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Monday, September 10th, 2012
Fathers might not carry babies in their wombs or breastfeed them or even change all that many diapers–but scientists are learning more and more about the myriad levels of influence dads have on their children. A New York Times op-ed by science editor Judith Shulevitz reads, in part:
Before I began reading up on fathers and their influence on future generations, I had a high-school-biology-level understanding of how a man passes his traits on to his child. His sperm and the mother’s egg smash into each other, his sperm tosses in one set of chromosomes, the egg tosses in another, and a child’s genetic future is set for life. Physical features: check. Character: check. Cognitive style: check. But the pathways of inheritance, I’ve learned, are subtler and more varied than that. Genes matter, and culture matters, and how fathers behave matters, too.
Lately scientists have become obsessed with a means of inheritance that isn’t genetic but isn’t nongenetic either. It’s epigenetic. “Epi,” in Greek, means “above” or “beyond.” Think of epigenetics as the way our bodies modify their genetic makeup. Epigenetics describes how genes are turned on or off, in part through compounds that hitch on top of DNA — or else jump off it — determining whether it makes the proteins that tell our bodies what to do.
In the past decade or so, the study of epigenetics has become so popular it’s practically a fad. Psychologists and sociologists particularly like it because gene expression or suppression is to some degree dictated by the environment and plays at least as large a role as genes do in the development of a person’s temperament, body shape and predisposition to disease. I’ve become obsessed with epigenetics because it strikes me as both game-changing and terrifying. Our genes can be switched on or off by three environmental factors, among other things: what we ingest (food, drink, air, toxins); what we experience (stress, trauma); and how long we live.
Image: Father and son, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, June 13th, 2012
A study that put dollar values to household tasks that are typically done by either women or men gave more financial worth to those done by mothers than by fathers. MSNBC.com reports:
Insure.com calculated what they deemed to be daddy duties, including things such as barbecuing, killing bugs and mowing the lawn. The study found the domestic tasks would total about $20,248 a year if they were paid work. That compared to $60,182 annually for moms for doing things such as cooking, cleaning and nursing wounds. The value of the work was based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for how much similar jobs out in the real work world would pay.
Another study by Salary.com found that the value of what working dads do at home is actually rising. The company looked at online responses from nearly 3,000 dads who reported on the number of hours they put into tasks at home, including everything from cooking to driving kids around, and found the value of what the dads did jumped to $36,757 this year from $33,858 the previous year. A previous study of work done by working moms found what the moms do at home is valued at $66,979, compared to $63,471 in 2011.
Image: Woman making sandwiches, via Shutterstock.
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Wednesday, March 7th, 2012
A new 15-year study shows that the ways parents play with their children at age 2 has a direct correlation with how well they perform academically throughout their school years. Researchers from Utah State University’s department of Family, Consumer and Human Development (FCHD) followed 229 children from low-income families. Mothers, fathers, or both parents played regularly with the children, and some of the children also received Early Head Start educational experiences.
The study isolated four types of play that had a direct effect on later academic performance:
- Encouraging and engaging in pretend play
- Presenting activities in an organized sequence of steps
- Elaborating on the pictures, words, and actions in a book or on unique attributes of objects
- Relating play activity or book text to the child’s experience
The role of each parent also was a factor. The researchers looked at two different family types, those who lived with biological fathers and those who didn’t. They found that in both these family situations, children perform better academically when mothers teach more during play with their toddlers. When live-in biological fathers teach during play with their toddlers, they make an additional positive contribution to their child’s 5th grade math and reading performance.
Image: Mother and daughter playing with blocks, via Shutterstock.
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Wednesday, December 7th, 2011
In families where mothers are in the workforce, 32 percent of fathers are regular sources of child care, and one in five fathers are the primary source of child care, a new study released by the Census Bureau has found. The report, a series of tables called “Who’s Minding the Kids? Child Care Arrangements: Spring 2010,” tracked a typical week, during which 61 percent of all American children under age 5 had some kind of child care arrangement.
The changing economy accounts for some of the heightened involvement of fathers, researchers say.
“A recession may force families to adjust their child care arrangements, “ Lynda Laughlin, a family demographer at the Census Bureau, said in a statement. “It can trigger unemployment or changes in work hours, thus increasing the availability of fathers to provide child care. It also can reduce available income to pay for child care outside of the home.”
Other highlights from the report include:
- In households with working moms, family members continue to serve as an important source of child care for preschoolers. In spring of 2010, 30 percent of preschoolers were regularly cared for by their grandparents, 29 percent were cared for by their fathers, and 12 percent received care from a sibling or other relative.
- Preschoolers with employed black and Hispanic mothers were more likely to be cared for by their grandparents than their fathers. Twenty-nine percent of black preschoolers were cared for by their grandparents, while a quarter (22 percent) were cared for by their fathers. A third of Hispanic preschoolers were regularly taken care of by their grandparent, compared with 29 percent who received care from their fathers.
- Among preschoolers of employed non-Hispanic white mothers, 30 percent were cared for by their fathers and 29 percent were cared for by their grandparents.
- Of the 21 million mothers who were employed in the spring of 2010, one-third reported they paid for child care for at least one of their children.
- Families with an employed mother and children younger than 15 paid an average of $138 per week for child care in 2010, up from $81 in 1985 (in constant 2010 dollars), the first year that these data were collected.
Image: Father playing with his child, via Shutterstock.
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Monday, November 7th, 2011
A study that will be published in the December issue of the journal Pediatrics shows that children whose fathers show signs of depression are 70 percent more likely to develop emotional or behavioral problems themselves.
The new research builds on earlier findings that show correlation between maternal depression and child depression. This is the first major study that examines paternal depression and its effect on children.
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“For years we’ve been studying maternal depression and how it affects children, but the medical community has done a huge disservice by ignoring fathers in this research,” said the study’s lead author, Michael Weitzman, a professor of pediatric medicine at New York University, in New York. “These findings reinforce what we already assumed — that fathers matter, too, and they matter quite a lot.”
The situation is predictably worse if both parents are depressed. Just 6% of children with two mentally healthy parents have serious emotional or behavioral problems, such as feeling sad or nervous, acting out at school, or clashing with family and peers, the study found. But that proportion increases to 11% if the father is depressed, 19% if the mother is depressed and 25% if both parents are depressed — a strikingly high number, Weitzman says.
Although the study doesn’t prove that a parent’s depression directly causes problems in children, rather than vice versa, previous research on mothers and children has clearly shown that it’s generally mothers who influence kids’ mental health, not the other way around.