Resident Hispanic Fathers Report Frequent Involvement in the Lives of Their Children
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).
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.
Data and Methods
This brief draws on data from the 2013-15 and the 2015-2017 cycles of the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG). The NSFG collects data on family life—including marriage, childbearing, family structure, and parenting—from a nationally representative sample of men and women of childbearing age (ages 15 to 44 prior to 2015, or 15 to 49 beginning in 2015).6 To bolster the sample size for these analyses, we merged the two cycles of the NSFG and restricted our analytic sample to men ages 15 to 44 who reported having at least one residential minor child (ages 18 and younger). Men ages 45 to 49 were excluded because individuals in this age range were not included in the 2013-2015 cycle of the NSFG.d We restrict our analytic sample to Hispanic fathers with residential children from birth to age 18, including 2,367 fathers with children from birth to age 4 and 598 Hispanic fathers with children ages 5 to 18.
The measures included in the NSFG assess how frequently in the past four weeks fathers report engaging in certain activities with a focal child (i.e., the youngest child under age 19 with whom the father lives).6 These measures of father involvement (described in Table 1) were different for preschool-age children (birth to age 4) and for school-age children (ages 5 to 18). In this brief, we tested for statistical differences between foreign-born and U.S.-born fathers in the distribution of each measure using ordered logistic regression models. Differences by nativity that have a p-value of less than .05 are noted in the text and figures. All analyses were conducted using Stata 16 and included NSFG 2013-2017 sampling weights.
Findings: Hispanic Fathers with Preschool-age Children (birth to age 4)
In this section, we document resident Hispanic fathers’ engagement with their children, birth to age 4. Specifically, we detail how frequently Hispanic fathers reported (1) eating dinner with their young child; (2) taking their young child on outings (e.g., museums, zoos, movies, or playground); (3) playing with their young child; and (4) reading to their young child (see figures 1 and 2).
More than 9 in 10 Hispanic fathers, both U.S.-born and foreign-born, reported eating dinner with their preschool-age child every day (65%) or several times per week (26%) in the past four weeks. Additionally, approximately 80 percent reported taking their young child on an outing at least once a week; more specifically, 16 percent reported doing so every day, 33 percent several times per week, and 32 percent about once a week. Only 11 percent of Hispanic fathers reported not taking their child on any outing. U.S.-born and foreign-born fathers did not differ in the frequency with which they engage their preschool-age children across these measures.
The majority of Hispanic fathers (64%) reported playing with their preschool-age child every day in the past four weeks. However, U.S.-born Hispanic fathers were more likely to report playing with their child every day (77%) than were foreign-born Hispanic fathers (54%). Similarly, U.S.-born fathers reported reading to their children more frequently than foreign-born fathers; 20 percent of U.S.-born Hispanic fathers reported reading to their preschool-age child every day, compared to 7 percent of foreign-born Hispanic fathers. Conversely, 42 percent of foreign-born Hispanic fathers reported never reading to their child, compared to 25 percent of U.S.-born Hispanic fathers.
In this section, we look at two measures designed to assess the frequency with which fathers engage in warm parenting with their young child, birth to age 4: (1) showing physical affection and (2) giving praise (see Figure 3).
Approximately 9 in 10 Hispanic fathers, U.S-born and foreign-born, reported showing physical affection to their preschool-age child every day. Additionally, 7 in 10 reported praising their child at least once a day. There are no differences in these reports by father nativity.
This section details Hispanic fathers’ reported levels of involvement in a range of caregiving activities. Specifically, we detail how frequently fathers report (1) feeding their young child, (2) putting their young child to bed, (3) changing their child’s diaper or helping their child go to the toilet, and (4) bathing their child (see Figure 4).
Approximately 8 in 10 Hispanic fathers, U.S.- and foreign-born, report feeding their child either every day (59%) or several times a week (22%). Similarly, approximately 8 in 10 Hispanic fathers report putting their child to bed either every day (44%) or several times per week (37%). There are no significant differences in reports of these activities by father nativity.
However, U.S.-born Hispanic fathers report bathing their child, and changing their child’s diaper or helping their child go to the toilet, somewhat more frequently than foreign-born Hispanic fathers. Specifically, 58 percent of U.S.-born Hispanic fathers report changing their young child’s diaper (or helping with toileting) at least once a day, compared to 36 percent of foreign-born Hispanic fathers. Similarly, 54 percent of U.S.-born fathers reported bathing their child every day (27%) or several times a week (27%), compared to 45 percent of foreign-born Hispanic fathers.
