Posted by: Ticktock | October 6, 2008

New Studies on Dads and Moms

Did you know that children with involved fathers are more likely to have a higher IQ?

I so want that to be true, but once again junk science has been sensationalized and manipulated to make an interesting headline.  The truth is that this is an inherently flawed cohort study done by Daniel Nettle of the Centre for Behaviour and Evolution, Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University.  To acquire this information, Dr. Nettle looked at the information of 11,000 men from the National Child Development Study that documents thousands of people born in a single week in 1958.  So what’s wrong with the study?

  • The questions were posed only once in 1969 and times have changed.
  • The mothers were the ones who completed this subjective survey.
  • The mothers were never the subject of the same questions, only the fathers, so there is no way to compare the influence of mothers and fathers.
  • The questions about the father’s involvement were limited to only four answers:  ‘inapplicable’, ‘leaves it to mother’, ‘significant but less than mother’, or ‘equal to mother’.  What about ‘greater than mother’?
  • One of the possible answers, ‘equal to mother’, might very well mean ‘equally uninvolved’.
  • The interpretation of this study did not calculate other factors such as income, peer groups, genetics, neighborhood, etc…

I don’t want to leave out mothers from all the science news; they have their own brand of deceptive junk science too.  Eirini Flouri of the University of London analyzed data from 3,000 children born in the 1970s, and she noted that mothers who had more confidence in their daughters’ futures were more likely to have a girl with high self esteem as an adult.  The mothers displayed their confidence in their daughters by predicting at what age they would leave school.  There are, unsurprisingly, a few problems with this study.

  • Fathers were left out of the equation, so we don’t know what role they had.
  • Confidence in your daughter is only one of many things that may lead to high self-esteem.
  • There are probably other factors connected to the mothers’ predictions of their daughters that are more relevant to future self esteem than confidence, such as family type, income, depression, etc.

Despite my objections to the interpretation and methodologies of the studies, I do think there is merit in the idea that a father should be involved and a mother should be confident in their daughters.  These two concepts should be obvious.  So, let me endorse they hypothesis and the conclusion, but not the method that aligned them.  This is an area where common sense trumps science.



  1. I guess we’ll never know until we do better studies on the subject. It does seem like common sense but we don’t really know the truth. Statistics can be bent to make whatever a scientist wants to be true, true. Thanks for pointing this out.

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