Despite a long-standing decline, America’s nuclear family survives. Although just five in six fathers live with their chidlren, those men are more likely than ever to interact with their kids and to share meals with them, according to new research from the National Center for Health Statistics.
"Men who live with [their] kids interact with them more. Just the proximity makes it easier," Jo Jones, a statistician with the organization, told HealthDay last week. "But significant portions of fathers who are not coresidential play with their children, eat with them, and more, on a daily basis. There's a segment of non-coresidential dads who participate very actively.”
And then there’s a contingent of fathers who live with their children without much interaction, recalling to mind the dad from ABC’s The Wonder Years. “Living with children doesn't necessarily mean a dad will be involved."
The statistical findings were published Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Health statisticians surveyed more than 10,000 men, ages 15 to 44, of whom approximately half had children. As a nod to the modern family, the researchers included not only biological children but those adopted or brought together in step families.
In total, 73 percent of fathers surveyed lived with their children, while 16 percent didn’t. Another 11 percent lived in more complicated family situations, living with some children but not others. For children under age five, 72 percent of cohabiting fathers ate meals with their young children, though older, uneducated, or Hispanic fathers were all less likely to do so. African-American fathers living with their children were most likely to check homework assignments for their children, according to the study.
Interestingly, the split in childrearing duties appeared consistent. Ninety percent of fathers living with children reported changing diapers and bathing babies. Nearly one-third told researchers they changed diapers at least several times per week. Aside from a more equitable partnership between fathers and mothers, Jones asserted that numerous scientific study proves the benefit of fatherly involvement in childrearing, with fathers living with children six times more likely to read to them.
Naturally, most fathers thought they could do a better job of parenting. Forty four percent of fathers living with children surveyed rated themselves as doing a “very good job,” while only 21 percent of non-cohabiting fathers said the same.
Victor Fornari, who directs child and adolescent psychiatry at a New Jersey Hospital, North Shore-LIJ, told HealthDay that he found the modern fractured family “sad,” given limited access of children to fathers. "We have to be mindful of the differences fathers can make in the life of a child," he said. "It seems that not being there is a sense of distress and frustration for the fathers," he said. "But they need to know that the quality of parenting matters whether you live there or not."