Despite increased attention to the predictors and potential consequences of paternity leave-taking, more work in this area is needed. For example, scholars have yet to extensively consider the contexts surrounding leave-taking and whether the relationship between paternity leave and family outcomes may vary by these contextual factors. One factor that is important to consider is religion. Religion encourages fathers to be more involved in their family life and provides fathers with social support and guidance that may help them to become more engaged parents and partners (Palkovitz 2002
; Wilcox 2004
). Indeed, there is evidence suggesting that fathers increase their religious participation after the birth of a child, and religious fathers are more likely to be involved in their children’s lives than nonreligious fathers (King 2003
; Petts 2007
). Evidence also suggests that fathers’ religious participation is associated with more favorable relationship outcomes with mothers (Mahoney 2010
; Wolfinger and Wilcox 2008
). Thus, fathers’ religious participation may moderate the relationships between paternity leave, father involvement, and parental relationships. That is, actively religious fathers may receive greater social support and be more likely to sanctify their family relationships while on leave (Mahoney et al. 2003
), which may be associated with more frequent father involvement and fewer parental arguments relative to less religious fathers.
The current study builds on previous research linking paternity leave-taking to father involvement and parental relationships by examining whether fathers’ religious participation moderates these relationships. In doing so, this study contributes to a growing literature on the potential consequences of paternity leave-taking by assessing whether fathers’ religious participation is one contextual factor that may be associated with the degree to which fathers become more invested in their family life after taking leave.
3. Data and Methods
Data for this study is taken from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCW). The FFCW is a longitudinal birth cohort study that follows 4898 children born between 1998 and 2000 and their parents. Fragile families are defined as unmarried parents and their children, and these data consist of an urban sample with high percentages of low-income, minority, and unmarried parents. Data was collected from parents shortly after the birth of their child (W1), and follow-up interviews were conducted when children were approximately one (W2), three (W3), five (W4), nine (W5), and fifteen years old (W6).
For this study, the first two waves are used to assess whether paternity leave is associated with father involvement and parental conflict in the year following a child’s birth, and whether religious participation moderates these relationships. The sample is restricted to families in which mothers and fathers were interviewed in the first two waves, families in which fathers were employed at W1 to be eligible for paternity leave, and families in which fathers answered the questions about leave. These restrictions result in a final sample size of 2109 families.
3.2. Paternity Leave
For this study, paternity leave is defined as taking time off for the birth of a child. In the W2 survey, fathers reported on whether they took any time off of work after the birth of the focal child, and how many weeks of leave they took. These questions were used to construct two indicators. Paternity leave-taking indicates whether fathers took leave (1 = yes). Length of paternity leave indicates whether fathers took no leave, one week, two weeks, or more than two weeks of leave.
3.3. Religious Participation
Fathers reported on how often they attended religious services in the W1 survey. Religious participation indicates whether fathers never attend, hardly attend, attend several times/year, attend several times/month, or attend services at least weekly.
3.4. Father Involvement and Parental Relationship Conflict
Father involvement and parental relationship conflict are used as the outcomes of interest in this study because measures are available at both W1 and W2, which helps to account for levels of father involvement and parental conflict before or at the time of the child’s birth. Although other indicators of parental relationships are included in the W2 survey (e.g., relationship quality, coparenting quality), these indicators are not available in the W1 survey.1
Father involvement is taken from the W2 survey, and indicates how many days per week fathers reported engaging in eight activities such as reading, singing songs, telling stories, and playing with their child (α = 0.83). The mean is used as the indicator. In the W1 survey, fathers were asked about their involvement in activities prior to the birth of the child. Prenatal involvement indicates whether fathers (a) gave the mother money to buy things for the baby during the pregnancy and (b) helped in other ways such as providing transportation to the prenatal clinic or helping with chores. Parental conflict is taken from the W2 survey, and indicates how often mothers report arguing with fathers about things that are important (1 = never to 5 = always). In the W1 survey, mothers report how often (1 = never to 3 = often) they argue with fathers about money, spending time together, sex, the pregnancy, drinking or drug use, and being faithful (α = 0.61). The mean is used as the indicator.
3.5. Control Variables
A number of variables taken from W1 were included as controls. Fathers’ religious affiliation is indicated by whether fathers identify as (a) Catholic, (b) conservative Protestant, (c) mainline Protestant, (d) other Protestant, (e) other religious affiliation, or (f) no religious affiliation (used as reference group) using the classification scheme from Steensland et al.
