National Institutes of Health:
Activities in Support of the Fatherhood Initiative
Through September 2000
In an effort to improve the Federal Government's support of fatherhood and
to help strengthen families, the National
Institutes of Health has undertaken the following activities within
The National Institute of Child Health
and Human Development (NICHD), through its recent strategic planning
process, has identified male parenting, male fertility related behavior,
and non-marital childbearing among its priority areas. The Institute is currently
supporting a variety of research projects on these topics.
NICHD-supported researchers are conducting several studies on how non-residential
fathers affect their children's socioeconomic well-being. The goal is to
understand the unique circumstances of nonresidential fathers and the conditions
that influence their economic and social ties to their children. One of the
variables that researchers are examining is the amount of parenting
responsibility for children in a new relationship that is required of the
non-residential father. In addition, researchers are examining how the
dissolution of the family changes the household economic conditions and the
sources of the disparity in the economic well-being in the mothers' and fathers'
households. Researchers are also trying to assess differences in the fathers'
economic support of children depending on whether they were born inside or
outside of a formal marriage.
The NICHD also supports research that examines the antecedents and consequences
of divorce from the perspective of both mothers and fathers. This study focuses
on how couples' motivations for and expectation about divorces are related
to divorce outcomes. Researchers will examine the relationship between
pre-divorce expectations and subsequent divorces, the consequences of divorce,
the accuracy of pre-divorce expectations about the consequences of divorce,
and the extent to which the consequences of divorce are shared between mothers
The NICHD is supporting a study on "Fragile Families" which explores how
families formed through non-marital childbearing ("fragile families") function
and how their children are affected developmentally. The results from this
study will provide previously unavailable information concerning the economic
and social conditions of unwed fathers and mothers, child and parental
well-being, the role of labor markets, and government policies in promoting
father involvement, good parenting, and healthy child development. This study
addresses and uniquely brings together the issues of non-marital childbearing,
fathering, and welfare reform. The results will provide useful data to a
broad range of researchers and provide policy makers with important information
on implementing welfare and child support reforms.
NICHD-supported researchers are expanding studies that examine child support
policies and payments. Researchers are 1) analyzing the causes and trends
in child support policies, practices and payments; 2) using new data collection
methods to obtain better income measures of the parent who does not live
in the household (often this includes fathers); and 3) estimating how child
support policies will affect child well-being. The researchers will use data
from several national surveys such as the Current Population Survey and its
Child Support Supplement, National Survey of Family Growth, and the National
Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1997.
The NICHD is supporting research on how the 1996 Welfare reform bill affects
children. This study provides researchers with the scientific opportunity
to better understand how parental time and monetary resources affect child
well-being. Researchers will interview families that are welfare recipients,
low-to-moderate income, or non-welfare-dependent. Researchers will collect
information from primary caregivers, child care provider, and fathers or
The NICHD also supports a project that investigates the effects of family
leave policies (e.g. maternity leave, paternity leave, or parental leave)
on parents' care for children. One component of this project will examine
whether changes in family leave coverage are associated with increased usage
and duration of paternity leaves.
The NICHD is supporting research on how parenting methods are transmitted
across generations. Researchers will examine how parenting and family influences
during developmental stages (preschool age, middle childhood and early
adolescence) affect and predict parenting behavior in adulthood. In addition,
researchers will look at whether a good marriage helps to prevent the
transmission of problematic parenting between generations, and whether such
processes are similar for mothers and for fathers. Further insight into these
issues will be useful to those who seek to prevent problematic parenting
from developing or to promote competent parenting.
Another NICHD-supported project is studying the children of the young men
of the Oregon Youth Study. Researchers are examining the parenting style
of the young men and the mothers of their children. This will include collecting
information on the fathers' attitudes toward children and parenting, and
on the children's temperament and various sociocognitive measures. Using
this design, the researchers will gain a better understanding of how parenting
styles are transmitted from one generation to the next.
NICHD-supported researchers are examining the demographic and sociocultural
factors that influence how young adult men in the United States form families
and their involvement in parenting. Little is known about the role of men
in paternity and parenting outside of marriage; thus, the results will provide
basic information on how a man's background, experiences, and attitudes influence
the timing and sequencing of marriage and paternity. Researchers are examining
1) the emotional and financial contributions of men to their children, 2)
factors that inhibit or facilitate their involvement in parenting, 3) the
male role in parenting children outside of marriage, and 4) racial differences
in family formation behavior and parenting.