Findings: Fathers with School-age Children (ages 5-18)
In this section, we document resident Hispanic fathers’ engagement with their school-age children ages 5 to 18. Specifically, we detail the frequency with which Hispanic fathers reported (1) taking their child on outings (e.g., museums, zoos, movies, or playground), (2) eating dinner with their child, and (3) helping their child with homework (see Figure 5).
More than 80 percent of Hispanic fathers, U.S.-born and foreign-born, reported taking their school-age child on an outing at least once a week. Additionally, more than 90 percent reported eating dinner with their child at least several times per week, and over half report doing so every day. There were no differences in these activities by father nativity.
Approximately one third of Hispanic fathers (35%) reported helping their child with homework every day; an additional 25 percent reported doing so several times per week. Combined, more than three quarters of Hispanic fathers reported helping their child with homework at least once a week. There was no difference in this activity by father nativity.
This section examines the average frequency, in the past four weeks, with which fathers show warmth to their school-age child (ages 5 to 18) across two measures: (1) physical affection and (2) giving praise (see Figure 6).
Just under three quarters of all Hispanic fathers reported showing physical affection to their school-age child every day, while another 19 percent reported doing so several times per week. Additionally, just over half of Hispanic fathers reported giving praise to their school-age child every day and another 35 percent did so several times per week. There were no significant differences in either of these activities by father nativity.
In this section, we detail Hispanic fathers’ reported levels of involvement in caregiving activities for their school-age children. Specifically, we look at fathers’ reports of (1) how frequently they take their child to activities (e.g., sports practice) and appointments (e.g., doctor’s or dentist appointment), and (2) how well they know their child’s friends and about their child’s activities (see Figures 7 and 8).
Combined, more than 70 percent of Hispanic fathers, U.S.-born and foreign-born, reported taking their child to and from activities, such as sports practice, at least once a week in the past four weeks. Additionally, 18 percent of U.S.-born Hispanic fathers and 15 percent of foreign-born Hispanic fathers reported taking their child to appointments at least once a week. There were no significant differences in these activities by father nativity.
Most resident Hispanic fathers with a school-age child report knowing most or all things about their child’s friends and activities. Among all resident Hispanic fathers, 17 percent reported knowing everything about their child’s friends; an additional 37 percent reported knowing most things. Similarly, 27 percent of Hispanic fathers reported knowing everything about their school-age child’s activities, with an additional 41 percent reporting knowing most things. Very few Hispanic fathers reported knowing nothing about their child’s friends or activities. There were no significant differences in any of these activities by father nativity.
The importance of positive father involvement, across a wide range of dimensions, on children’s development has been well-documented.1,2,3,4,14 In this brief, we provide a snapshot of measures that assess the frequency with which resident Hispanic fathers (1) engage with their children in positive ways, (2) show warmth to and praise their children, and (3) take responsibility for some common daily caregiving activities, including staying informed about their children’s activities and friendships.
These data show that Hispanic fathers who live with their children report frequent involvement in their children’s lives; this is true both for those with preschool-age children and those with school-age children. For example, more than 90 percent of Hispanic fathers eat dinner with their child either every day or several times per week. Additionally, roughly 9 in 10 Hispanic fathers with a preschool-age child, and three quarters of fathers with a school-age child, reported showing physical affection to their child every day. Although the analysis in this brief does not explicitly compare levels of involvement among resident Hispanic fathers to other fathers, involvement appears to be fairly comparable to levels of involvement seen across resident fathers who identify, broadly, as part of other racial or ethnic groups.9,6
The one exception to this observation is the act of reading with children; the data in this brief suggest that, compared to other published estimates,9,6 fewer Hispanic fathers read frequently to their children than other fathers. This difference may reflect evidence from other, albeit earlier, research, which has documented that reading is a culturally prescribed home literacy activity,15 and that Latino families may engage less in reading but more in other home literacy activities like storytelling and song singing.16 Nonetheless, research strongly suggests that reading to children is positively linked to young children’s cognitive development, driven in part by the frequency and amount of time spent reading with children.17,18 Parents universally want their children to thrive, and research suggests that it may be valuable to help parents establish a regular habit of reading just 15-20 minutes a night with their children.19
This brief found few differences in resident Hispanic father involvement by nativity, all limited to fathers of young children (i.e., birth to age 4). Notably, U.S.-born resident Hispanic fathers reported playing or reading with their young child, bathing their child, and changing their young child’s diaper (or helping child with the toilet) somewhat more frequently than foreign-born Hispanic fathers. Possible reasons for these differences include varying norms and expectations about parenting roles. Some research, for example, finds that foreign-born or less assimilated Latino parents hold more traditional gender views—including toward child caregiving—than U.S.-born or more assimilated parents.20,21 How these views are linked to father engagement among Latino dads, however, is not clear. Some research suggests that foreign-born Latino fathers place a high value on their role as a father, but that this role may be reflected more through breadwinning than through direct caregiving of young children.22 However, other research finds that less acculturated Mexican-American men and those with more positive machismo values (i.e., endorsement of more positive values about the father’s role in the family) are actually more meaningfully involved in their children’s lives than more acculturated fathers or those with less positive machismo values.23,24
Other reasons for the differences between U.S.-born and foreign-born resident Hispanic fathers’ involvement with their preschool-age children reflect potential differences in opportunity. For example, immigrant Latino fathers are more likely than U.S.-born fathers to work nonstandard hours,25 which may limit the amount of time they have to spend with their children or on caregiving activities.26 Immigrant fathers also have lower levels of formal education, on average, than U.S.-born fathers10 and, as a result, may have lower levels of literacy; this may contribute to differences between the two groups in the level of comfort in reading to their children. More generally, efforts to support positive parenting among fathers need to pay attention to the drivers of differences in parenting behaviors by nativity among Hispanic fathers of preschool-age children examined in this brief. Helping families establish regular routines of reading, for example, will be more difficult in families where literacy is limited. For these families, encouragement of storytelling and singing may be especially valuable, in addition to investments in parental literacy.
