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Long-term impacts of early paternal involvement

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Findings from the Danish Longitudinal Study of the 1995 Cohort (DALSC) suggest that equal parenting reduces the risk of family dissolution.

Trends towards equal parenting are among the key characteristics of the (late) modern family in the Nordic countries. Scholars have observed the emergence of a father role, characterized by increased presence, commitment to, and involvement in, children care. Family policies have supported this development by allowing (in some countries even encouraging) fathers to take leave for childbirth and childcare. In another area of welfare policy, Nordic family law has moved toward more gender neutrality over the past 15 ‐20 years by equalizing fathers and mothers. Today, joint legal custody is the normal point of departure for divorced or separated parents, and family law also enables the legal authorities to determine that a child could have a shared living arrangement.

We have examined the association between the social practices of fathering before and after family break up, by exploring how the configuration of the (late) modern fatherhood, the caregiving father in the intact family, is related to the configuration of the increasingly involved father after divorce. Using data from the Danish Longitudinal Study of the 1995 Cohort, we focused on the short-term as well as the long-term implications of fathers’ involvement in child care (paternity leave, parental leave take-up and daily care during early childhood). The questions to be examined were: 1) Do fathers living in an intact family with an equal parenting regime experience the same risk of family dissolution as fathers in families, where parents tend toward exercising a traditional gender order? 2) Does an equal parenting regime in intact families lead to equal parenting arrangements and close father‐child bonds after family break up? 3) What characterizes involved divorced fathers compared with absent divorced fathers in their socio‐demographic set-up?

Our findings suggest that lack of paternal involvement in early childhood - in terms of non-use of paternity and parental leave or absence in everyday child care tasks - is associated with risk of nuclear family dissolution, also in a long-term perspective (i.e. when the children have reached 15 years). With regard to the association between early father involvement in the intact family and the likelihood to maintain a close relationship to the child as a divorced father, the analysis leaves a more mixed picture: we cannot demonstrate any impact of family policy measures (take up of paternity and parental leave), whereas the legal ties between the members of the family as well as the social practices of everyday life in the intact family appear to be important for the subsequent parenting construction (in terms of joint legal custody, extended contact and parental cooperation). Moreover, the analysis suggests that divorced fathers positioned in the top of the occupational hierarchy are more likely to keep contact with their 15-year-old child, compared to divorced fathers who are outside the labour market.

This analysis has been published as a chapter in the anthology: 15-year-olds’ Everyday Life and Challenges. The anthology was released in the autumn of 2012 and consists of chapter contributions from a number of researchers at SFI. They analysed data from the fifth data collection (conducted in 2011) of SFI’s Danish Longitudinal Study of the 1995 Cohort (DALSC).

Among other contributions in the anthology are analyses of child poverty; young people's school experiences and expectations for their future education; parenting practices in families with teenagers; young people's consumption of drugs and alcohol; prevalence of young people with diagnoses of ADHD and symptoms of hyperactivity; and an analysis of adolescents with eating problems and depressive symptoms.

SFI has followed a nationally representative sample of 6,000 Danish children since their birth. The first data collection took place in 1996, when the children were 4-5 months old. At the second wave of data gathering in 1999, the children had reached 3 ½ years; the third wave took place in 2003, just after the now 7-year-old children had started school; the fourth data collection wave was in 2007 (the children had then reached 11 years), and the fifth data collection took place in 2011, when some of the young people (15 years of age) were about to leave primary school. We expect to follow the 1995 cohort into their adult life. The sixth wave of data collection is planned to take place in 2014. At that time the young people will be 19 years old.

All waves of data collection have been carried out by visiting the children and their families in their home. Until 2011 the mother served as the study's primary respondent. The children themselves have participated as respondents since they were 11 years old.

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