Resident Hispanic Fathers Report Frequent Involvement in the Lives of Their Children

Research BriefFatherhoodJun 24 2020

Positive involvement by fathers in their children’s lives contributes to their children’s healthy development and well-being.1,2,3,4 Multiple dimensions of involvement matter for children, including how fathers engage with their children (e.g., their affect during engagement; nurturing, supportive, or intrusive behavior), why they engage (e.g., the thoughts and motivations behind their approach to parenting), and what they do to engage (e.g., reading, playing, caregiving). Within these domains, the frequency of each behavior or cognition is an equally important component to consider for children’s outcomes, as is the behavior (e.g., reading or supporting) or cognition (e.g., thoughts about parenting) itself.5

Our understanding of current patterns of father involvement at the national level, however, is hampered by data limitations. The National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) is one of the few cross-sectional national data sets with measures of father involvement for children from birth to age 18.6 Research studies have used these data to document what fathers do to engage with their children, and how often.7,8,9 To date, limited research has examined father involvement among Latinosa—the largest racial/ethnic minority group in the United States today.10 Documenting levels of father involvement for Latino fathers, as we do in this brief, provides one important piece of the story needed to understand contemporary patterns of Hispanic fathering.

This brief uses data from the 2013-2017 NSFG to look more closely at levels of involvement for Hispanic fathers who live with their children. We focus on resident fathers because almost three quarters of Hispanic fathers in these data report living in the same household with all their children.11,b Additionally, we examine differences by nativity among Hispanic fathers. Research suggests that the experiences of U.S born and foreign-born Hispanic fathers differ in important ways that may shape the degree to which fathers are able to engage with their children. For example, rates of employment and work hours differ by nativity, as do income and levels of education.11,12,13

We examine three broad domains of fathering behaviors: 1) engagement, which captures interactive activities between the father and child, such as reading with a child or eating dinner together; 2) warmth, or a parenting style indicated, in part, by showing physical affection and giving praise to a child; and 3) caregiving, which includes engagement in important caregiving activities, such as feeding or bathing a preschool-age child or knowing about a school-age child’s activities.c We document levels (i.e., frequency) of father involvement across these dimensions separately for fathers of preschool-age and school-age children.

A note on the findings: Father involvement across the measures included in the brief is (most often) assessed using a scale indicating how frequently, in the past four weeks, fathers report engaging in certain activities with their child. The five possible responses range from (1) not at all to (5) every day. When looking at the results in this brief, keep in mind that some of the activities (e.g., eating dinner or changing a diaper) are expected to occur more frequently than others (e.g., taking a child to appointments).

Key Findings

Resident Hispanic fathers of both preschool- and school-age children report frequent involvement in the lives of their children; they also report participating in numerous engagement, warmth, and caregiving activities with their children.

  • More than 90 percent of Hispanic fathers of both preschool- and school-age children eat dinner with their child either every day or several times per week. This is true for both U.S.-born and foreign-born fathers.
  • Approximately 90 percent of Hispanic fathers with a preschool-age child report showing physical affection to their child every day, as do three quarters of Hispanic fathers with a school-age child.
  • In addition to eating dinner together, approximately 80 percent of Hispanic fathers, both U.S.- and foreign-born, report feeding their preschool-age child every day (59%) or several times a week (22%).

Father involvement among resident Hispanic fathers with school-age children does not differ by nativity.

However, U.S.-born fathers of preschool-age children report more frequent involvement than do foreign-born fathers across some outcomes.

  • Hispanic fathers born in the United States report playing or reading with their young child somewhat more frequently than Hispanic fathers born outside of the United States. Similarly, U.S.-born Hispanic fathers report bathing their child and changing their young child’s diaper somewhat more frequently than foreign-born Hispanic fathers.
  • Notably, 42 percent of foreign-born Hispanic fathers report never reading to their child, as do 25 percent of U.S.-born Hispanic fathers.