Sociologists Scott Coltrane and Michele Adams of the University of California, Riverside, looked at national survey data and found that school-aged children who do housework with their fathers are more likely to get along with their peers and have more friends. What's more, they are less likely than other kids to disobey teachers or make trouble at school and are less depressed or withdrawn.
"When men perform domestic service for others, it teaches children cooperation and democratic family values," said Coltrane, who studies the changing role of fathers in families. "It used to be that men assumed that their wives would do all the housework and parenting, but now that women are nearly equal participants in the labor force, men are assuming more of the tasks that it takes to run a home and raise children."
According to separate research conducted in the "love labs" of Dr. John Gottman at the University of Washington, when men contribute more domestic labor, their wives may be more likely to get "in the mood." Coltrane said wives may be less stressed over balancing work and home. In addition, Coltrane, Gottman, and other social scientists report that wives interpret husbands' domestic contributions as a sign of love and caring and are therefore more sexually attracted to their mates.
Although there is more negotiation over who does what in such families, it appears that their relationships actually improve.
Coltrane and Adams examined data from the Child Development Supplement of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a national sample of 3,563 children and their parents. According to their research, fathers still do less than mothers, but they are increasingly likely to assume at least some responsibility for tasks like shopping and driving the kids to school.
Although most American men still remain helpers to their wives, they are doing a larger share of routine duties associated with raising a family, like cooking and cleaning up. Not only are they more likely to do more of the everyday domestic work in households, but also they are more likely to hug their children and tell them they love them than in previous decades. In short, say researchers, at least some fathers are beginning to look more like mothers.
Among the other findings uncovered in the survey, the average father spends about three hours interacting with his school-aged children per weekend day, up significantly from estimates in earlier decades. At the same time, father's interactions with their children remain shaped by older expectations about what men and women should do. For example, fathers spend about four times as much time doing sports with children as mothers and spend more time in play or leisure with children than doing housework with them.
In earlier work, Coltrane and Adams reported that men who focus child time on traditional masculine activities like sports are less likely than other fathers to share in the housework or to help their children with school work.
"One of the keys to successful sharing of tasks between husbands and wives is a belief in gender equity" said Coltrane, who pointed out that men and women who believe that fathers should be involved are the most likely to share all sorts of family work.
Coltrane and Adams' analysis of national survey data suggests that when children do housework with their fathers, they show even more positive behaviors than the same work with their mothers.
"Because fewer men do housework than women," said Adams, "when they share the work, it has more impact on children. By performing domestic service with their children, fathers model cooperative family partnerships." According to Coltrane and Adams, when kids observe fathers doing housework, it prepares them to share family work with their future spouses.
Looking forward to Fathers Day in the year 2050, more fathers can expect a gift of dinner out or breakfast in bed, thereby relieving them of their fatherly obligations for a day.
A note on the research:
Survey data are from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), Child Development Supplement and reflect a national random sample of U.S. individuals and families. The PSID is conducted at the Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan and is sponsored by various government agencies, foundations, and other organizations. The Child Development Supplement, collected in 1997 on a national sample of 3,563 children and their parents was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) with additional funding from the William T. Grant Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Education.
Scott Coltrane, Professor of Sociology. Coltrane has written extensively on family dynamics and gender roles. He is the author of Family Man: Fatherhood, Housework and Gender Equity, (Oxford University Press, 1996), named one of the American Library Association's CHOICE Outstanding Academic Books. He is also author of Gender and Families (1998), Sociology of Marriage and the Family (2001), and Families and Society (2003).
Title: Chair, Department of Sociology and Associate Director of the Center for Family Studies
Office Telephone: 909-787-3501
Michele Adams, Research Associate. Adams has written about marriage, parenting, and gender equality. She is the author (with Coltrane) of Boys and Men in Families: The Domestic Production of Gender, Power and Privilege, in R. W. Connell, J. Hearn, and M. Kimmel (Eds.), The Handbook of Studies on Men and Masculinities. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage (in press); Work-Family Imagery and Gender Stereotypes: Television and the Reproduction of Difference. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 50, 323-347 (1977); and Men's Family Work: Child-Centered Fathering and the Sharing of Domestic Labor, pp. 72-99, in Working Families: The Transformation of the American Home, in Rosanna Hertz and Nancy Marshall (eds.). University of California Press (2001). Adams will be an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Tulane University in August 2003.
Title: Research Associate
Office Telephone: 909-787-5444
The University of California, Riverside offers undergraduate and graduate education to nearly 16,000 students and has a projected enrollment of 21,000 students by 2010. It is the fastest growing and most ethnically diverse campus of the preeminent ten-campus University of California system, the largest public research university system in the world. The picturesque 1,200-acre campus is located at the foot of the Box Springs Mountains near downtown Riverside in Southern California. More information about UC Riverside is available at www.ucr.edu or by calling 909-787-5185. For a listing of faculty experts on a variety of topics, please visit http://mmr.