) as a guide. Relationship status at W1 is categorized as (a) married (used as reference category), (b) cohabiting, and (c) nonresident father. Controls are also included for fathers’ educational attainment (1 = did not complete high school
to 4 = college degree
), fathers’ income (0 = less than $10,000
to 8 = $75,000 or more
), mothers’ income (0 = less than $5000
to 4 = $20,000 or more
), fathers’ age, whether father was born in the U.S., number of other children, child’s age (at W2, in months), child gender (1 = male
), and length of time that the mother took off of work following the child’s birth (taken from the W2 survey). Father’s work hours are categorized as (a) part-time (less than 35 h a week), (b) full-time (35–44 h a week, used as reference category), and (c) more than full time (45 h a week or more). Fathers’ occupation type is categorized as (a) professional, (b) labor (used as reference category), (c) service, (d) sales, or (e) other occupational type. Father’s race/ethnicity is coded as (a) White (used as reference category), (b) Black, (c) Latino, or (d) other race/ethnicity. Three additional controls assess fathers’ attitudes. Positive father attitudes are indicated by fathers’ level of agreement at (1 = strongly disagree
to 4 = strongly agree
) on whether (a) being a father and raising children is one of the most fulfilling experiences for a man, (b) I want people to know that I have a new child, and (c) not being a part of my child’s life would be one of the worst things that could happen to me (α = 0.73). The mean response is used. Fathers were also asked to identify which fathering role (provide regular financial support, teach child about life, provide direct care, show love and affection to the child, provide protection for the child, or serve as an authority figure and discipline the child) was most important, and engaged father attitudes indicates fathers who identified either providing direct care or showing love and affection to the child as most important. Traditional gender attitudes indicates whether fathers agree that it is much better for everyone if the man earns the main living and the woman takes care of the home and family.
3.6. Analytic Strategy
Ordinary least squares (OLS) regression models were used in this study. First, OLS models were used to assess whether paternity leave-taking, length of paternity leave, and father’s religious participation are associated with father involvement and parental conflict in separate models. Second, interaction terms were included in separate models to assess whether the relationships between paternity leave, father involvement, and parental conflict were moderated by religious participation. Missing data were accounted for using multiple imputation, and combined results from ten imputed models are presented here.
Summary statistics for all variables are reported in Table 1
. Consistent with previous research, most fathers take paternity leave (79%), but take short leaves, on average (approximately one week). Mean values also suggest that fathers engage in activities with their child approximately four days a week (M = 4.35), mothers report arguing with fathers between “rarely” and “sometimes” (M = 2.80), and fathers report attending religious services several times a year on average (M = 1.91).
Results examining the relationships between paternity leave, religious participation, and father involvement are presented in Table 2
. Consistent with the first two hypotheses, paternity leave and religious participation are both positively associated with father involvement. As shown in Model 1, taking paternity leave is associated with engaging in activities with children just under one-half day more frequently per week compared to not taking leave (b
= 0.40, p
< 0.001). Similarly, as shown in Model 3, longer periods of paternity leave are associated with more frequent father involvement (b
= 0.23, p
< 0.001). Moreover, as shown in both Models 1 and 3, more frequent attendance at religious services is associated with more frequent involvement with young children (b
= 0.06, p
Results assessing whether religious participation moderates the relationships between paternity leave and father involvement are included in Models 2 and 4 of Table 2
. Although the interaction term for length of paternity leave and religious participation is not significant (Model 4), there is some evidence that religious participation moderates the relationship between paternity leave-taking and father involvement (Model 2). Consistent with hypothesis 3, religious participation is especially likely to be associated with greater father involvement among fathers who take paternity leave (b
= 0.11, p
< 0.10), although this interaction term is only marginally significant. This relationship is illustrated in Figure 1
, which shows predicted values of father involvement calculated from the estimates in Model 2 of Table 2
. As shown in Figure 1
, more frequent attendance at religious services is associated with more frequent involvement among fathers who take paternity leave. In contrast, among fathers who do not take paternity leave, religious participation is largely unrelated to father involvement.
Results examining the relationships between paternity leave, religious participation, and parental conflict are presented in Table 3
. In contrast to the first two hypotheses, none of the key variables—paternity leave-taking, length of paternity leave, and religious participation—are associated with parental conflict, as shown in Models 1 and 3. However, when interaction terms are included in Models 2 and 4, there is some evidence in support of hypothesis 3. First, as shown in Model 2, religious participation is especially likely to be associated with less frequent conflict within families in which fathers take paternity leave (b
= −0.08, p
< 0.05). This relationship is illustrated in Figure 2
. As shown in Figure 2
, more frequent attendance at religious services is associated with less frequent conflict when fathers take paternity leave. In contrast, when fathers do not take paternity leave, religious participation is positively associated with parental conflict.
