Abstract: Expectant Fathers' Early Fathering Beliefs: The Influence of Egalitarian Sex Role Beliefs and Maltreatment History (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Expectant Fathers' Early Fathering Beliefs: The Influence of Egalitarian Sex Role Beliefs and Maltreatment History

Friday, January 17, 2020
Independence BR A, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Carolyn Dayton, PhD, Associate Professor, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Suzanne Brown, PhD, Associate Professor, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Laurel Hicks, MSW, PhD Student, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Jessica Goletz, BA, Student, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Carla Barron, MSW, PhD Candidate, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Background and Purpose: The parent-infant relationship begins during pregnancy for both mothers and fathers – and facilitates positive early parenting behaviors. When fathers are involved in the early lives of their children, maternal and child outcomes improve; including better prenatal, birth, and neonatal health outcomes and lower per-infant healthcare costs. Many factors are associated with early parenting quality including the parent’s own maltreatment history, parental attachment representations and the relationship with the co-parenting partner. Gendered beliefs about the importance of fathers in providing nurturance to young children may affect father engagement in early parenting and, therefore, the degree to which young children benefit from their involvement. When fathers believe they are important to their children’s growth and development, they’re more likely to form positive early relationships with them. For children growing up in neighborhoods affected by poverty and violence, active and engaged early fathering can provide support that young children need to overcome environmental adversity by increasing social-emotional coping strategies and supporting cognitive development. The aim of this study was to examine factors associated with fathers’ beliefs about the influence of fathering on young children’s health and development.

Methods:  Self-report survey data were collected from 51 urban-dwelling expectant (3rd trimester) fathers exposed to contextual adversity- including poverty and violence, enrolled in a larger study on risk and protective factors in expectant parents. Fathers’ beliefs about fathering were assessed using the Role of the Father Questionnaire (Palkovitz, 1984). Using OLS linear regression we examined the influence of fathers’ beliefs about sex role equality (Sex Role Egalitarianism Scale), fathers’ child maltreatment history (Childhood Trauma Questionnaire), fathers’ attachment avoidance (Experiences in Close Relationships Scale-R), and fathers’ relationships with the mother of their child (Dyadic Adjustment Scale-R) on fathers’ belief in the importance of fathering.

Results:  The overall model significantly (F(4, 37)=8.82, p<.001) predicted 52% of the variance in fathers’ beliefs about the importance of fathering on the health and development of their infant.  Sex role beliefs (β=.25, p<.01) were positively associated, as more egalitarian sex-role views were associated with greater importance placed on the role of the father. History of child maltreatment (β=-.17, p<.05) was negatively associated, as greater exposure to child maltreatment was associated with lower beliefs in the importance of fathers.      

Conclusion:  Prior work has established the influence of a father’s beliefs about the importance of early fathering on his prenatal bonding with his infant and with later parenting behaviors.  This study suggests that fathers who adhere to more stereotypical sex roles and who have experienced maltreatment in their own histories are less likely to believe that early fathering is important in the lives of young children.  Social work interventions that aim to increase father involvement in early child rearing should account for paternal histories of maltreatment in assessment and treatment protocols.  Resolution of issues related to prior maltreatment may help fathers imagine a different fathering role with their own children.  Co-parenting interventions aimed at increasing paternal involvement could target stereotypical sex role beliefs that may be barriers to father involvement.