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Father involvement in early child-rearing and behavioural outcomes in their pre-adolescent children: evidence from the ALSPAC UK birth cohort
  1. Charles Opondo,
  2. Maggie Redshaw,
  3. Emily Savage-McGlynn,
  4. Maria A Quigley
  1. Policy Research Unit in Maternal Health and Care, National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Charles Opondo; charles.opondo{at}


Objective To explore the nature of paternal involvement in early child-rearing adopting a social developmental perspective, and estimate its effect on behavioural outcomes of children aged 9 and 11 years.

Setting The data come from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) cohort recruited in the former county of Avon in the southwest of England.

Participants Out of the 14 701 children in this cohort who were alive at 1 year, 10 440 children were living with both parents at 8 months and were therefore eligible. Outcome data were available for 6898 children at 9 years and 6328 children at 11 years.

Main exposure Paternal involvement was measured using factor scores obtained through factor analysis of fathers’ responses on their participation in, understanding of, and feelings about their child's early upbringing.

Outcome Behavioural problems were measured using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) total difficulties score.

Results 3 factors were identified in the factor analysis: Factor 1 described fathers’ emotional response to the child; factor 2 measured the frequency of fathers’ involvement in domestic and childcare activities; factor 3 characterised fathers’ feelings of security in their role as parent and partner. Children of fathers with high scores on factors 1 and 3 had 14% (OR 0.86, 95% CI 0.79 to 0.94, p=0.001) and 13% (OR 0.87, 95% CI 0.79 to 0.96, p=0.006), respectively, lower adjusted odds of behavioural problems at 9 years. Factors 1 and 3 were associated with comparable reduction in adjusted odds of behavioural problems at 11 years (OR 0.89, 95% CI 0.81 to 0.98, p=0.017 and OR 0.89, 95% CI 0.81 to 0.99, p=0.034, respectively). Factor 2 was not associated with the outcome.

Conclusions Psychological and emotional aspects of paternal involvement in children's early upbringing, particularly how new fathers see themselves as parents and adjust to the role, rather than the quantity of direct involvement in childcare, is associated with positive behavioural outcomes in children.

  • fathers involvement
  • child-rearing
  • behavioural outcomes

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  • Twitter Follow Charles Opondo at @charlesopondo

  • Contributors All authors contributed to the study design. CO conducted the analysis and all authors interpreted the results. CO produced the draft manuscript to which all authors contributed and provided feedback during its development. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript and will serve as guarantors for its contents.

  • Funding This paper reports on an independent study which was funded by the Policy Research Programme in the Department of Health, England (grant 108/0001). The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Department. The UK Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust (grant 102215/2/13/2), and the University of Bristol provide core support for ALSPAC.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval Ethical approval for the study was obtained from the ALSPAC Ethics and Law Committee and the Local Research Ethics Committees.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Data are available from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) at the University of Bristol for researchers who meet the criteria for access to confidential data. The authors do not own this data, and have signed a legal agreement with the data owners not to share the data publicly. Permission to access the data is granted by the ALSPAC project at the University of Bristol. Information on data access is available at