Time with dad is time well spent
- 14:56 08 December 2008 by Ewen Callaway
When picking out that perfect Father's Day gift next year, sons and daughters might want to look to their own accomplishments before deciding between a gaudy polyester tie or splurging on a new set of golf clubs.
The more effort a father invests in his children, the smarter they are as kids and more successful as adults, new research shows. And highly educated fathers make even more of a difference than less educated dads, all things being equal.
"It's not [just] about having dad around, it's about what kind of dad he is," says Daniel Nettle, a psychologist at the University of Newcastle, UK, who led the new analysis, based on surveys of more than 10,000 children over half a century.
Nettle used the National Child Development Study, which traces the lives of every Briton born between 3 and 9 March, 1958. Surveys taken in the 1960s and 70s asked mothers to rate the father's involvement in his child, from "inapplicable" to "equal to the mother". These and later surveys through 2005 tracked intelligence, income, and education of the participants.
Nettle has previously used the same data set to show that wealthy men father more children than paupers.
With paternal investment, however, time seemed to be the most important currency. At age 11, children of highly involved fathers boasted markedly higher IQs than children with less present dads. "This is not half a point, this is a few points of IQ, on average," he says.
Sons over daughters
Nettle also found that highly educated and successful fathers get more bang for their buck, compared with uneducated and working class men. All things being equal, fathers of high socioeconomic status gave children a small extra boost with their attention than less affluent fathers.
However, this effect did not last through middle age. At 42, the children of super-dads were no more socially mobile than other children - regardless of the father's education level or profession.
Sons enjoyed more of a boost than daughters, possibly because men face more hurdles in climbing the social ladder than women, Nettle speculates. This could be one reason why fathers tended to invest more time in sons, than daughters.
Robert Quinlan, a biocultural anthropologist at Washington State University in Pullman, says the study breaks new ground in showing the benefits of having a father around - especially an affluent one.
Quinlan wonders, though, whether discrepancies in a father's socioeconomic status make a real-world difference, rather than a statistical one, detectable only in large-scale surveys. "How much would you pay to get a half a point of IQ," he asks.
Journal reference: Evolution and Human Behavior(DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2008.06.002)