Benefits of Fatherhood Extend to the Community

New research finds fathering children leads men to behave in more altruistic ways.
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Fatherhood, as Miller-McCune magazine reported earlier this year, alters a man's neurochemistry, increasing his ability to cope with stress and generally making him a better mate. Just-published research suggests the benefits of this transformation extend far beyond one's immediate family and remain robust as the years go by.

"Fatherhood can have a transforming effect that stays with men even into middle age, when most men are fathering at a distance," concludes a research team led by sociologist David Eggebeen of Penn State University. The findings, published in the Journal of Family Issues, "suggest that becoming a father changes the nature and course of men's social and community ties in ways that extend over the life course. This is especially true if men are engaged fathers."

Eggebeen and his colleagues examined data drawn from the recently released third wave of the National Survey of Family and Households, focusing on a sample of 2,024 men between the ages of 45 and 65.

"We find that middle-aged men who at some point in their lives become fathers are significantly more likely to have altruistically oriented social relationships and be involved in service organizations compared with men who never become fathers," they write. They found this holds true whether or not the father is living with his children, which suggests this phenomenon cannot be explained simply by men fulfilling their expected social roles.

The effect is particularly strong for dads who were engaged with their children (as measured by how much time they spend with their kids while engaged in various specific activities, including homework and recreation.) High levels of engagement are "positively associated with both service-group involvement and assistance given to extended family and friends," the report states.

The researchers concede the possibility that "men who avoid fatherhood may have also been less altruistic from an early age," but they suggest this effect, if it exists, is negligible. Rather, they contend, "once men have experienced the challenges and opportunities that fatherhood provides, they are changed men — different in ways that carry forward even after their fathering experiences have attenuated or ended.

"Caring for children," they conclude, "sparks the kind of generative behavior that is reflected in other dimensions of men's lives and over their life course."

So the world-renowned athlete who declared earlier this year that "Having kids is the most important thing in your life — it puts a totally different perspective on your life" was absolutely correct. Now if only Tiger Woods can learn the difference between group involvement and groupie involvement.

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