The Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics was founded in 1994 and formally established by Executive Order in April 1997 to foster the coordination and integration of the collection and reporting of data on children and families. The Forum's first publication, America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, has provided an easy-to-understand portrait of the well-being of our Nation's children, that brings together data on children from a variety of federal agencies and sources. The publication of Nurturing Fatherhood: Improving Data and Research on Male Fertility, Family Formation and Fatherhood, demonstrates that working together in public-private partnerships can greatly increase our understanding of the complex family and community context in which children grow and develop.
The purpose of this volume is to share with federal statistical agencies, federal and state policy-makers and the broad family and child well-being research community the results of a multi-year process by the Forum to review and analyze the state of data collection and research on male fertility, family formation, and fathering. This review considered what data has been collected about male fertility, family formation, and fathering, the quality of that data, what has have learned from the analysis of the data, what theoretical and empirical work remains to be done, and how the federal government can best build on current knowledge to expand our understanding of these complex areas of human behavior. It is believed that the results of this review will be a strong foundation for additional data collection and research within the public and private sectors.
This volume uses the term fathering in its broadest sense; it covers the activities and behaviors of a biological father toward his child and the actions and activities that lead to and are related to becoming a father--male fertility and family formation. This volume and the review upon which this volume is based focused primarily on data collection and research on biological fathers; however, research efforts should not ignore the importance and significance of other fathering relationships. Stepfathers, grandfathers, maternal uncles and next-door neighbors all may "father" a child. Whether such fathering is an adequate substitute for the care and commitment of a biological father is one of the questions for research efforts to address.
In January of 1996, the Data Collection Committee recommended that the Forum undertake as one of its first agenda items the exploration of the adequacy of research and data collection on the issue of fatherhood. This recommendation reflected a fortunate convergence of policy and scientific interest in the topic. In June of 1995, President Clinton issued a memorandum to the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies on supporting the role of fathers in families. In that memorandum, the President asked for a review of agency activities in four areas. These areas were:
Ensure, where appropriate, and consistent with program objectives, that programs seek to engage and meaningfully include fathers.
Proactively modify those programs that were designed to serve primarily mothers and children, where appropriate and consistent with program objectives, to explicitly include fathers and strengthen their involvement with their children.
Include evidence of father involvement and participation, where appropriate, in measuring the success of programs.
Incorporate fathers, where appropriate, in government-initiated research regarding children and their families.
The last two areas were directly related to the information collection and research activities of the federal government.
Unrelated to this governmental review, but in the initial planning stages, were two research conferences on issues related to families and fathers to be held in 1996. Two branches within the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), were planning a conference to review findings on family functioning from their small scale clinical research. The NICHD Family and Child Well-Being Research Network was also planning a conference to explore what was known and what could be learned about fathers and their impact on child development from large scale national survey data. Using the Presidential mandate and the already planned conferences as building blocks for a comprehensive review, the Data Collection Committee outlined for the Forum a series of activities designed to improve the capacity of the federal statistical system to conceptualize, measure, and gather information from men about their fertility and roles as fathers. These activities and related meetings would culminate with a report to the Forum.
Four major meetings were held as a part of this review.
The Town Meeting on Fathering and Male Fertility
Conference on Developmental, Ethnographic, and Demographic Perspectives on Fatherhood Conference on Father Involvement and Methodological Workshop
Conference on Father Involvement and Methological Workshop
Conference on Fathering and Male Fertility: Improving Data and Research
The series began on March 27, 1996, with a Town Meeting on Fathering and Male Fertility in Washington, D.C. Invited speakers presented to the Forum short testimonies on methodological, theoretical, and political problems concerning collection of data on men. Presentations and discussions fell within five broad categories:
On June 11-12, 1996, the Forum cosponsored, with NICHD's Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch, Mental Retardation and Development Disabilities Branch, and Family and Child Well-Being Research Network, a conference focusing on the substantive and methodological contributions that developmental, ethnographic, and anthropological research might make in improving federal data collection efforts and research on fathering. Leading researchers presented information from their studies and explored ways to integrate approaches and findings from small scale qualitative studies with data from large scale surveys.
The Conference on Father Involvement was held on October 10-11, 1996 and was sponsored by the NICHD Family and Child Well-Being Research Network. Noted researchers were invited to present multi-disciplinary perspectives on the study of fatherhood and empirical papers that examined factors predicting increased involvement of fathers and the impact of father involvement on child outcomes. All papers were requested to have the following features:
Following the main conference, a Methodology Workshop was held to provide more in-depth discussion of methodological issues related to the study of father involvement.
