Disagreement in Mother-Father Reports of Father Involvement in Low-Income Minority Families
Extensive research has documented the importance of fathering in child development. As fathering is more carefully studied, the multidimensional nature of father involvement and fathers’ role in parenting has become increasingly evident. Despite widespread agreement about the value of fathers in children’s lives and recent efforts to improve theoretical, practice and methodological standards (Hernandez & Coley, 2007), there remains limited understanding needed to move the field forward. Limitations include the exclusion of father reports, questionable validity about mothers’ reports of father involvement, and the reliance on simplistic measures of fathering (Coley & Morris, 2002). This study is intended to extend knowledge by comparing mother-father responses to father involvement questions and examining the factors that predict disagreement between father’s and mother’s reports of father involvement.
This study utilized data from the Chicago Youth Development Study, a 17-year longitudinal study of minority men (and their partners in cases of fathers) living in inner-city Chicago that examined development, paternity, father involvement, parenting, and child functioning. The analytic sample included 114 fathers and their 190 children. The outcome variables include the discrepancy between father and mother reports of: 1) fathers’ access to his children (1=never sees child, 6=sees child anytime), 2) whether the father sees his children (1=never, 5=everyday), and 3) an 8-item scale measuring fathers’ financial contribution to their children. Predictor variables include parental relationship quality and relationship status. Multilevel linear models examined the effects of father- and child-level predictors on the outcome variables adjusting for clustering of children within fathers. All models included key control variables for fathers (marital status, education, income, race), mothers (education), and children (age, gender, biological status, fathers’ residence).
Descriptive analyses suggest a significant effect for fathers’ financial contributions, t(189) = 5.86, p < .000, with fathers reporting higher levels of payments toward child expenses compared to mothers’ reports and a marginal effect for fathers’ accessibility to his children, t(189) = 1.76, p = .08, with fathers reporting less access compared to mothers’ reports. Findings from hierarchical linear models indicated that on average, being single versus married (p < .001) and having poor relationship quality (p < .02) predicts greater disagreement about fathers’ payments toward child expenses. Father residency with the child (p < .001) and being single versus married (p < .001) were both associated with greater disagreement regarding fathers seeing their children; mothers education predicted less disagreement (p < .07). Being single compared to married (p < .02) was associated with greater disagreement regarding fathers’ perception of access to his children.
In the context of increased father absence and family dissolution, direct father reports of father involvement is a critical step in improving our understanding of how fathers contribute to children’s well-being. This study suggests mother-father disagreement on measures of father involvement is likely and can be predicted by certain social and demographic factors. Implications of the study are valuable to social workers as it provides insight into how different sources of information on fathers may influence practice and policy decisions.