Fatherhood Institute Research Summary: Fathers’ Influence Over Children’s Education

20 March 2007

FATHERS’ IMPACT ON THEIR CHILDREN’S EDUCATION AND ACHIEVEMENT

Messages from Research


Involved fathers and child development

Before we specifically look at fathers’ influence on children’s education and learning, it’s important to understand fathers’ influence on the ‘whole child’, particularly since personality characteristics such as self-esteem, self-efficacy and locus of control are emerging as key predictors children’s ultimate achievement.

Since 1975, an increasingly sophisticated body of research has been charting the pathways through which fathers influence their children’s development. A recent systematic review of studies (taking account of mothers’ involvement and gathered data from different independent sources ), found ‘positive’ father involvement associated with a range of desirable outcomes for children and young people.

The positive outcomes include: better peer relationships; fewer behaviour problems; lower criminality and substance abuse; higher educational / occupational mobility relative to parents’; capacity for empathy; non-traditional attitudes to earning and childcare; more satisfying adult sexual partnerships; and higher self-esteem, life-satisfaction and ‘locus of control’ – that is, the belief that they can control much of what happens to them in life (Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2004). All this is relevant to children’s educational outcomes, since ‘better functioning’ in life in general tends to enable better functioning in an educational/achievement sense.

Of course, fathers, like mothers, can also influence their children’s development in negative ways – and this is now recognised to be a very important reason for engaging with them. Low levels of father involvement are associated with a range of negative outcomes in children (for review, see Flouri, 2005). Poor outcomes for children are also found where fathers (and father-figures) parent in negative ways or are seriously troubled themselves (for review, see Lloyd et al, 2003). Poor outcomes in children are also associated with their fathers’ substance misuse (Velleman, 2004, p.188) and with fathers’ abuse of their children’s mothers (Jaffee et al, 1990) .

It has often been argued that no father is better than a bad father. That can of course be true – just as no mother can be better than a bad mother. However, seeking to improve fathers’ behaviour should be the first port of call – since ‘ending’ the father-child relationship generally brings its own problems, and many fathers, once they are engaged with, can change their behaviour in a positive direction.
Although in some cases removing the father improves the situation for children, research shows that their situation more often becomes worse (Guterman & Lee, 2005). And when children do not see their fathers, or do not see them very much, they often demonise or idealise them (Kraemer, 2005; Gorrell Barnes et al, 1998) or blame themselves for their father’s absence (Pryor & Rodgers, 2001).

Being ‘without my dad’ causes most children and young people a lot of distress, anger and self-doubt (Fortin et al, 2006; Laumann-Billings & Emery, 1998); and can contribute to difficulties with peer relationships, including bullying (Parke et al, 2004; Berdondini & Smith, 1996). And when fathers’ absence leaves mothers more stressed because they are struggling to parent alone or because they have less money, then children suffer again (McLanahan, 1997; McLanahan & Teitler, 1999).

Fathers and children’s education

Helping fathers be the ‘best fathers they can be’ is therefore of enormous importance to children. So is helping fathers be as involved as possible in their children’s learning and education. Children, both boys and girls, benefit enormously from this. And what matters most is not how much time fathers spend with their children, but the quality of what they do when the are together..

Several reliable studies have shown that high levels of interest by a father in his child’s schooling and education, his high expectations for their achievement and his greater direct involvement in their learning, education and schools, are associated with their better educational outcomes. These include: better exam / test / class results; higher levels of educational qualification; greater progress at school; better attitudes towards school (e.g. enjoyment); higher educational expectations; and better behaviour at school (e.g. reduced risk of suspension or expulsion).

One high quality study demonstrated that a father’s interest in his child’s education is one of the most important factors governing the qualifications he or she will grow up to have in adult life – more important than family background, the child’s individual personality, or poverty. It may well be that the time fathers actually spend with their children on homework and schooling could be more important for their eventual success than the money they bring into the household (for review see Goldman, 2005).

Fathers’ affection, support and ‘authoritative’ parenting style are also clearly related to children’s better educational outcomes; just as poor parenting by fathers is associated with children’s worse educational attainment. Where children’s educational development is concerned, fathers appear to have a unique range of skills and experience to pass on. Mothers’ involvement is no substitute for fathers’ involvement – although of course it is very important in itself.

The range of positive educational outcomes found when fathers are involved in their children’s learning and in their schools is not simply a result of better-resourced-and-educated fathers being more involved. Here are some specific findings:

• Frequency of fathers’ reading to 1-2 year olds is linked with their greater interest in books later (Lyytinen et al, 1998).

• A significant relationship is found between positive father engagement at age 6, and IQ and educational achievement at age 7 (Gottfried et al, 1988).

• A father’s own education level is an important predictor of his child’s educational achievement.

• English fathers’ involvement with their children (at ages 7 and 11) correlates with better national examination performance at age 16 (Lewis et al, 1982).

• US fathers’ involvement in routine childcare has been associated with children’s higher school grades (Hoffman & Youngblade, 1999).

• Low paternal interest in children’s education has a stronger negative impact on children’s lack of qualifications than contact with the police, poverty, family type, social class, housing tenure and child’s personality (Blanden, 2006).

