Some Dads do Diapers and …

News sites across the U.S. have picked up Lindsey Tanner’s AP article “Dads do Diapers and More, Myth Busting Survey Says,”[1] which summarizes recent National Center for Health Statistics. Unfortunately, Tanner’s summary does not link to the original survey, which provides interesting additional information about methods and other results that Tanner did not include: Fathers’ Involvement With Their Children: United States, 2006–2010. The survey’s results are not as “myth busting” as we might hope.

The survey polled fathers living with and apart from their children and asked about two groups of children, under 5 and 5–18. According to the survey, of fathers living with their children engaged in the following daily activities:

  • Transport to/from activities: 20% (with children 5–18).
  • Read: 29% (with children under 5).[2]
  • Help with homework: 30% helped their children with homework daily (for children over 5).
  • Bathe, diaper, dress: 58% (with children under 5).
  • Eat: 71% (with children under 5); 66% (with children between 5–18) (perhaps not coincidentally, 65% of these fathers talked with their children about their day).
  • Play: 81% (w/ children under 5); .
Father involvement survey not all that surprising.

Father involvement survey not all that surprising.

The survey itself, as the researchers admit, is a bit crude in how it polls fathers. What would happen to the results if fathers with more than one child reported involvement according to child? What if children were divided into finer-grained categories, e.g., 0–2, 2–4, 5–9, 10–14, 14–18 (or some other divisions that mapped onto stages of development or childcare needs, or schooling)? The survey also relies entirely on self-reporting—who knows what these numbers would look like if partners were asked about father involvement.[3]

Regardless of its limits, and despite fathers’ increasing involvement, some trends seems slow to change. Fathers still shy away from the dirty, dull, and tedious tasks such as bathing and transporting.[4] Presumably mothers pick up the slack with these quotidian tasks. Play, long a staple of father involvement, remains fathers’ favored activity.

One final statistic from the survey:
88% of fathers think they are doing a very good (44%) or at least a good (44%) job parenting. I suspect that mothers would evaluate much less favorably their own parenting.

  1. Don’t bother looking at more than one. Those same news sites not wanting to pay staff to do any extra work (or perhaps having cut staff), have all simply posted verbatim Tanner’s article. I linked to the site that was easiest to read.  ↩

  2. I regret that the survey did not ask about how often fathers of children 5–18 read to their kids, an activity that is both important and a relaxing end to the day.  ↩

  3. Mothers and fathers often see different and different amounts of labor: Parenting by Tally.  ↩

  4. Unfortunately, the survey’s results do not distinguish between fathers of children under 5 who fed their kids and those who merely ate with them. It also doesn’t indicate how many fathers of children between 5–18 cooked meals for their kids and how many merely ate with them.  ↩