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The role of the father in child development and the intergenerational transmission of inequality: Linking sociological stratification questions to developmental psychology research

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - FATHERCHILD (The role of the father in child development and the intergenerational transmission of inequality: Linking sociological stratification questions to developmental psychology research)

Reporting period: 2019-07-01 to 2020-12-31

The key objective of my FATHERCHILD project is to provide novel insights into the questions whether, why, and in what ways, fathers influence their children’s social, behavioral, emotional, and cognitive outcomes. More specifically, this project investigates how inequalities in child outcomes develop through fathers’ parenting practices across childhood and adolescence, and how context may buffer or strengthen fathers’ role in this development of inequalities. The idea underlying the proposed research is that much can be learned about fathers’ role in child outcomes by linking sociological stratification questions to developmental psychology research on father involvement. The relevance of the current project is apparent: inequality is rising all across Europe, people are increasingly relying on their families to get by, and father involvement has become more polarized according to fathers’ socioeconomic position over the decades.
The project aims to be innovative in four ways. Firstly, the application of new observation methods and state-of-the-art analytical techniques allows me to tap into the mechanisms underlying fathers’ influence on child outcomes. Second, the use of multi-actor data enables me to assess the relative importance of fathers as transmitters of inequality in the context of the wider family. Thirdly, by expanding the focus beyond the early years of children’s lives, it is possible to obtain a comprehensive understanding of how and why fathers’ role in the transmission of inequality changes across childhood and adolescence. Finally, an important contribution of the project is its potential to compare fathers’ impact on child outcomes longitudinally across three countries, allowing me to investigate the extent to which and why there is cross-national variation in the development of inequalities through fathers’ parenting practices.
Subproject 1:

Between April 2018 and February 2020, we have visited 105 families in and around the city of Rotterdam for the 3HOEK (Triangle) research (www.driehoekonderzoek.nl). The data collection was completing within the original time plan, which is something to be even more happy about given the current crisis. During these visits, we have collected an abundance of video data, which is currently used to observe and code parenting behavior of both fathers and mothers while interacting with their child. What is important to note here is that the coding of the video material is slightly delayed due to the corona-crisis and the fact that our student assistants now have to work from home and cannot code the video’s.

Data of the 3HOEK research is currently used in six (working) papers. Below I'll highlight one.

Paper: Are Fathers More Vulnerable? Cross-Partner Linkages Between Maternal and Paternal Parenting Stress and Parent’s Sensitivity Towards their Child

With the use of the collected triangle data, the aim of this paper is to examine how parenting stress is associated to the quality of parenting behavior (observed parental sensitivity). We are interested to see whether these associations might differ for fathers and mothers, and whether fathers’ parenting stress is also associated to mothers’ parenting behavior (and vice versa). In addition, we want to examine whether these associations might be moderated by family SES, as parents’ with a high education might have more resources to help them cope with parenting stress. Work in progress

Subproject 2:

Three (working) papers have so far been the result from subproject 2. Below I'll highlight one.

Paper: The relation between harsh parenting and bullying involvement and the moderating role of child inhibitory control: A population-based study.

In this project, we examined whether the relationships between early maternal and paternal harsh parenting and child bullying involvement differ by child inhibitory control and child sex. We analyzed multi-informant questionnaire data for 2,131 families participating in the Generation R Study. Our findings highlight that experiencing harsh parenting at the age of three increases the likelihood of becoming a bully, a victim, or a bully-victim at the age of six. Furthermore, the found associations were nuanced by child sex and inhibitory control level, which contribute to the literature on harsh parenting and bullying involvement. This paper is currently under review.

Subproject 3:

Four (working) papers have so far been the result from subproject 3. Below, I'll highlight one.

Paper: The influence of fathers and mothers equally sharing childcare responsibilities on children’s cognitive development from early childhood to school age: An overlooked mechanism in the intergenerational transmission of (dis)advantages

In this paper, we examined whether the extent to which fathers and mothers equally share childcare responsibilities plays an important role in the intergenerational transmission of (dis)advantages. Using data from 2,027 families in a Dutch prospective cohort study, our structural equation modelling analyses showed direct effects of equally sharing responsibilities for playful activities on children’s cognitive development. Additionally, our study yielded some evidence for the hypothesis that equally sharing responsibilities for playful activities mediates the impact of parents’ educational attainment on children’s cognitive development. This suggests that the extent to which fathers and mothers equally share childcare responsibilities functions as an underlying mechanism for maintaining social class disparities in children’s cognitive development. Our findings also suggest that policies and programmes that encourage fathers and mothers to equally share playful activities may help promote children’s cognitive development. Published in European Sociological Review.

Subproject 4:

Two (working) papers have so far been the result from subproject 4. Below, I'll highlight one.

Paper 1 Parental Job Loss and Early Child Development in the Great Recession

We examine if and how parental job loss affects child development during pre-school age. We rely on cohort data from Ireland, collected around the time of the Great Recession (Growing Up in Ireland, 2008-2013). Our analyses focus on both maternal and paternal job loss, and how each may affect children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development via the paths theorised by “family investment” and “family stress” models. The latter investigation is carried out by means of state-of-the-art mediation analysis. The paper received an R&R from an international peer-reviewed journal.