Abstract: Masculine Norm Adherence and Fathers' Risk for Child Maltreatment (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Masculine Norm Adherence and Fathers' Risk for Child Maltreatment

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Hospitality 3 - Room 432, 4th Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Kevn Shafer, Associate Professor, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
Garrett Pace, MSW, PhD Candidate, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI
Alex Wambach, BS, Doctoral Student, Brown University
Background and Purpose: Fathers today are more involved in their children’s lives, including in parental discipline. Parental discipline affects children’s short- and long-term wellbeing. In particular, harsh discipline is a risk factor for child maltreatment. One barrier fathers might face in their efforts to positively discipline their children is adherence to traditional masculine norms. Prior research has linked traditional masculine norms to men’s violence against women. Yet, little research has examined how traditional masculine norms might explain how fathers discipline their children. This study aims to fill this gap by examining the relationship between fathers’ adherence to traditional masculine norms and their likelihood of using various disciplinary strategies.

Methods: Data come from the Survey of Contemporary Fatherhood (SCF). SCF is a cross-sectional online quota sample of biological, adoptive, and step fathers in the United States (n = 1,172). While not nationally representative, the demographics of the sample are similar to Census regional estimates. Dependent variables were modified from the Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scale (Straus, 1998). Fathers indicated on a 4-point Likert scale how likely they would use each disciplinary strategy with a focal child aged 2 to 8. There were three harsh discipline items (spanking, hitting, and screaming/yelling/cursing at the child), four lite positive discipline items (sending a child to time out, taking away privileges, giving the child extra chores, and warning them about their misbehavior), and one strong positive item (discussing and/or reasoning about problematic behaviors). Masculinity was measured using the 22-item Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory (Mahalik et al., 2003). Fathers indicated on a 4-point Likert scale the extent to which they agreed with items across 11 domains (emotional stoicism, centrality of work, risk-taking behaviors, endorsement of violence, heterosexual self-presentation, sexual activity, help-seeking reluctance, need to control women, need to control social situations, pursuit of status). The first set of statistical models included masculinity as the sum of all items, and a second set of models included the 11 domains as separate variables modeled simultaneously. Covariates included race/ethnicity, age, income, employment, own father involvement, religiosity, prenatal engagement, number of children, sexual identity, whether child is non-biological or non-residential, child sex, child age, and relationship status with coparent.

Results: Ordinal logistic regression models indicated that masculinity was positively associated with the use of harsh discipline (Spank: OR = 1.83, p < .001; Hit: OR = 2.09, p < .001; Scream: OR) and negatively associated with all positive disciplinary strategies, except removing privileges for children (Timeout: 0.84, p <.01; Privilege: 0.99, p = NS; Chores: 1.17, p <.01; Warn: 0.84, p < .01; Talk: 0.73, p < .001). Aspects of masculinity that can be labeled as “toxic” (e.g., the need to control women) appear to be driving these results.

Conclusions and Implications: Since harsh discipline is a risk factor for child maltreatment perpetration and fathers are implicated in over 40% of substantiated cases of maltreatment (U.S. Department of Human Services, 2022), challenging fathers to rethink their relationship with masculinity may prevent child maltreatment and promote positive father-child relationships.