How marital conflict is handled is crucial to the well-being of children,
marriages, and families. Marital conflict is linked with children's adjustment
problem; but it is inevitable and many forms of conflict expression are normal
and likely not harmful. NICHD-supported researchers are investigating the
processes and factors that moderate the positive and negative effects of
marital conflict on children. Among the issues that the researchers will
address are: 1) identifying the mother's and the father's marital conflict
styles that are most constructive and most destructive from the children's
perspective; 2) identifying the processes that mediate the effects associated
with a child's stress level and ability to cope with marital conflict, and
3) specifying how gender, in both children and parents, affect how the children
adjust to marital conflict.
NICHD-supported researchers are studying the language, reasoning and social
skills that children use when they and their parents try to understand, conduct,
and resolve disputes in everyday family interactions. Researchers will examine
whether children and their parents benefit from a conflict resolution training
procedure. This study will document the language and learning of children
and their fathers and mothers in specific situations such as conflict
In another study, researchers are investigating whether and how children
from a previous relationship influence the childbearing intentions in subsequent
relationships. An aspect of the analyses will address the effects of men's
versus women's children from previous relationships on childbearing, and
how these children affect marital relationships versus relationships where
the parents live together in a non-marital situation.
The NICHD is supporting a research project that targets understanding the
dynamics of co-parenting in family situations. The goal is to 1) systematically
study the interactions between the mother and the father, and as a family
unit during the early years of family life, and 2) determine how these
interactions influence the toddler's behavior.
NICHD-supported researchers are examining the health status and the health
behavior of children in immigrant families and examining the mediating role
of family (including fathers), peer, school, and neighborhood on immigrant
health and well-being.
The consequences of unintended pregnancy on children, women and families
have been widely documented. However, there is little information on the
consequences of unintended pregnancy for men. NICHD-supported researchers
are documenting the extent and patterns of unintended births as thy affect
men, examining the influence of these births on marriage and relationship
dissolution, and the consequences on the psychosocial well-being of the father.
The NICHD provides support to the Agency for Children and Families for a
Head Start research and evaluation project. This initiative has been developed
to examine the contribution of low-income fathers to early childhood development
as well as how program interventions can strengthen the father's involvement.
The NICHD, in collaboration with the National Center for Education Statistics
(NCES), is furthering research and development in the areas of fatherhood,
marriage, divorce, and non-marital families and their relationships to child
The NICHD held the "2000 Add Health Users Workshop" on August 1-2, 2000.
The purpose was to provide learning and networking opportunities for
investigators (especially new investigators) who are using the Add Health
data or are interested in using it. The Add Health data include measures
of an adolescent's relationship with their fathers and measures of transitions
to parenthood during the late teens and early twenties.
Lamb, M. E. Cross-cultural perspectives on the role and importance of fathers
in child development. Keynote address to national conference on "The Role
and Importance of Fathers in the Child's Life," Istanbul, Turkey, December
Lamb, M. E. Male familial involvement: An update. Symposium on the diverse
experiences of males in families. National Council on Family Relations Annual
Conference, Minneapolis, November 9, 2000.
Lamb, M. E. and Holliday, K. Parental relocation: Trying the "out of state
move" case. National Association of Counsel for Children, Children's Law
Conference, Washington DC, November 5, 2000.
Cabrera, N. J., Tamis-LeMonda, C. S., Lamb, M. E., and Boller, K. Measuring
father involvement in the Early Head Start evaluation: A multidimensional
conceptualization. Proceedings of the 1999 National Conference on Health
Statistics, Washington, DC, U.S. Government Printing Office, in press.
Hewlett, B. S., Lamb, M. E., Leyendecker, B., and Scholmerich, A. Parental
investment strategies among Aka foragers, Ngandu farmers, and Euro-American
urban- industrialists. In L. Cronk, N. Chagnon, & W. Irons (Eds.),
Evolutionary Biology and Human Social Behavior Twenty Years Later.
New York: Aldine, 2000: 155-178.
Lamb, M. E. Fathers, father-child relationships, and paternal influences.
In A. Kazdin (General Editor), Encyclopedia of psychology. Washington,
American Psychological Association and New York, Oxford University Press.
Lamb, M. E. The history of research on father involvement: An overview.
Marriage and Family Review, 2000, 29: 23-42. Reprinted in: H. E. Peters,
G. W. Peterson, S. K. Steinmetz, and R. D. Day (Eds.), Fatherhood: Research,
interventions, and policies. New York, Haworth, 2000: 23-42.
Marsiglio, W., Amato, P., Day, R. D., and Lamb, M. E. Scholarship on fatherhood
in the 1990s and beyond: Past impressions, future prospects. Journal of
Marriage and the Family, in press.