Findings vary as to the relative importance of mothers’ v. fathers’ influence on educational achievement – no consistent pattern emerges from research evidence. The following studies have charted more powerful influence from fathers in specific circumstances:

• In low income communities, fathers’ influence has been found to be more significant than mothers’ for boys’ (but not girls’) escape from disadvantage.

• Fathers exert greater influence than mothers on boys’ educational choices.

• Fathers’ risk-avoidance behavior has a positive impact on sons’ (but not daughters’) educational attainment.

• Fathers’ income predicts sons’ (but not daughters’) years of schooling.

• In hierarchical communities, fathers’ influence may be more powerful on children of both sexes.

REFERENCES

Ang, R.P. (2006). Fathers do matter: evidence from an Asian school-based aggressive sample. American Journal of Family Therapy, 34, 79-93.

Berdondini, L., & Smith, P.K. (1996). Cohesion and power in the families of children involved in bully-victim problems at school: an Italian replication, Journal of Family Therapy, 18, 99-102.

Blanden, J. (2006). ‘Bucking the trend’: What enables those who are disadvantaged in childhood to succeed later in life? Working Paper No 31 Corporate Document Services. London: Department for Work and Pensions.

Dryler, H. (1998). Parental role models, gender and educational choice. British Journal of Sociology, 49(3), 375-398.

Flouri, E. (2005). Fathering & Child Outcomes. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons.

Fortin, J., Ritchie, C., & Buchanan, A. (2006). Young adults’ perceptions of court-ordered contact. Child and Family Law Quarterly, 18(2), 211-229.

Goldman, R. (2005). Fathers’ Involvement in their Children’s Education. London: National Family and Parenting Institute

Gorrell Barnes, G., Thompson, P., Daniel, G., & Burchardt, N. (1998). Growing up in Stepfamilies. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Guterman, N.B., & Lee, Y. (2005). The role of fathers in risk for physical child abuse and neglect: possible pathways and unanswered questions. Child Maltreatment, 10(2), 136-149.

Hoffman, L.W., & Youngblade, L.M. (1999). Mothers at work: Effects on children’s well-being. New York: Cambridge University Press.

rienJaffee, S.R., Wolfe, D. & Wilson, S. (1990). Children of Battered Women. London: Sage Publications

Kraemer, S. (2005): Narratives of fathers and sons: there is no such thing as a father. In A. Vetere & E. Dowling (eds.), Narrative Therapies with Children and their Families: A Practitioners Guide to Concepts and Approaches. London: Brunner/Routledge.

Laumann-Billings, L.L., & Emery, R.E. (1998). Young adults’ painful feelings about parental divorce. Unpublished paper, University of Virginia.

Leinonen, J.A., Solantaus, T.S., & Punamaki, R.-L. (2003). Parental mental health and children’s mental health adjustment: the quality of marital interaction and parenting as mediating factors. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 44, 227-241.

Lewis, C., Newson, L J., & Newson, E. (1982). Father participation through childhood. In N. Beail & J. McGuire (eds.)., Fathers: Psychological Perspectives. London: Junction.

Lloyd, N., O’Brien, M., & Lewis, C. (2003). Fathers in Sure Start Local Programmes. Report 04 National Evaluation of Sure Start. London: Birkbeck, University of London.

Lyytinen, P., Laasko, M., & Poikkeus, S. (1998). Parental contribution to child’s early language and interest in books. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 13, 297-308.

McBride, B.A., Schoppe-Sullivan S.J., & Ho, M.H. (2005). The mediating role of fathers’ school involvement on students’ achievement. Applied Developmental Psychology, 26, 201-216.

McBride, C.M., Baucom, D.H., Peterson, B.L. Pollack, K.I., Palmer, C., Westman, E. et al (2004). Prenatal and postpartum smoking abstinence: a partner-assisted approach. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 27(3), 232-238.

McLanahan, S.S. (1997). Paternal absence or poverty: which matters more? In G. Duncan & J. Brooks-Gunn (eds.), Consequences of Growing Up Poor. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

McLanahan, S., & Teitler, J. (1999). The consequences of father absence. In M.E. Lamb (ed.), Parenting and Child Development in ‘Nontraditional Families’. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Parke, R.D., Dennis, J., Flyr, J.L., Morris, K.L., Killian, C., McDowell, D.J., et al (2004). Fathering and children’s peer relationships. In M.E. Lamb (ed.), The Role of the Father in Child Development (4th ed.). Hoboken NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Pleck, J.H., & Masciadrelli, B.P. (2004). Paternal Involvement by U.S. residential fathers: levels, sources and consequences. In M.E. Lamb (ed.), The Role of the Father in Child Development (4th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Pryor, J., & Rodgers, B. (2001). Children in Changing Families: life after parental separation. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

Velleman, R. (2004). Alcohol and drug problems in parents: an overview of the impact on children and implications for practice. In M. Gopfert, J. Webster & M.V. Seeman (eds.), Parental Psychiatric Disorder: distressed parents and their families (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Yeung, W.J. (2004). Fathers: an overlooked resource for children’s school success. In D. Conley & K. Albright (eds.), After the Bell: Solutions Outside the School. London: Routledge.

© Fathers Direct, February 2007

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