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Fathers' involvement and children's developmental outcomes: a systematic review of longitudinal studies


A Sarkadi, Dept. of Women's and Chidren's Health, Unit for Child Public Health, Uppsala Academic Hospital, Gate 17, 751 85 Uppsala, Sweden. Tel: +46 18 611 59 65 | Fax: +46 18 50 45 11 | Email:


Objective: This systematic review aims to describe longitudinal evidence on the effects of father involvement on children's developmental outcomes.

Methods: Father involvement was conceptualized as accessibility (cohabitation), engagement, responsibility or other complex measures of involvement. Both biological fathers and father figures were included. We searched all major databases from the first dates. Data on father involvement had to be generated at least 1 year before measuring offspring outcomes.

Results: N = 24 publications were included in the overview: 22 of these described positive effects of father involvement, whereof 16 studies had controlled for SES and 11 concerned the study population as a whole [five socio-economic status (SES)-controlled]. There is certain evidence that cohabitation with the mother and her male partner is associated with less externalising behavioural problems. Active and regular engagement with the child predicts a range of positive outcomes, although no specific form of engagement has been shown to yield better outcomes than another. Father engagement seems to have differential effects on desirable outcomes by reducing the frequency of behavioural problems in boys and psychological problems in young women, and enhancing cognitive development, while decreasing delinquency and economic disadvantage in low SES families.

Conclusions: There is evidence to support the positive influence of father engagement on offspring social, behavioural and psychological outcomes. Although the literature only provides sufficient basis for engagement (direct interaction with the child) as the specific form of ‘effective’ father involvement, there is enough support to urge both professionals and policy makers to improve circumstances for involved fathering.