Marsiglio, W., Day, R. D., and Lamb, M. E. Exploring fatherhood diversity:
Implications for conceptualizing father involvement. Marriage and Family
Review, 2000, 29: 269-293. Reprinted in: H. E. Peters, G. W. Peterson,
S. K. Steinmetz, and R. D. Day (Eds.), Fatherhood: Research, interventions,
and policies. New York, Haworth, 2000: 269-293.
Fathers who abuse drugs not only affect their own behaviors and perceptions
but also those of his family. The
National Institute on Drug
Abuse (NIDA) supports research investigating drug abuse and its effects
NIDA-supported researchers have developed a therapy based on coping skills
for parents of adolescent drug abusers. A controlled clinical trial to test
the efficacy of this approach is currently underway. There is evidence that
both of the parents' behaviors play a significant role in influencing adolescent
substance abuse. In turn, there is also evidence suggesting that adolescent's
abusing substances also greatly affects the ability of both fathers and mothers
to cope and function.
The NIDA supports the Center for Treatment Research on Adolescent Drug Abuse.
This Center is developing and evaluating family-based treatments for adolescents
who abuse drugs. One of the studies is evaluating the cost-effectiveness
of residential treatment compared to an intensive, family-based outpatient
treatment method. Researchers are evaluating parenting behaviors, family
functioning, cultural factors, and therapists' behaviors that may affect
the outcomes of the treatments.
In another NIDA-supported study, researchers are developing and pilot testing
a treatment program for adolescents with comorbid drug abuse and borderline
personality disorders. The treatment integrates family therapy and an individuals
skills training approach.
The National Institute of Mental
Health (NIMH) supports a broad range of research to better understand
the role that families, including biological and nonbiological mothers, fathers,
and care providers play in children's risk for emotional and behavioral problems.
The NIMH is supporting research to improve our understanding of how young-adults
adjust from early adolescent conduct problems. Further, this study has helped
to clarify how risk factors that are precursors to adolescent fatherhood
may contribute to developing antisocial behavior in the next generation of
children. In a 10-year follow-up study of 206 at-risk boys, who were first
seen at 9 or 10 years of age, those who became adolescent fathers had more
arrests and illicit substance use than did other participants. By age two,
40 percent of the children of adolescent fathers did not have any contact
with their fathers; and these children, compared with a normative control
sample, had greater overall health risks. In addition, the at-risk parents,
compared with a control sample, had higher levels of negative interactions
with their children.
In another set of studies, researchers are studying the role of work in the
lives of families. One of the studies examines the impacts of when a parent
loses a job on the children and the parents. The goal is to better understand
what kind of coping strategies are most effective in decreasing the risk
that children will develop behavioral and emotional problems. Another study
investigates the long-term effect of work on women, and their marriage and
families. Interviews with mothers and fathers will focus on: a) depression
and anxiety in family members; b) and stress and resilience in both the marital
and parent-child relationships; and c) parents' and childrens' adjustment
in school and at work. This study builds on earlier findings which show that
during the first four months post-partum, anger, depression, and anxiety
in the parents of the infant could be predicted by whether or not the caretaker
of the child (father or nonparental care) was the provider whom the mother
preferred. During later infancy (4 - 12 months) the amount of hours that
the child spent in child care seemed less stressful to both parents, and
there was less concern regarding the actual versus the preferred provider.
The National Institute on Alcohol
Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) funds numerous studies on the role of
family in the development and prevention of alcohol disorders among children
and adolescents. While genetics is responsible for about half of an individual's
risk for becoming alcoholic, the remaining risk is attributable to environmental
factors, parenting being prominent among them. Highlights of recent NIAAA
research specific to fatherhood appear below.
A NIAAA-supported longitudinal investigation at the University of Michigan
has been studying a group of children of alcoholics (COAs) from the time
the children were between 3 and 5 years old to the present time, when the
oldest of these children are 17 years old. Researchers are examining the
contributions of parenting to the risk of alcohol-use disorders in these
children, with the following results, among others:
I.Q. and problem-behavior indicators in 3-to 10-year-old female COAs, who
lived in homes in which alcoholic fathers were in recovery, were
indistinguishable from those of girls in nonalcoholic homes. However, girls
in homes in which fathers were still actively alcoholic did not perform as
well on these I.Q. and problem-behavior indicators.
In a study of children at high risk for developing problems with alcohol
because of their fathers' alcoholism, male children's ideas about how much
alcohol male adults should drink was predicted by their fathers' self-reported
alcohol consumption level. Sons' ideas about how much alcohol female adults
should drink was related more strongly to their mothers' consumption, but
also was related to their fathers', but at a lower level.
