  • A mother-child relationship of similar strength produced less of a sense of self-worth and less ability to form close, one-on-one relationships.

A 16-year study of 44 families published by the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) found that encouraging, stimulating father-child play builds a strong foundation for a child's ability to form enduring relationships with others later in life, comparable to the strength of the mother-infant bond.

University of Maryland research has pinpointed work as a factor that can interfere with healthy father-child bonds:

  • Although it may sound obvious, fathers who work long hours tend to spend less time with their kids; but the same isn't true for mothers -- moms working long hours spend the same amount of time with their children as those with fewer hours of work.
  • And dads with higher incomes spend less time engaged in activities with their kids, even after adjusting for the effects of working long hours.

Source: Sue Shellenbarger, "Move Over, Mom: Research Suggests Dad's Role Sometimes Matters More," Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2003.


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