20-year long Swedish study into the benefits of an “active father figure” in a child’s life


Below is a very interesting article about the results of a 20-year long Swedish research study into the influence a father figure has on the early development of children.

I know that Western science has bandied around the concept of a father figure being a beneficial factor for the healthy development of children for a long time now, especially during early life, but to read the published results of a 20-year review is quite something else. 

I know that the Irish (the article was posted on the website: www.irishhealth.com), have had problems with deprivation of the home, or should we say, they’ve had teething problems learning how to build and make family homes for sustained and healthy development of their children. 

But in Asia, there are still many cultures who categorically believe it doesn’t take many to actually, hands-on raise children. 

The father, or mother, depending on the culture, is often expected to leave the home and carry on with work outside of the home, while there is only one adult member left to rear the children.  The working parent may not even have significant, if any, contact with their child.  Yes, nowadays, in the West we would call this ‘backwards’ or something only found in ‘dysfunctional’, ‘broken’ or ‘unhealthy’ homes and would expect, and be on the look-out for development problems.

Often the children are left to roam around the village, or local area, and raised in a ‘group atmosphere’ with no specific guidance or specified, over-riding and ultimately responsible care-giver. 

This must be a method to get around a weakness, surely? 

I believe the weakness would be the cold-hard fact that raising people sufficiently enough for an improving and progressive world becomes ever-more difficult.  Thus, “many hands make light work” would be the motto and proverb many choose to abide by. 

Ultimately, in the West, we believe there should be a continuous development programme of people, even if the home only serves the child for a limited time-frame. 

Such external, societal services for development of people include: nursery, school, work place, pastoral care, mentoring programmes, apprenticeship schemes, membership of community organizations and associations, corporate training programmes and career development, governmental employment organizations such as the military etc.

In China, the family support should be strong and older generations are looked to for help and advice, but less so now when child rearing mentalities, attitudes and knowledge are starting to evolve and differ between generations. 

In England, it has been noted that grandparents are beginning to be leaned on heavily as a form of unpaid child-caring facility, to enable both parents to return to work and/or to reduce the trap of high child-care bills versus extra salary. Brief summary of an article from The Times Online follows:

Grandparents should be paid for childcare, says report

Grandparents are demanding to be paid for the thousands of hours of free childcare they provide each year and their claim for financial recognition is supported by most parents, a report has found.

The report calls on ministers to allow grandparents to receive the child care tax credit, currently worth up to £300 a week, if they are helping parents to return to work. Only parents using nurseries and registered child minders can claim the benefit under existing rules.

(Source: http://women.timesonline.co.uk/
Rosemary Bennett, Social Affairs Correspondent; March 25, 2009)

However, what I have just said is very sweeping, broad strokes. The finer point of the 20-year study is to actually pin-point and tangiblize what is actually involved in being a beneficial father figure? What does the role entail? And how do those activities directly influence the child’s development? Those questions, though, could not be conclusively answered and further study would be required.

Just as we may have a work agreement that stipulates our duties, responsibilities and job activities – what is required to be a beneficial parent?

As China undergoes a population and demographic predicament, I’m sure that child and people development are a long-running theme. It certainly isn’t the only place, but since it’s population is the largest, I’m sure many eyes are turned that way to find out how it may seek to solve its population problems.

But since it’s so difficult to fathom, perhaps it is better to stay attuned to less populous places within more developed countries, such as the UK and the USA.


Here is the article about the 20-year Swedish study:

Father figure essential for kids

Source: www.irishhealth.com
written by Deborah Condon, 2008

Fatheranddaughter-father figure

Children who have an active father figure are less likely to experience behavioural and psychological problems, the results of a new study indicate.

A team of Swedish researchers analysed 24 papers from 16 studies published between 1987 and 2007. The smallest study involved just 17 infants, while the largest involved over 8,000 people up to the age of 33.

“Our detailed 20-year review shows that overall, children reap positive benefits if they have active and regular engagement with a father figure”, said Dr Anna Sarkadi of Uppsala University in Sweden.

The research found that active father figures have a key role to play in reducing behavioural problems in boys and psychological problems in girls.

It also found that regular positive contact with a father figure reduces criminal behaviour among children in low income families and enhances cognitive skills, such as intelligence, language development and reasoning.

“We found various studies that showed that children who had positively involved father figures were less likely to smoke and get into trouble with the police, achieved better levels of education and developed good friendships with children of both sexes”, Dr Sarkadi explained.

She said that one of the long term benefits identified was among women who had good relationships with their fathers. Those who had a good relationship with their father at the age of 16 were more likely to have a better relationship with their partner and a greater sense of mental and physical wellbeing at the age of 33.

However the researchers pointed out that it was not possible to conclude what type of engagement the father figure needed to provide in order to produce positive effects.

“The studies show that it can range from talking and sharing activities to playing an active role in the child’s day-to-day care”, Dr Sarkadi said.

She explained that more research is needed to determine whether the outcomes are different depending on whether the child lives with their biological father or with another father figure.

“However our review backs up the intuitive assumption that engaged biological fathers or father figures are good for children, especially when the children are socially or economically disadvantaged”, she said.

The research also found that children who lived with both a mother and father figure had less behavioural problems than those who just lived with their mother.

“However it is not possible to tell whether this is because the father figure is more involved or whether the mother is able to be a better parent if she has more support at home”, Dr Sarkadi said.

The researchers believe that it is important that professionals who work with young children and their families explore how actively fathers are involved with their children from an early age.

“Involving them in healthcare visits and explicitly seeking their opinions when making decisions could be a good way to promote high levels of engagement. Stressing that fathers have an important role in promoting their child’s social and emotional development is another good strategy”, Dr Sarkadi said.

She explained that governments and employers also have an important role to play in ensuring that men can spend quality time with their children.

Public policy has the potential to facilitate or create barriers to fathers spending time with their children during the crucial years of early development. Unfortunately current institutional policies in most countries do not support the increased involvement of fathers in child rearing. Paid parental leave for fathers and employers sympathetic to fathers staying at home with sick children is still a dream in most countries”, Dr Sarkadi said.

She added that she hoped this study shows that father-friendly policies ‘can make a major contribution to society in the long run, by producing well-adjusted children and reducing major problems like crime and antisocial behaviour’.

Details of these findings are published in the journal, Acta Paediatrica.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s