Fatherhood in 2020

The new societal standard for an ideal father mirrors mothers’ experiences navigating the demands, various roles, and sacrifices that come with parenthood. The new “good father” takes an active role in caring for their children, contributes to household tasks, while also remaining committed to their job. Fathers are doing more now than ever, and negotiating these competing demands is taxing. The four studies below serve as a reminder of how profoundly impactful fathers are for their children - and how children can impact their fathers.

1) Using 12 years of data from over 6000 firms in Denmark, a team of economists found that when CEOs had a daughter, the wages of their female employees rose relative to the wages of their male employees. This impact was stronger if the daughter was the CEO’s first child.

2) High quality father-child interactions have been shown to be linked to stronger executive functioning in 18 months olds. The strength of that link was even stronger for daughters than for sons. Executive functioning includes higher-order cognitive skills like planning, memory, problem solving, and impulse control. The researchers observed fathers and their toddlers interacting and looked for things like their ability to communicate smoothly and resolve conflicts, and the overall emotional tone of the interaction.

3) Parents’ involvement in their children’s education is generally linked to stronger academic achievement. Is that link stronger for mothers or fathers? A recent study aimed to answer this question by reviewing and averaging the findings of 52 previous studies with data from more than 50,000 families. Even though on average mothers spent more time on school activities than fathers, the strength of the link between father’s involvement in education and children’s academic performance was just as strong as the relationship with mother’s involvement in education.

4) When parents engage in rough and tumble play, competition, and even teasing, it can help push children out of their comfort zone and encourage them to take risks. These types of behaviors are called “challenging behaviors”. Eline Möller of the University of Amsterdam and her colleagues aggregated the results of 40 different studies to examine how fathers’ behavior related to their children’s anxiety. They found children tended to have lower levels of anxiety if their fathers engaged in more "challenging behaviors". Interestingly, they didn’t find the same link for mothers’ challenging behaviors and children’s anxiety.

It’s important to note that the vast majority of research on fathers is based on heteronormative, nuclear families. In families with same-sex parents, single parents, live-in grandparents, or other family structures, we can’t say for sure whether the same patterns observed in research would hold.


Hertz, S., Bernier, A., Regueiro, S., & Cimon-Paquet, C. (2019). Parent-child relationships

and child executive functioning at school entry: The importance of fathers. Early Child

Development and Care, 189, 718-732.

Kim, S. W., & Hill, N. E. (2015). Including fathers in the picture: A meta-analysis of parental involvement and students’ academic achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107(4), 919–934.

McLaughlin, K. & Muldoon, O. (2014). Father identity, involvement, and work-family balance: An in-depth interview study. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 24(5), 439-452.

Möller, E. L., Nikolić, M, Majdandžić, M., & Bögels, S.M. (2016). Associations between maternal and paternal parenting behaviors, anxiety and its precursors in early childhood: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 45, 17-33.

Oguzoglu, U. & Ozbeklik, S. (2016). Like father, like daughter (unless there is a son): Sibling sex composition and women's STEM major choice in college. IZA Discussion Papers, No. 10052, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), Bonn