Association between father involvement and attitudes in early child-rearing and depressive symptoms in the pre-adolescent period in a UK birth cohort

J Affect Disord. 2017 Oct 15:221:115-122. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2017.06.010. Epub 2017 Jun 15.


Background: Much of the research on parenting and its influence on child development has emphasised the mother's role. However, increasing evidence highlights the important role of fathers in the development, health and well-being of their children. We sought to explore the association between paternal involvement in early child-rearing and depressive symptoms in 9 and 11 year-old children.

Methods: We used data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) cohort recruited in the southwest of England. The outcome was depressive symptoms measured using the short Moods and Feelings Questionnaire (sMFQ) score. The main exposure was father involvement measured through factor analysis of fathers' responses on their participation in, understanding of, and feelings about their child's early upbringing. Scores on factor 1 measured fathers' emotional response to the child; scores on factor 2 measured the frequency of father involvement in domestic and childcare activities; scores on factor 3 measured fathers' feelings of security in their role as parent and partner.

Results: Children of fathers with high scores on factors 1 and 3 had 13% (OR 0.87, 95%CI 0.77-0.98, p = 0.024) and 9% (OR 0.91, 95%CI 0.80-1.03, p = 0.129) respectively lower adjusted odds of depressive symptoms at 9 and 11 years. For factor 2, there was weak evidence of a 17% increase in odds of depressive symptoms associated with 1 unit higher factor scores at both ages (OR 1.17, 95%CI 1.00-1.37, p = 0.050).

Limitations: In these observational data, the possibility of residual confounding in the association between the exposure and the outcome cannot be ruled out.

Conclusion: Positive psychological and emotional aspects of father involvement in children's early upbringing, but not the quantity of direct involvement in childcare, may protect children against developing symptoms of depression in their pre-teen years.

Keywords: ALSPAC; Child-rearing; Depression; Father involvement; Fathers.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude*
  • Child
  • Child Rearing / psychology*
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Emotions
  • England
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Father-Child Relations*
  • Fathers / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Parenting / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires