CHICAGO - The detached dad, turning up his nose at diapering and too busy to bathe, dress, and play with his children, is mostly a myth, a big government survey suggests. Most American fathers say they are heavily involved in hands-on parenting, the researchers found.
The nationally representative survey shows fathers' involvement has increased slightly since the government first asked in 2002, coinciding with research since then that bolsters the benefits of hands-on fathering.
The results are encouraging and important "because others have found the more involved dads are, the better the outcomes for their children," said researcher Jo Jones of the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control Prevention. She cowrote the report released Friday.
More academic success, fewer behavior problems, and healthier eating habits are just some of the ways fathers' involvement has been linked with children's well-being.
"Times have changed," said Robert Loftus, 34, of Yonkers, N.Y. He quit a six-figure sales job a year ago to care for his two young children while his wife works full time. "We're trying to rethink our priorities, and family seems to be the No. 1 priority whereas in the past maybe people were more focused on career."
The results build on volumes of research showing changes in the American family since the baby boom years and before, when women were mostly stay-at-home moms and dads were the major breadwinners. As those roles shifted, so did the view that mothers are the only nurturers.
University of Chicago sociologist Jennifer Bellamy, who also studies fathering, said some old stereotypes persist, "that dads are sort of the copilots in their families," absent or less involved than moms.
But she said the survey confirms that fathers "are quite involved in a variety of different and important ways."
The study involved nearly 4,000 fathers ages 15 to 44 who were interviewed in person between 2006 and 2010. One caveat: They self-reported their involvement, without input from their partners or others. Most men were married or living with a partner.
Key findings among fathers living with children younger than 5:
Nine in 10 bathed, diapered, helped them use the toilet or get dressed at least several times weekly.
Even higher numbers played with them and ate meals with them that often.
Almost two out of three read to them at least several times weekly.
Among dads living with children ages 5-18:
More than nine out of 10 ate meals with them at least several times weekly and talked with them about what happened during the kids' day that often.
Almost two out of three helped with homework several times weekly.
About half took their children to or from activities that often.