Researchers found that 6- to 9-year-old sons of antisocial male alcoholics
were more susceptible to intellectual, cognitive, and academic deficits than
were non-COA boys and COA boys in families in which the father was alcoholic,
but not antisocial. Sons of antisocial alcoholics displayed the worst IQs
and academic achievement scores, relative to children of non-antisocial
alcoholics and controls. They also displayed relatively poorer abstract planning
and attention abilities than did the non-COA group of boys. This research
supports the proposition that paternal alcoholism and antisociality may serve
as indicators of family risk for poor intellectual outcome among offspring
as early as the elementary school years.
Alcoholic parents made more demands of their children than did parents in
control families, and children in alcoholic families stayed physically more
distant from their parents. In addition, alcoholic fathers showed more
displeasure during a child-directed play interaction with their sons. Viewers
of videotapes, who had no prior knowledge as to which of the parents were
alcoholic and which were not, rated both alcoholic parents as less likeable
than others. Irrespective of family alcoholism status, children took longer
cleaning up their toys when with their fathers than with their mothers.
Acting-out behaviors are proxy indicators of later risk for alcohol abuse.
A child's risk for later alcohol abuse based on his or her own temperament
is related to aggressive, delinquent behavior during the period from preschool
to the early school years (6-to-8 years old). Both the mother's and the father's
behavior, such as negative mood, sadness, and spanking can exacerbate this
Higher levels of alcohol problems, stress (defined as "daily hassles"), and
lack of social support all predicted the degree to which fathers abused and
had conflicts with their children. Child maltreatment, in turn, predicted
Fathers in antisocial alcoholic families perceived their families as being
less cohesive, more in conflict, less involved in recreational activity,
lower in moral/religious emphasis, and less organized. Non-antisocial alcoholic
fathers differed from control families only in seeing their families as having
less of a moral/religious emphasis. In other ways, they were not different
from control families.
Children's expectancies about alcohol are developed earlier than previously
suspected. Among a sample of children in the community, between 2.5 and 6
years old, parental level of alcohol consumption was significantly related
to a child's ability to identify alcoholic beverages by smell. Fathers' reports
of consuming alcohol for "escape reasons" were marginally related to the
children's ability to recognize these beverages. When children were shown
photos of other children and adults drinking unlabeled beverages and then
were asked to name these beverages, the children's likelihood of deciding
that the adult males in the photos were drinking alcohol was related to their
own fathers' self-reports of alcohol consumption.
Fathers who spent less time with their preschool children perceived them
to be less troubled than did their mothers. The parents' perceptions of their
children's behavior became more similar as fathers increased the amount of
time they spent with their children.
Another NIAAA-funded study of COAs in high-density alcoholism families (that
is, the alcoholic father has an alcoholic brother) found that these high-risk
children were more likely than the control group to develop diagnosable
psychiatric disorders. The highest risk was for depression, affective disorder,
attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and conduct disorder. Alcoholism
in the father was significantly associated with risk of any psychopathology
in both male and female children. Some of these disorders also appeared to
have cross-gender parental effects; alcoholism in the mother significantly
influenced the rate of affective disorder in males, whereas alcoholism in
the father was associated with increased rates of affective disorder in females.
Other studies have examined the relationship between alcohol and fatherhood
at even earlier stages of life. For example, an ongoing study of infant
development has identified differences between the parenting behavior of
alcoholic and nonalcoholic fathers that may contribute to transmission of
alcoholism across generations. Alcoholic fathers display lower sensitivity,
less positive mood, and lower amount and quality of verbalization toward
their 12-month-old infants and report being more irritated by their infants.
This study is being continued, so that researchers can study children's social
and emotional development through early childhood and school age.
Much of the Institute's family-based research is conducted under the auspices
of the Division of Biometry and Epidemiology and the Division of
Clinical and Prevention Research. Based on results of epidemiology and
other data, investigators develop and test family interventions designed
to prevent drinking among youth.
Family dynamics are an important factor in the initiation and course of
adolescent drinking. Recent epidemiology research revealed that people who
began drinking at age 15 were four times more likely to become alcoholic
than were people who began at age 21. Earlier initiation of drinking also
is associated with greater risk of alcohol-related injuries before and after
age 21. These findings illustrate the importance of preventing drinking during
the adolescent years. Fathers and mothers play a crucial role in preventing
their children from developing alcohol problems during this vulnerable period
of life. More recent data also suggest that one in four U.S. children witnesses
alcoholism in his or her family.