On March 13-14 1997, the Forum, together with NICHD and the DHHS Fathers' Work Group, sponsored a conference on measurement and data collection issues. This conference produced specific recommendations for changes in how information on fathers and male fertility should be gathered by federal agencies and by other public and private data collection efforts. The conference was based on papers written by working groups organized in advance of the conference. These working groups and their activities are described below:
The Work Group on Male Fertility and Family Formation examined the determinants and consequences of male fertility and union formation. It explored what is known and what needs to be learned about the male role in fertility and men's formation of sexual, cohabitational, and marital unions. Recommendations for improving data collection on these topics were developed.
The Work Group on Conceptualizing Male Parenting considered new ways of conceptualizing fatherhood. The group considered how fatherhood was operationalized in surveys and found that some important constructs were missing. It suggested that efforts should be made to modify constructs used in smaller scale research for use in larger surveys. This group also concluded that more basic research will greatly benefit data collection efforts. It identified both the short term and long term opportunities for improving data on male parenting.
The Work Group on Methodology examined the various approaches available to ensure better enrollment and retention of men in studies and how to best obtain information from them once they are in a study. This group considered how administrative data can be used, and how the study universe can be expanded into institutionalized settings such as prisons and clinical institutions.
The Work Group on Targets of Opportunity and Tradeoffs was responsible for identifying opportunities and tradeoffs within the existing data collection frameworks that would allow for the time-phased implementations of the recommended improvements. The major tasks of this group included identifying areas of consensus among the other working groups, looking for opportunities to make changes in the statistical system at reasonable cost, prioritizing issues, compiling preliminary suggestions, and keeping the issue visible and the agencies involved.
The Town Meeting and Conference Agendas can be found in Appendix A. Appendix A also has a list of the four working groups convened to develop materials for the March conference and to write the follow-up report to the Forum.
Most of the discussion of the importance of fathers in the United States today focuses on fatherhood in terms of men who are fathers. The questions posed in the press, in social commentary and in research are those of fathers fulfilling or not fulfilling their obligation--"Are fathers absent from their children's lives?" "Are divorced and never-married fathers meeting their financial responsibilities?" and "Are fathers in families with two working adults picking up their share of the parenting load?" Ignored are the vital demographic and social processes that bring men into fathering roles and influence the circumstances under which they act out those roles. But a proper and complete understanding of fatherhood is impossible without recognizing and accounting for these larger processes. Male fertility and union formation and dissolution are essential to understanding fatherhood. The case for this broad understanding rests on three points. First, historically, fatherhood has changed largely because of changes in the social and demographic processes of marriage, divorce, and child bearing. Second, theoretically, it is difficult to separate these processes from the nature of fathering itself. Third, in terms of policy, opportunities for improving the lives of children and parents will be missed if these processes are ignored. So the review and this volume concerns itself with understanding both how men become fathers, and what they do as fathers.
Policy interest in the role of fathers in families
has been exploding as new research findings have been made available on fertility
and on the role of father involvement in child growth and development. Until
recently, fatherhood research was primarily clinical in orientation and
concentrated in the fields of psychology, family studies and child development.
But growing interest in nonmarital childbearing, child support, and their
relationship to welfare has pushed the fatherhood issue into more large scale
quantitative analysis, initially investigating the relationship of nonmarital
childbearing and child support payments on child poverty and child well-being.
More recently, research efforts have expanded to include additional measures
of qualitative and quantitative father involvement and family relationships.
This growing body of research, much of it funded by federal agencies and
based on federal data collections efforts, has called into question the popular
assumption that the primary, if not only, contribution fathers make to their
children's lives is financial support.
Today nearly one-third of children are born out of wedlock, and many of those
children born to married couples experience the divorce of their parents.
Increases in nonmarital childbearing and divorce over recent decades reflect
complex economic, social and cultural changes that are still incompletely
Research shows that marriage confers important health and economic benefits
to individuals as well as to the children that married couples raise. However,
marriage is increasingly delayed or foregone. This is particularly true in
disadvantaged populations, where not only economic constraints but changing
values and norms have increasingly distanced marriage as a viable option.
After decades of increasing sexual activity among adolescent boys, a leveling
off or decline was seen in the early 1990s. Adolescent males hold positive
attitudes toward responsible sex and parenting, but few pregnancy prevention
programs have sought to involve them, and contraceptive options and reproductive
health services for boys are extremely limited. Much more needs to be known
about the motivational and social factors that influence male sexual and
The chances that a man will become a father are strongly influenced by the
nature of his relationships with women, and being a father affects the course
of his intimate relationships. Available data show these interconnections
clearly with respect to marriage, but we know very little about how being
a father affects and is affected by the relationships of unmarried couples.
