Scientists at the University of Maryland just did a study to determine whether fathers who are involved during pregnancy are more likely to be close to the kids after birth. The study unsurprisingly revealed that fathers who are involved in prenatal care were much more likely to be present when the baby is three than those fathers who were not involved before birth. The study’s outcome did not seem to be affected by whether the father and mother were married.
Natasha Cabrera, who was the lead researcher on this study, was nice enough to take the time to answer a few questions. Her answers have not been edited in any way. Thanks to Ms. Cabrera for her responses.
What kind of study was this?
This was a panel study. I and my colleagues analyzed existing data collected on low-income families
How did you define whether a father was “involved” in prenatal care? The term seems ambiguous considering the complexity of different families.
Yes, I agree with you. We acknowledge in our paper that the way prenatal involvement was measured in the study is very crude. We’re currently planning a study which will include an extensive qualitative component of how fathers think and act during the pregnancy. Yet, despite this measurement problem, we still got interesting results.
Prenatal involvement was measured by asking fathers: Were you present at the birth?” “During the baby’s mother’s pregnancy, did you give her money or buy things for the baby?” and “Did you help in others ways, like providing transportation/doing chores?”
How significant were the differences between the groups of Dads?
We found that fathers who were more prenatally involved were two times more likely to transition into a residential relationship than those who were not which, in turn, was significantly related to increased levels of paternal engagement.
Did you control for things like income, race, age, occupation, etc? How did those affect the data?
Yes, we controlled for child gender, child temperament, child health status race and ethnicity, father’s baseline education, fathers’ and mothers’ ages at baseline, establishment of legal paternity, and mother’s employment. At year 1, we controlled for the number of children fathers have from unions other than the target child’s birth mother. At year 3, we controlled for whether fathers were expecting a new biological child with someone other than the mother of the child. These variables were controlled for because they have been linked to our outcome – father involvement. so our results say that prenatal involvement matters for later involvement over and above these other variables.
Do you feel that there were any unavoidable weaknesses in the study?
Yes, our measurement was poor of key variables…relationship status, prenatal involvement. But the data we had are the best available and have very good longitudinal data on low-income families.
Did this research surprise you with anything you weren’t expecting?
Yes and no. Given our theory, we were expecting to find these associations. But I was a bit surprised to find that despite some of our limiations, the results are pretty strong – getting fathers involved early – at the transition to fatherhood – pay dividends for both couples and children. the next questioon is to explore the quality of the father involvement with his child.
Are you planning any studies that follow up on this information?
Yes, as I said above, we’re planning a study that explores in depth “prenatal involvment” – what do fathers do during this period? how are they thinking about the pregnancy and their unborn child? what are their fears/hopes for their children and themsleves? what are the barriers to involvement? how are they thinking about the role of fathers during this time? what are they expectations, beliefs about being involved early? is this related to their desire to “be there” for their child no matter what? in preparation for their new role of fathers, do they “clean up” their act? etc.