Another study addresses gender issues. Researchers are examining the association
between the severity of alcohol dependence and the psychopathology in female
children of alcoholic fathers. An estimated 22 million U.S. adults are children
of alcoholics, and previous epidemiologic research has focused on the male
children in this group.
Researchers are examining, among other issues, the role of alcohol and other
family risk factors in homeless youth. The investigators are finding high
rates of alcohol and/or substance abuse (60 to 80 percent) among these
Family environment and the psychopathology of mothers and fathers are among
the variables researchers are considering in a study of alcohol use in
adolescents with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Although a genetic/behavioral investigation focuses on the role of siblings
in adolescent alcohol use, the study also is collecting information about
the father's and mother's attitudes and expectancies and on parent-child
and other family relationships.
Minority children at high risk for alcohol-related problems is the topic
of another study, which is examining African-American families and focusing
on their 8- to 18-year-old children. Alcoholism in mothers and fathers and
other familial risk factors are among the variables under study.
A long-standing prospective study focuses on understanding family interactions
that characterize families with an alcoholic member. Researchers are conducting
follow-up data collection from children and both the mother and father.
A new project is examining family and peer risk factors for preadolescent
drinking; topics include personal parental variables and parenting practices.
Researchers will interview biological fathers, even if the fathers do not
reside in their children's households, as well as mothers' partners (biological
fathers, step-fathers, or boyfriends). The study also will examine relevant
differences between Caucasian and African-American families.
¨The findings from the projects described above and from other studies
have been used to develop preventive interventions for children that involve
parents, including fathers. Currently, family-based interventions are being
tested for rural African-American children in the Southeast, multi-ethnic
youth in New York City, and entering college freshmen at two university campuses.
The success of a previous NIAAA-supported, comprehensive intervention for
early adolescents in rural Midwestern communities, Project Northland, prompted
the recent release of a Request for Applications to encourage similar
intervention research in multi-ethnic urban settings. Although school-based,
the Northland intervention featured a parent-involvement component that was
well received and engaged both fathers and mothers.
The Institute's Division of Clinical and Prevention Research conducts
many studies involving alcohol's effects on children, from the fetal stage
through adolescence. Since late September 1999, the NIAAA has funded eight
new grants that focus on the prevention of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Two of
these grants include "significant others" of pregnant women as targets of
brief interventions that are aimed at reducing or eliminating drinking among
these women and are based on therapies that enhance their motivation. The
significant others are not restricted to biological or substitute fathers
of fetuses or newborn children, but it is assumed that such fathers will
comprise a substantial proportion of the studies' subjects. An additional,
ongoing study of FAS prevention among four American Indian tribes also stresses
the importance of involving fathers and significant others in preventing
drinking by pregnant women.
Fathers and mothers play a crucial role in maintaining the benefits that
their adolescents gain from treatment for alcohol disorders. In a new
collaborative initiative on adolescent treatment for alcohol abuse and alcoholism
sponsored by the NIAAA and the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, five
clinical trials include interventions that target parents. These interventions
either teach parenting skills or modify the family environment such that
parents' attitudes and behaviors become more supportive of their adolescents'
Also included in the NIAAA research portfolio are several studies that examine
the role of alcohol in risky sexual behavior among adolescents. These studies
not only promote prevention of HIV transmission in this age group, but also
promote prevention of unplanned pregnancy and fatherhood.
At the end of FY 2000, the NIAAA funded a major intergenerational and life-course
study of problem alcohol use and related problem behaviors. The research
involves collection of social, psychological, behavioral, and biologic (DNA)
data on three generations of respondents, and will analyze, among other topics,
intergenerational similarities and differences in problem alcohol use and
transmission of problem alcohol use from parents, including fathers, to children.
Among the ways that NIAAA-supported researchers disseminate their findings
to the scientific, prevention, and treatment communities is through publication
of articles in peer-reviewed journals. For example, the entire March 1999
supplement to the Journal of Studies on Alcohol was devoted to
publications generated by a December 1996 NIAAA workshop entitled "Alcohol
and the Family: Opportunities for Prevention."
The NIAAA also disseminates research findings to the general public. A recent
publication, Make a Difference Talk to Your Child About
Alcohol, provides to parents research-based information about underage
drinking and practical guidance on how they can reduce the risk that their
children will begin drinking early in life. To date, the Institute has printed
more than 1 million copies of this booklet, and it also is available on NIAAA's
worldwide web site.
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Last updated June 11, 2001