figures have a key role to play in reducing behaviour
problems in boys and psychological problems in young women,
according to a review published in the February issue
of Acta Paediatrica.
Swedish researchers also found that regular positive
contact reduces criminal behaviour among children in low-income
families and enhances cognitive skills like intelligence,
reasoning and language development.
Children who lived with both a mother and father figure
also had less behavioural problems than those who just
lived with their mother.
The researchers are urging healthcare professionals to
increase fathers' involvement in their children's healthcare
and calling on policy makers to ensure that fathers have
the chance to play an active role in their upbringing.
The review looked at 24 papers published between 1987
and 2007, covering 22,300 individual sets of data from
16 studies. 18 of the 24 papers also covered the social
economic status of the families studied.
The smallest study focused on 17 infants and the largest
covered 8,441 individuals ranging from premature babies
to 33 year-olds. They included major ongoing research
from the USA and UK, together with smaller studies from
Sweden and Israel.
"Our detailed 20-year review shows that overall, children
reap positive benefits if they have active and regular
engagement with a father figure" says Dr Anna Sarkadi
from the Department of Women's and Children's Health at
Uppsala University, Sweden.
"For example, we found various studies that showed that
children who had positively involved father figures were
less likely to smoke and get into trouble with the police,
achieved better levels of education and developed good
friendships with children of both sexes.
"Long-term benefits included women who had better relationships
with partners and a greater sense of mental and physical
well-being at the age of 33 if they had a good relationship
with their father at 16."
However the authors point out that it is not possible
to conclude what type of engagement the father figure
needs to provide to produce positive effects.
"The studies show that it can range from talking and
sharing activities to playing an active role in the child's
The researchers believe that more research is needed
to determine whether the outcomes are different depending
on whether the child lives with their biological father
or with another father figure.
"However, our review backs up the intuitive assumption
that engaged biological fathers or father figures are
good for children, especially when the children are socially
or economically disadvantaged" says Dr Sarkadi.
"Children who lived with both a mother and father figure
had less behavioural problems than those who lived with
just their mother. However, it is not possible to tell
whether this is because the father figure is more involved
or whether the mother is able to be a better parent if
she has more support at home."
The researchers feel that it is important that professionals
who work with young children and their families explore
how actively fathers are involved with their children
from an early age.
"Involving them in healthcare visits and explicitly seeking
their opinions when making decisions could be a good way
to promote high levels of engagement" says Dr Sarkadi.
"Stressing that fathers have an important role in promoting
their child's social and emotional development is another
Governments and employers also have an important role
to play in ensuring that men can spend quality time with
their offspring, stress the authors.
"Public policy has the potential to facilitate or create
barriers to fathers spending time with their children
during the crucial years of early development" says Dr
"Unfortunately current institutional policies in most
countries do not support the increased involvement of
fathers in child rearing. Paid parental leave for fathers
and employers sympathetic to fathers staying at home with
sick children is still a dream in most countries.
"We hope that this review will add to the body of evidence
that shows that enlightened father-friendly policies can
make a major contribution to society in the long run,
by producing well-adjusted children and reducing major
problems like crime and antisocial behaviour."