Additionally, the circumstances of conception and birth affect fathers' support
of and relationship with their children.
Involved fathers are spending more time with their children, but fewer men are involved fathers. Fathers who live with their children are spending more time taking care of them, but divorce and nonmarital childbearing have reduced the average amount of time fathers spend with their children over the life course. Almost half of the fathers who do not live with their children have no contact with their children at all.
The absence of a father in the home has adverse consequences for children's
school achievement, labor force attachment, early childbearing, and risky
behavior taking. Family structure makes a difference, even when income is
taken into account. Two parents are better than one, but the data also show
that many children, raised by dad alone or mom alone make a successful transition
from childhood into adulthood.
Research that separates father involvement from mother involvement indicates
fathers have an independent effect on child well-being. For example, the
father's parenting style, level of closeness, flexibility, and other family
processes affect the child's well-being.
Positive effects of father involvement have been a fairly consistent finding
in studies of two-parent families, however, there is a growing body of research
that indicates financial support plus the positive involvement of a father,
including cooperation between parents, increases positive outcomes for children
who do not live with both of their parents.
Fathers affect children's behavior, but children also affect fathers' behavior
as well. Married men with children work more hours and have higher earnings
than other men. Parental competence and satisfaction are also associated
with positive effects on fathers' own development and participation in the
The problems identified below emerged from the review process, and especially from the March 1997 conference and its related activities, as the most serious data collection issues that affect our ability to understand how fathering affects men, women, families and child well-being. These problems are directly addressed in the targets of opportunity that have been identified in this report.
Household surveys and the decennial census are affected by coverage problems,
especially under coverage of men and children. For example, the Census undercount
disproportionately affects information collection about young, unmarried
Male fertility and fatherhood information is not consistently collected in
national surveys, routine data collection effects, or clinical studies of
children and families. For example, questions about women's fertility and
child-rearing responsibilities are almost always asked, but often such basic
information as the number of own biological children ever born is not asked
of male respondents. Additional developmental work is needed to find
methodologically sound ways of collecting this information.
There is concern that existing surveys and studies may not be correctly measuring all the things that fathers do and how they affect their children. Relatively little work has been done that systematically compares the meaning and behaviors associated with fathering across ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic groups. Questions about what fathers do are often the same questions asked about mothers and there is little systematic data collected on family processes or dynamics. It may be that we are not asking the right questions about fathering, or are not asking the questions in the right way.
Reliance on marital status and household composition often misrepresents the identification of single parent households and the degree to which fathers are involved with their children.
Comparable information is needed on mothers and fathers, and, where possible, directly from mothers and fathers. Reports from mothers and fathers about facts often agree, but differ in their explanation of why things happened. However, even this agreement on concrete events is greatly affected by the state of the parents' relationship.
The subsequent chapters of this volume focus on the Conference on Fathering and Male Fertility: Improving Data and Research and the papers and reports developed prior and subsequent to the conference. But it also builds on all the activities included as a part of the Forum review--the March Town Meeting and the June and October Conferences; the work of the National Center on Fathers and Families at the University of Pennsylvania; and the expertise of scores of research and policy experts on fertility behavior and family and child well-being. Many research needs and data collection improvements have been identified as a part of this multi-year review. It is hoped that this volume will encourage a broad response from the research community beyond the unique role of the federal agencies in collecting information and conducting research for the development of government policies and programs.
Chapter Two of this report summarizes the presentations, discussions and recommendations from the March Conference on Fathering and Male Fertility: Improving Data and Research. The next three chapters contain the papers written by the various working groups in preparation for the March conference. Chapter Three is the paper written by members of the Work Group on Male Fertility and Family Formation on determinants and consequences of male fertility and family formation. Chapter Four, written by members of the Work Group on Conceptualizing Male Parenting, identifies the conceptual, data, and policy issues that must be addressed to understand social fatherhood and paternal involvement. Chapter Five presents a review of the methodological issues and changes that must be addressed if data and research are to be improved; this chapter was written by members of the Work Group on Methodology. The final chapter summarizes the opportunities to improve federal data collection and research that have been identified for the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics to consider and provides information on the steps that are being taken by the Forum member agencies to turn opportunities into realities. The volume ends with a series of supporting appendices related to the review process and work group papers.
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