The analysis in this brief focused on levels of father involvement. However, the conceptualization of father involvement is quite complex, and the specific measures used to tap into this broad concept continue to evolve.27,28,3 Current conceptualizations increasingly emphasize the quality of father-child relationships, in addition to the quantity or level of involvement such as we measure in this brief. That is, there is movement toward examining (1) how fathers engage (e.g., are they warm, cognitively stimulating, supportive, and nurturing; what is the quality of fathering behaviors), (2) why they engage (e.g., what are their cognitions and identity around fathering, are they emotionally close to their children), and (3) what they do to engage (e.g., are they generally accessible, do they play with their child or provide resources) with their children.29,30,5 These questions are increasingly being examined via small-scale studies and larger-scale studies using longitudinal data, such as the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCW) and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey-Birth Cohort (ECLS‐B). However, both of these longitudinal studies sample a cohort of children born in 2001 and may be less informative for current cohorts of children. Although cross-sectional secondary data sources, such as the NSFG, do provide more current information about the frequency of engagement in positive behaviors among fathers, they often do not provide information about the quality of fathering involvement behaviors and the cognitive and affective components of the father-child relationship. Despite this limitation, this descriptive snapshot provides one important piece of the story needed to understand contemporary patterns of resident Hispanic fathering.
a In this brief, we use the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” interchangeably.
b There are an insufficient number of Hispanic fathers in these data who do not live with at least one child to confidently analyze.
c Caregiving and engagement activities can both involve direct interaction between a parent and child. Caregiving activities include those that meet a child’s needs (like eating, staying clean and healthy, and having clothing), and can involve direct or indirect interaction. Engagement involves direct interaction with a child that can promote social, cognitive, and language development, but is not essential to meeting children’s primary needs.
d The upper age limit of fathers (age 44) in the NSFG means that the fathers in this sample may not be representative of all fathers in the population. That is, the sample will be biased to those fathers who had children at relatively younger ages. For example, a father in his 40s whose has an 18-year-old child would have had to become a father in his early to mid 20s, at the latest, to be included in this sample. Similarly, a man who fathered his children after age 45 will not be included. This issue is less of a concern for Latino fathers; the average age at first birth among Latino men is 24.6, younger than the average age across all fathers (25.5). (Source: NRFC Quick Statistics 2018: Fathers and Fertility)
The authors would like to thank the Steering Committee of the National Research Center on Hispanic Children & Families, Allison Hyra, Mindy Scott, and staff from OPRE for their feedback on earlier drafts of this brief, as well as Sara Dean for her research assistance at multiple stages of this project.
Editor: Brent Franklin
Designer: Catherine Nichols
About the authors
Elizabeth Wildsmith, PhD, is the Center’s deputy director and co-leads its Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood research area. Dr. Wildsmith’s research examines fertility, relationships and marriage, the transition to adulthood, Hispanic families, and reproductive health.
Elizabeth Karberg, PhD, is a senior research scientist at Child Trends. Her research broadly focuses on family formation, father involvement, parents’ relationships, and children’s positive development. She has led research that specifically examines how fathers shape children’s linguistic, social, and regulatory development, and how family contexts shape parenting and fatherhood.
Brooke Whitfield is a research analyst at Child Trends. She studies women’s and adolescent health topics, including teen pregnancy, contraception use, unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), intimate partner violence, and family formation.
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