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.