Are Democrats or Republicans better fathers?

So, my awesome co-author, Laurel Elder, and I did some pretty interesting research last year using a very cool Pew dataset to look at how parenting and attitudes towards parenting vary across Democrats and Republicans.  Our most provocative findings where in relation to dads.  With Father’s Day coming up, we thought this was a perfect opportunity to get some of our work before a broader audience and the Washington Post agreed.  It went on-line today.  I’m also super-excited that it will be in Sunday’s print Outlook section for Father’s Day as I grew up reading Outlook every Sunday and my dad will actually get to see me in his Sunday Post (for the second time).  Anyway, here’s some from the Post, but heck, if you are reading my blog, this, of all things, you should read the whole thing :-).  And if it seems better than what you read here, you can credit Laurel and the Post’s editor who are both better at this than me.

Republican dads rate the job they are doing as parents very highly, significantly higher than Democratic fathers rate themselves. This is true even though Republican fathers report spending less time with their children and delegating more of the responsibility of child-rearing to their wives than Democratic fathers do. Republican fathers also embrace a more authoritarian view of parenting than Democratic men: They are more likely to emphasize obedience and good manners in their children over curiosity and self-reliance. (Their embrace of an authoritarian parenting style is not all that surprising, given the well-established link between authoritarian values and Republican identification.)

Both Republican and Democratic dads admit that their wives take on the majority of the responsibility for raising children. Compared with what Republican dads say, however, Democratic fathers see themselves as parenting in a manner much closer to the shared child-care model, in which each spouse handles roughly half of the child-rearing responsibilities. Still, Democratic dads give themselves significantly lower marks as parents than Republican fathers. They are also more likely than Republican dads to report feeling that balancing work and family is very difficult. [emphases mine– who else?]

In other words, Republican fathers feel good about their role as parents; Democratic dads are much more conflicted.

What accounts for this divide? We might suspect some basic demographic differences between Democrats and Republicans — such as race, education, income, marital status and religious adherence — to be at work here, but our analysis takes these factors into account and finds that this is not the case. Rather, it is likely that the contrasts between Republican and Democratic fathers are rooted in their markedly different expectations about family life, which are in turn reinforced by the parties with which they identify…

Typical Republican fathers hold more traditional expectations about family life. They’re more likely than Democratic fathers to believe that it is best for children and families when Mom is not working outside the home, and that it is better for fathers to be in the workplace full-time. Although the idea that good fathers should be economic providers for their families is fairly universal in our culture, our research shows that this notion resonates more strongly with Republican men. And again, our research shows that Republican fathers are more comfortable than Democrats in leaving the day-to-day work of raising children — getting the kids on the bus, making the doctor’s appointments, applying the sunscreen, organizing the playdates — to their wives. As a result, Republican dads may feel less torn by efforts to try to balance work and family. By working, and by instilling the values of obedience and respect, they see themselves as good fathers.

Our research also shows that Democratic dads possess more egalitarian — and less authoritarian — attitudes about parenting. Perhaps because they expect more from themselves as direct caregivers, they are less satisfied with themselves as parents: They are doing more of the diaper changing, bedtime-story reading and carpooling than their Republican counterparts, but they still don’t feel that they are spending as much time with their kids as they would like. When Democratic dads are asked how much they struggle with work-family balance, their answers sound more like what working moms say in response to those questions. Republican fathers, in contrast, stand out as distinctively less conflicted by the issue. They set a different bar for themselves in parenting their children and are happier with their performance as a result.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

5 Responses to Are Democrats or Republicans better fathers?

  1. R.Jenrette says:

    I see the Cultural Crowd working here among the Democrats. Can the Dad ever satisfy the messages on parenting from the Crowd enough, messages that constantly shift? This produces anxiety and self doubt, maybe even some guilt, and is what makes the Crowd so lonely.
    An authoritarian father has that inner voice that gives him a way to measure his performance to his own satisfaction. He feels guilty when he thinks he is not meeting his own standard which he absorbed while growing up.

  2. Mika says:

    Good stuff.

  3. Jon K says:

    It has got to drive you crazy to write a thoughtful analysis like you did and then see how much people don’t get it. I was reading the comments so far, and all I can say is wow.

    • Steve Greene says:

      The fact that I read comments at the WP site every now and then was very, very helpful. If I never read comments and then did for my piece, I’d be entirely depressed. Sadly, these may be better than average comments :-). It’s actually kind of amazing that people trying to educate themselves though one of the best news organizations can be so ignorant. Sad.

      • Mika says:

        I also read some of those comments and thought that they were the usual stuff. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the internet commenters who otherwise seem quite clever really misunderstand the text that they are commenting. The misunderstandings they make always suit their purposes. With the “clever” I mean that they are able to construct very eloquent argument formally but at the same time the content of the argument is idiotic. Sometimes it’s also hard to tell if these commenters make these misunderstandings consciously or unconsciously. At the former case they are close to being trolls and at the latter case they are motivated reasoners.

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