Masculine Traits Linked to Better Parenting For Some Dads

Summary: Some traditional masculine stereotypes, such as being adventurous and competitive, were linked to being better fathers to infant children. This is especially true if men also adopt a nurturing role. However, one trait, hostile sexism, was not linked to improvements in parenting skills.

Source: Ohio State University

In some men, having traditional masculine characteristics such as competitiveness and adventurousness was linked to being better fathers to infants, a new study found.

But the men in this study—highly educated and from dual-earner couples—combined those stereotypically masculine traits with the belief that they should be nurturing, highly involved fathers.

The researchers were surprised that traits often seen as old-fashioned male stereotypes were linked to more positive parenting behaviors, said study lead author Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, professor of psychology at The Ohio State University.

It suggests that some men are looking for new ways to be fathers, Schoppe-Sullivan said.

“These men are combining traditional aspects of masculinity with new nurturing ideals to create new fathering identities. They may be in the midst of transforming fatherhood.”

The study was published this week in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinities.

The seven stereotypical masculine characteristics linked to positive parenting in this study—competitive, daring, adventurous, dominant, aggressive, courageous and stands up to pressure—are generally seen as positive traits, Schoppe-Sullivan noted.

But a negative masculine attitude that the researchers also measured in this study—hostile sexism—was not linked to positive parenting. In addition, the quality of fathers’ parenting of their infants was unrelated to the belief that men should be primary economic providers in the family.

The men in the study were participating in the New Parents Project, a long-term study led by Schoppe-Sullivan that is investigating how dual-earner couples adjust to becoming parents for the first time.

In the third trimester of their partners’ pregnancy, the expectant fathers completed a variety of questionnaires. They were asked to rate themselves on a four-point scale (not at all like me to very much like me) on the seven stereotypically masculine characteristics.

Hostile sexism was rated by asking male participants how much they agreed with 11 statements like “Feminists are making unreasonable demands of men.” Participants were also asked whether men or women should provide the majority of income for the family.

Their nurturing father role beliefs were measured by asking men to rate how much they agreed with nine statements like “Men should share with child care such as bathing, feeding and dressing the child.”

Nine months after the child was born, the researchers watched the fathers interact with their infants by themselves and with the mother. The researchers rated the fathers on their positive parenting behavior and on how well they co-parented together with mothers.

Results showed, as the researchers had predicted, that men who believed they should have a nurturing father role had higher-quality interactions with their child and were better at co-parenting with their partner.

But the researchers were surprised to find that the more men said they fit the stereotypical definition of “real men,” the more they were also rated as showing good parenting behavior.

“The fathers who see themselves as competitive and adventurous and the other masculine traits tended to be really engaged with their kids. They were not checked out,” Schoppe-Sullivan said.

This shows a dad and his little girl on a nature walk at sunset
The researchers were surprised that traits often seen as old-fashioned male stereotypes were linked to more positive parenting behaviors. Image is in the public domain

It may be that men who used these traditionally masculine characteristics to succeed in their careers are trying to find ways to apply them to their jobs as parents.

“These dads may be saying that being a father is an important job, too, and I’m going to use the same traits that help me succeed at work to make me a successful father,” she said.

Schoppe-Sullivan emphasized that the fathers in this sample were highly educated and had partners who also worked. The findings here may not apply to all fathers.

But the results are encouraging, she said.

“If fathers can preserve the best of these stereotypically masculine characteristics, without the negatives like hostile sexism, that would be good for families.”

About this parenting research news

Source: Ohio State University
Contact: Press Office – Ohio State University
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Closed access.
Fathers’ parenting and coparenting behavior in dual-earner families: Contributions of traditional masculinity, father nurturing role beliefs, and maternal gate closing” by Sarah J. Schoppe-Sullivan et al. Psychology of Men and Masculinities


Fathers’ parenting and coparenting behavior in dual-earner families: Contributions of traditional masculinity, father nurturing role beliefs, and maternal gate closing

We investigated whether dual-earner fathers’ adherence to traditional masculine norms, father nurturing role beliefs, and maternal gate closing behavior predicted the quality of new fathers’ observed parenting and coparenting behavior. Data were drawn from a longitudinal study of the transition to parenthood among 182 dual-earner different-sex couples.

Expectant fathers reported their masculine agency, hostile sexism, gendered provider beliefs, and father nurturing role beliefs in the third trimester of pregnancy. Maternal gate closing behavior was coded from observations of mother–father–infant interaction at 3 months postpartum.

At 9 months postpartum, the quality of fathers’ parenting behavior was coded from observations of father–infant interaction, and the quality of fathers’ coparenting behavior was coded from observations of mother–father–infant interaction. Structural equation modeling (SEM) analyses indicated that fathers who held stronger father nurturing role beliefs showed more positive parenting behavior and less undermining coparenting behavior.

Fathers higher in masculine agency also showed more positive parenting behavior. Mothers’ greater gate closing behavior was linked to less positive parenting and less supportive coparenting behavior by fathers. More positive couple behavior observed prenatally was also associated with better parenting and coparenting by fathers.

These results highlight the complexity of relations of traditional masculinity, father role beliefs, and maternal gate closing with the quality of new fathers’ behaviors with children and partners in dual-earner families.

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  1. How do they provide for their children? The wife makes more money? Why ask for opinions when you can look at relevant data? How many of them SAY they believe that but still make more than the mother of the children? All of these studies have a FEMINIST AGENDA. If it’s funded by a public institution, it most definitely has a female bias

  2. Who determined that being adventurous and competitive are masculine traits? Your article promotes sexist garbage.

  3. Interesting. My ex was educated, but was non protective, non in engaged, etc.hidden hostility of women( which comes out on his apparently bi sexual posts on Quora) He put children in harm’s way throughout their childhood, and was abusive too. He hated sports and was delogatory about masculine things, yet he thinks men provide him with sexual gratification. I won’t go further, but he tried to tell I over reacted to his disinterest and concern for safety of children. I now know what a Narcissistic Sociopath Psychpath is. ( I did not know he was bisexual during marriage I just recently learned this by finding him on the site in Dec 2020. I’ve been divorced since 2010. He also put my life in danger and more. Ive suffered neurological issues ( neural tumor possiblity contributed from head injuries etc)I believe from his abuse.I have been doing my own research on what such a person does to children his manipulative abuses etc. My eldest said his father blamed his own father( the grandfather) for his behaviors. My son himself seems to be doing a better job with his 8 mo. Than his own father did. He has told me I was a good mom. My ex was delogatory about his own mother, even calling her fat etc A recovering anorexic when I met him it was not good to be around someone like that. I just wanted to share this. Because, I rather have been married to someone who was more loving and protective like my father was or these men in this study,then a man(?)who tried to Bully me into terminating my youngest son, because he really didn’t want a family ( though he uses them now as adults) and blamed me for getting pregnant. I telling you this because it might help research in the future. Thank you for this article, I wasn’t crazy.

  4. My brother is 13 months older than me and we we born in the late 50’s. My mother needed help with 2 little ones and My father stepped up to the plate. He was changing diapers 40 years before it was fashionable for a father to do so. He was a provider and a nurturer and his masculinity was never in question.

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