Science of Dad and the ‘Father Effect’

When you analyse the social science about the importance of dads, it is unequivocal. Dads are vitally important to their children’s success in a myriad of ways.

As George Herbert said, “One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters.” This is not speculation — it is reality.

Joshua A Krisch puts the case well for this in an article titled “The Science of Dad and the ‘Father Effect’“. The subtitle says it all: “There are data-driven reasons why kids do better with a father figure in their lives.” The article is 2600 words long, so I have abbreviated it heavily. Read the full article here.

There’s no question that parenting styles impact a kid’s well-being long into the future. No pressure! But it’s often motherhood, rather than fatherhood, that dominates parenting studies. This leaves the question of how to be a good dad somewhat in the shadows.

So far, we know that kids who grow up with a present, engaged dad are less likely to drop out of school or wind up in jail, compared to children with absent fathers and no other male caretakers or role models.

When children have close relationships with father figures, they tend to avoid high-risk behaviours, and they’re less likely to have sex at a young age. They’re more likely to have high-paying jobs and healthy, stable relationships when they grow up. They also tend to have higher IQ test scores by the age of 3 and endure fewer psychological problems throughout their lives when dads take the role of a father seriously. Altogether, these benefits of having an engaged dad are called the “father effect.”

“When fathers are actively involved with their children, children do better,” says Paul Amato, PhD, a sociologist who studies parent-child relationships at Pennsylvania State University. “Research suggests that fathers are important for a child’s development.”

To a man holding his baby, this may seem like a given. But strange as it may sound, fatherhood is an emerging field of study. Scientists are making up for lost time by finally releasing conclusive data about a father’s effect on his children. Almost daily, academic journals are publishing new data that illustrates how men can both help and hurt their children, and how to be a better dad…

The “father effect” is the umbrella term for the benefits of a paternal presence. Of course, a father’s active participation in the family is always preferable. “There needs to be a minimum amount of time spent together, but the quality of time is more important than the quantity of time,” Amato says. “Just watching television together, for example, isn’t going to help much.”

Fatherhood Starts with Sperm

Fathers are more than just sperm donors, but the DNA sperm carries is important. There is perhaps no greater and more universal father effect than genetic information…

Studies suggest that men who binge drink before conception are more likely to have kids with congenital heart diseases and who abuse alcohol.

Poor dietary choices in men can lead to negative pregnancy outcomes. At least one study suggests that men who are stressed before conception may predispose their offspring to high blood sugar.

“We know the nutritional, hormonal, and psychological environment provided by the mother permanently alters organ structure, cellular response, and gene expression in her offspring,” cellular biologist Joanna Kitlinska, PhD, of Georgetown University, who ran a study on the subject in 2016, said in a statement. “But our study shows the same thing to be true with fathers — his lifestyle, and how old he is, can be reflected in molecules that control gene function.”

Good Dads Are Incubated

Whether early attachment to a baby breeds more serious involvement in the long-term is a matter of debate, but there’s plenty of evidence that it does. In a 2011 literature review on paternal involvement during pregnancy and labour, the authors claim that dads who are actively involved and invested in the baby before they’re born disproportionately remain involved in the child’s life.

And, as numerous studies have shown, more paternal involvement means better outcomes for kids. To foster this connection, some scientists have argued that healthy women and newborns should return home as soon as possible after delivery, especially if the father is not allowed to stay overnight in the hospital.

Good Dads and Engaged Father Figures

Being around is one thing; being engaged is another. “The quantity of interaction doesn’t really benefit kids. But if you have more high-quality, engaged parenting that does seem to be positively related to outcomes for children,” Carlson says. Warmth is also a key factor. Fathers who spend a lot of time with their kids but are dismissive or insulting tend to have only negative impacts.

“Low-quality fathering can involve behaving coldly toward one’s children,” says Danielle DelPriore, PhD, a developmental psychologist at the University of Utah. “Insulting them, or engaging in problem behaviours are largely incompatible with being a present and engaged father.”

What Is a Good Father to an Infant and Toddler?

One 1991 study found that infants attained higher cognitive scores at age 1 if their fathers were involved in their lives when they were 1 month old. Preterm infants similarly score higher at 36 months if their dads play an active role from birth. A separate study found that infants who played with their dads at 9 months enjoyed similar benefits.father effect

What Is a Good Dad to a Daughter?

Most studies suggest that, until children hit puberty, the father effect is roughly equal for boys and girls. Both boys and girls who are fortunate enough to have dads in their lives excel and, in some cases, outperform their peers. But when hormones kick in, studies demonstrate that dads suddenly become the arbiters of their children’s sexual behaviour too. This is most acutely felt by teenage daughters, who take fewer sexual risks if they have strong relationships with their dads.

“Numerous past studies find a link between low-quality fathering and daughters’ sexual outcomes, including early and risky sexual behaviour,” says DelPriore, who has studied how dads impact risky sex. “A father who is cold or disengaged may change daughters’ social environments and sexual psychology in ways that promote unrestricted sexual behaviour.”

Read the full article here.


Wow! I have been studying the world of science behind the importance of fathers and even I learnt some things I didn’t know. I am sure you will be encouraged.

Lovework this week is to read the whole article above and put the section about being a good dad into practice. I am still working on it, and I fail regularly but I am not giving up.

Yours for being a Good Dad,
Warwick Marsh


First published at Dads4Kids. Photo by Gustavo Fring.

By |2022-05-13T09:55:44+10:00May 13th, 2022|Children, Dads, Families|0 Comments

About the Author:

Warwick Marsh has been married to Alison Marsh since 1975; they have five children and nine grandchildren, and he and his wife live in Wollongong in NSW, Australia. He is a family and faith advocate, social reformer, musician, TV producer, writer and public speaker.

Warwick is a leader in the Men’s and Family Movement, and he is well-known in Australia for his advocacy for children, marriage, manhood, family, fatherhood and faith. Warwick is passionate to encourage men to be great fathers and to know the greatest Father of all. The Father in Whom “there is no shadow of turning.”

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