Background A long line of research has illustrated that fathers play an important role in the development of their children. Few studies, however, have examined the impact of paternal involvement at the earliest stages of life on developmental diagnoses in childhood. Aims The present study extends this line of research by exploring the possibility that paternal involvement prenatally, postnatally, and at the time of birth may influence offspring risk for various diagnoses in childhood. Study design A quasi-experimental, propensity score matching design was used to create treatment and control groups to assess the relationship between paternal involvement at each stage of development and developmental diagnoses. Subjects Approximately 6000 children, and a subsample of fathers, who participated in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS-B). Outcome measures Activity, attention and learning, speech or language, and other diagnoses in early childhood, and overall number of diagnoses at 4 years of age. Results We find no consistent evidence that low paternal involvement prenatally or postnatally increases the risk of various developmental diagnoses by age 4. However, children whose fathers were absent at the time of their birth were at significantly greater risk of incurring various developmental diagnoses, as well as a significantly greater number of developmental diagnoses. Conclusions The findings expand our understanding of exactly how early paternal influence begins and the specific dimensions of early father behaviors that are related to the risk of various developmental diagnoses. Ultimately, these results have important implications concerning father involvement during the earliest stages of the life course.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
- Obstetrics and Gynecology