Modern dads are a lot more involved in all aspects of childcare than dads of previous generations, and a new study shows that this change is a lot more important for kids’ development than we previously thought.
To gauge the impact of dads providing care to newborns, infants, and toddlers, researchers in Japan examined data collected from 28,050 children for the Japan Environment and Children’s Study to examine developmental outcomes for children in relation to the amount of paternal care they received as infants.
In Japan, where the study was based, the distinction between childcare gender roles and the division of labor is especially stark. For generations, men were expected to commit fully to their careers. Not only were they not involved in childrearing, but in most cases, they weren’t even home for a majority of the day, leaving all the child care and home-related tasks to women. In recent decades, like in other developed countries, there has been a shift in Japan, and men are contributing more at home while women are entering the workforce more often than in previous generations. According to the study authors, the “Japan is witnessing a paradigm shift in its parenting culture. Fathers are increasingly getting involved in childcare-related parental activities.”
“In developed countries, the time fathers spend on childcare has increased steadily in recent decades. However, studies on the relationship between paternal care and child outcomes remain scarce. In this study, we examined the association between paternal involvement in childcare and children’s developmental outcomes,” Dr. Tsuguhiko Kato from the National Center for Child Health and Development and Doshisha University Center for Baby Science said in a statement for the study.
Dr. Kato and his team designed a points system based on the fathers’ involvement in everyday childcare tasks when infants were 6 months old, including bedtime duties, diaper changes, bathing, helping children get dressed, and more. Fathers who never offered to help with a specific duty were given a score of zero for that task, while fathers who always performed a certain task received a score of four, with those who sometimes did a task receiving a score between those numbers. The team also analyzed maternal stress levels related to parenting duties and childcare. Scores were tallied and compared to levels of developmental delay as diagnosed by the Ages and Stages questionnaire when children were 3 years old.
The researchers found that children with highly involved fathers were less likely to develop gross-motor, fine-motor, problem-solving, and personal-social delays than children with less involved fathers. They also observed that maternal stress was significantly decreased when fathers were more involved in childcare.
“Our research findings indicate that increased paternal engagement in childcare could yield advantages for both children and mothers alike,” Dr. Kato said.
The study was limited to only first-born children, and all paternal involvement was self-reported, leaving room for error. More research is needed to determine if these results are repeatable across demographics and cultures.
The study adds to previous research, like numerous studies done by Richard Petts, a sociologist specializing in paid parental leave research. He found that dads who take time off when their baby is born are more attached to their child, more in tune with their partner, and are better co-parents.
Other research finds that kids with close relationships with their dads have better outcomes. The benefit of having an engaged dad — kids are more likely to get high-paying jobs, more likely to avoid high-risk behaviors, and less likely to develop psychological problems later on — is called “the father effect.” Studies have also found that dads are incredibly important to infants and toddlers in particular; children benefit when dads are involved in everyday tasks.
In other words, the “father effect” is real, and it has a major impact on kids.