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OBJECTIVE: Fathers are increasingly involved in care of their babies and young children. We assessed the association of resident fathers' involvement with subsequent behaviour of their children, examining boys and girls separately. METHODS: We used longitudinal data from the UK Millennium Cohort Study for children born in 2000-2001, divided into three separate analysis periods: ages 9 months to 3 years, 3 to 5 years, and 5 to 7 years. By exploratory factor analysis of self-reported attitudes and engagement in caring activities, we derived composite measures of various types of father involvement at 9 months, 3 and 5 years. Where possible we created equivalent measures of mother involvement. Child behaviour was assessed by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), which was completed by the mother when the child was aged 3, 5 and 7 years. We estimated gender-specific odds ratios for behaviour problems per quintile of father involvement, using separate logistic regression models for boys and girls in each analysis period. We controlled for a wide range of potential confounders: characteristics of the child (temperament and development at 9 months, and illness and exact age at outcome), equivalent mother involvement where appropriate, and factors related to socioeconomic status, household change, and parental well-being, where statistically significant. RESULTS: Paternal positive parenting beliefs at age 9 months and increased frequency of creative play at age 5 years were significantly associated with lower risk of subsequent behaviour problems (SDQ total difficulties) in both boys and girls (p<0.05), odds ratios ranging between 0.81 and 0.89 per quintile of involvement. No associations were observed for other composite measures of caring activity by the father at 9 months, 3 years or 5 years. CONCLUSION: Quality of parenting, rather than the division of routine care between parents, was associated with child behavioural outcomes.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date