Abstract: Fathers' Reasons for Having Children, Developmentally Attuned Cognitive Stimulation, and Young Children's Psychosocial Functioning in Mainland China (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

539P Fathers' Reasons for Having Children, Developmentally Attuned Cognitive Stimulation, and Young Children's Psychosocial Functioning in Mainland China

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Emma Sterrett-Hong, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY
Donghang Zhang, Doctoral Student, University of Louisville, KY
Background.  The reasons that motivate individuals to have children has received increasing empirical attention in various cultural contexts (Borisenko, Belogay, Morozov, & Ott, 2016; Kim, Park, Kwon, & Koo, 2005).  Qualitative work has generally divided these reasons into utilitarian, or related to achieving objective goals, and emotional/psychological, or related to emotional experiences (Borisenko et al., 2016; Kim et al., 2005). Few studies, in any cultural setting, have examined whether reasons for having children are associated with child psychosocial adjustment, or potential mechanisms of associations, and even fewer have examined these links among fathers.  In traditional Chinese culture there is an emphasis on hierarchy and organization in society, and by extension, in families (Zhou & Hao, 1999).  In the current study, associations between Chinese fathers’ motivations for having children and their young children’s psychosocial functioning, as well as whether caregiver engagement in developmentally attuned cognitive stimulation mediates those associations, will be examined. 

Method.  The China Family Panel Study is a large-scale, longitudinal cohort study of families in mainland China.  For this study, fathers of a child ages three to six (n = 410) responded to questions regarding their reasons for having a child, including one utilitarian (“to help my family economically”), one emotional/psychological (“for the pleasure of watching them grow”), and one that is both utilitarian and emotional/psychological (“to strengthen connections with relatives”), with lower scores indicating stronger endorsement.  Father-report on the cognitive stimulation scale measured fathers’ and other family members’ use of strategies such as, “How often do you/family members use a toy/game to help child distinguish shapes,” with higher scores indicating more frequent engagement.  Finally, the child psychosocial adjustment scale was adapted from the Positive Behavior Scale (Quint, Bos, and Polit, 1997).  An example item is, “Child can get over being upset quickly,” with lower scores indicating more positive functioning.

Results.  In regression analyses, strongly endorsing one reason for child-bearing, to increase economic security, b = . 28, p  < .01, and higher levels of caregiver cognitive stimulation, b = -. 24, p  < .01, were significantly associated with more positive child psychosocial adjustment.  In mediation analyses using the process macro for SPSS (Hayes, 2017) with 10,000 bootstraps, caregiver cognitive stimulation partially mediated the relationship between the economic security reason for child-bearing and child psychosocial functioning, indirect effect = -.30, Confidence Interval = -.66 to -.06. 

Conclusions and Implications.  This study highlights the importance of evaluating the usefulness of parenting beliefs with reference to the cultural values within which parenting is embedded.  While utilitarian reasons for having children may not be deemed preferable in a Western context, in this study, conducted in China, such a reason was linked to more optimal parental engagement and child psychosocial functioning, which may be potentially related to the reason’s alignment with Chinese cultural values for social structure.  Potential future directions for research include examination of the effect of other parenting behaviors exhibited by fathers, and the development of programs that teach fathers how to utilize developmentally appropriate methods for engaging their children.