Thursday, February 5, 2009

Involved dads improve kids' IQs, social mobility

A study of more than 10,000 British children who have been followed for more than 50 years suggests that the children of involved fathers have higher IQs and greater social mobility as adults.

The study says fathers have the same salutary effects on both sons and daughters, even though previous studies have suggested that fathers become more involved with sons than with daughters.

The study, published in a recent edition of the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, also found that the beneficial effects of fathers are more pronounced in wealthier families than in poor families.

The study’s author, Daniel Nettle of Newcastle University, notes that many studies have now found a link between father involvement and children’s well-being. Among the things that involved fathers can do is improve their kids’ cognitive ability, achievement in school, psychological adjustment, and social competence. The children of involved fathers have also been found to have fewer conduct problems.

Not all of these studies are on firm scientific ground, Nettle says. In some of them, the data on father’s involvement and kids’ outcomes comes from the same person, who might unwittingly slant the results.

But there is enough evidence, he says, to conclude that the beneficial consequences of fathers’ involvement are real.

Interestingly, Nettle found that it wasn’t merely the presence of the father that made a difference. It was his involvement with the children. The children of families with uninvolved fathers did no better than children in families in which the father was absent.

It’s not known, Nettle says, why some fathers become more involved with their children than other fathers do. Nor do researchers understand what is happening psychologically in the children to produce the beneficial effects.

This study has limitations, too, as do many of the others. It does not put the matter to rest. But it should encourage further research. Clearly something is going on with fathers and with children. And in order to take better advantage of that relationship, we need to know more about exactly what is going on.

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