Methods: Data comes from two sources: in the United States, data comes from the Survey of American Fatherhood. SAF is a 2016 quota-sample of 2,242 biological-, step-, adoptive-, and social-fathers in the United States. In Canada, the data comes from the Survey of Canadian Fathers/Enquête des Pères Canadiens (SCF-EPC), a national quota sample of 2,367 fathers (biological/step/adoptive/social) collected in 2018. The two data sets are harmonized for comparability and respondents were asked to answer questions about their youngest child, 2 to 17 years of age. The analysis focuses on four measures of instrumental and emotional parenting: warmth (seven items, a= 0.89), engagement (six items, a= 0.82), positive control (four items, a= 0.89), and harsh discipline (three items, a= 0.72). Measures are developmentally appropriate for child age and are standardized for comparability. Poor health was measured with a dichotomous measure from a global health question. Models were run using OLS regression and controls for sociodemographic, paternal, and child characteristics were included in each model.
Results: Results indicate that poor health was associated with decreased warmth (b= -1.019, p<.001), engagement (b= -0.548, p<.01), and the use of harsh discipline (b= 0.971, p<.001). Further, there were sizeable differences in father involvement between countries, with Canadian fathers scoring 0.30 to 0.60 standard deviations better on each measure of fathering behavior in our sample. In additional models, we included interactions between poor health and country. We found statistically significant effects for warmth and harsh discipline. More specifically, the effect of poor health on parental warmth was more negative for American fathers than Canadian fathers. Further, poor health had a less positive effect on harsh discipline in Canada than in the United States.
Conclusions: Poor health negatively impacts father involvement in both the United States and Canada. Fathers with poor health are less warm, less engaged, and use more harsh discipline than their healthy counterparts. The warmth of parenting by American fathers suffered more due to poor health than it did for Canadian fathers. Additionally, the use of harsh discipline by Canadian fathers increased less than it did for American fathers of similar poor health status. These results suggest that health care delivery, policy, and other contextual factors play an important role in shaping the relationship between health and father involvement. Thus, our results indicate that social policy matters for understanding how health influences family life.