Lower income dads are more likely to take their kids to the zoo than higher income fathers. Dads who embrace traditional gender norms read to their children less frequently. And highly educated men spend more time playing with their kids. These are some of the key findings from a new demographic study in The Journal of Family Issues examining the practical and parental ramifications of men’s beliefs and lifestyle.
“Fathers’ parenting beliefs indeed relate to how they spend time with their kids,” coauthor on the study Tamarie A. Macon of New York University told Fatherly. “Fathers who endorsed traditional gender norms spent less time in caregiving and cognitive activities…. Lower income fathers spent more time with their kids doing what we called infrequent activities and higher income fathers spent more time taking their kids to religious services.”
For the study, Macon and colleagues asked a diverse sample of 478 low-income fathers about their relationships with their two-year-olds and their significant others, their parenting beliefs, and their feelings about the role of men in family life. Fathers also reported how much time they spent participating in 33 different activities with their kids, from reading books to taking day trips.
They found that fathers who adhered to traditional gender norms (it’s difficult for men to expression affectionate feelings toward babies; mothers are naturally better caregivers) spent less time taking care of their kids—a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. On the other hand, men who felt their participation in child rearing mattered were more likely to engage in caregiving.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Macon and her team also found that highly educated fathers spent more engaging in cognitive activities with their kids, such as reading. “One possible reason could be that these fathers have more knowledge about the importance of parenting practices that support children’s language and cognitive development,” Macon says. Meanwhile, less educated parents spurned reading in favor of social activities, such as taking their kids out to visit friends and family.
“It could be particularly important to these fathers that they provide their children with as much social capital as possible,” Macon says. “These fathers might rely more heavily on extended kinship networks for multiple kinds of support, including access to resources, connections to other people and information, and help raising their kids.”
Income also played a role. Although the entire sample examined low-income fathers, those with relatively less cash were more likely to participate in “infrequent activities” with their kids, such as visiting the zoo or caring for them when sick. Those with relatively more disposable income spent more time taking their kids to “frequent activities”, such as religious services. “Perhaps lower-income fathers within this low-income sample had more flexible work schedules to allow them to engage with their kids in such rare events,” Macon says. “And it could be that the higher income fathers had less availability during the workweek and focused their involvement on weekend activities, such as attending religious services.”
Macon says her research could help stakeholders craft interventions aimed at increasing fathers’ involvement with their kids. “Paying attention to men’s views about their role in families could result in changes in how they invest time and resources in their children,” she says. “Interventions designed to increase fathers’ interaction with their kids in literacy activities might attend to a father’s level of education as well as his gendered beliefs about family roles.”
But far more important, Macon says, is that fathers recognize that their own preconceived notions may be holding them back from better relationships with their kids. And it doesn’t have to—because dads can overcome these statistics, by looking inward. “If you want to spend more quality time with your kids, consider whether you have any limiting beliefs that may be holding you back,” Macon says. “Are there ways that I think about my role as a father that facilitate or obstruct me from spending time with my kids? Do I understand how important I am in my child’s life? Do I hold stereotypical beliefs about what mothers should do and what fathers should do?”
“If there is something you can do to change it, do it.”