In addition, as shown in Model 4 of Table 3
, there is evidence that religious participation moderates the relationship between length of paternity leave and parental conflict (b
= −0.04, p
< 0.10), although this relationship is only marginally significant. This relationship is illustrated in Figure 3
. As shown in Figure 3
, religious participation is associated with a slight increase in parental conflict when fathers do not take leave. In contrast, more frequent religious participation is associated with less frequent conflict when fathers take paternity leave, with longer periods of leave being associated with lower levels of conflict when religious participation is higher.
Despite increased attention on paternity leave in the U.S., few studies have focused on factors that may contextualize the associations between paternity leave-taking and family outcomes. This study advances our understanding of factors that may contextualize the relationships between paternity leave, father involvement, and parental conflict by focusing on fathers’ religious participation. Overall, results provide some evidence suggesting that paternity leave-taking (and length of leave) and fathers’ religious participation are independently associated with father involvement, and also that fathers’ religious participation moderates the relationships between paternity leave, father involvement, and parental conflict.
However, results from this study did not support the hypothesis that paternity leave-taking (and length of leave) would be associated with parental conflict. The transition to parenthood (or having an additional child) is often challenging, as parents need to adapt to their new roles (Twenge et al. 2003
). Consequently, parental relationship quality declines after having a new child and conflict often increases (Cowan et al. 1985
; Twenge et al. 2003
). Although paternity leave may provide parents with time to figure out how to coparent together, it may also provide additional time for parents to argue with each other as they figure out their new roles. As such, any positive benefits of paternity leave for parents (such as symbolizing a commitment by fathers to be an engaged parent) may be offset by additional time to experience conflict. This may also help to explain why relatively few studies have found an influence of paternity leave on parental relationships (Kotsadam and Finseraas 2011
), whereas a large body of literature has noted the benefits of paternity leave (and length of leave) for father involvement.
Similar to the findings for paternity leave (and length of leave), results from this study also showed that fathers’ religious participation is positively associated with father involvement but unrelated to parental conflict. Consistent with previous research, actively religious fathers may receive messages about the importance of family life as well as social support that encourages and enables them to be involved parents (King 2003
; Petts 2007
; Wilcox 2004
). Thus, fathers who attend religious services frequently may be motivated to be engaged in their children’s lives early on, as evidence from this study and previous research suggests (Bartkowski and Xu 2000
; Petts 2007
; Roggman et al. 2002
). However, although previous research suggests that religious participation is associated with lower family conflict (Mahoney et al. 1999
; Wilcox and Wolfinger 2008
), this relationship may be offset by the increases in conflict that often occur after having a new child (Cowan et al. 1985
; Twenge et al. 2003
It is also somewhat surprising that religious affiliation was unrelated to both father involvement and parental conflict. There was some evidence that Catholic fathers were more involved in their children’s lives than unaffiliated fathers and that conservative Protestant fathers reported less parental conflict than religiously unaffiliated fathers (p
< 0.10) in supplementary analyses, but these variations disappeared after accounting for fathers’ religious participation. As such, religious participation appears to be more important than affiliation in these data. Yet, it is also possible that the lack of significant findings on religious affiliation may be due to competing expectations for religiously affiliated fathers (especially fathers who are more religiously conservative). That is, religiously conservative fathers may be perceived as the spiritual head of the household and thus may place particular importance on sanctifying family relationships (Gallagher and Smith 1999
). However, conservative denominations are also more likely to encourage traditional gender roles within families, which may reduce the likelihood that fathers are highly engaged parents (DeMaris et al. 2011
; Denton 2004
). These competing expectations may offset one another, resulting in no relationship between religious affiliation, father involvement, and parenting conflict. Future research should further explore variations by religious affiliation.
Although there were no direct associations between paternity leave or fathers’ religious participation and parental conflict, there is some evidence that the association between paternity leave and parental conflict varies by how frequently fathers attend religious services. At low levels of religious participation, paternity leave-taking and length of paternity leave are largely unrelated to parental conflict. In contrast, when fathers attend religious services frequently, taking paternity leave (and longer periods of leave) is associated with lower levels of parental conflict. Specifically, among fathers who attend religious services weekly, there is approximately a 1/3 standard deviation difference in parental conflict between those who take more than two weeks of leave and those who do not take leave.
Similarly, there is also some evidence that fathers’ religious participation may enhance the association between paternity leave-taking and father involvement (although this relationship is only marginally significant). Although fathers who take paternity leave report higher levels of father involvement regardless of how frequently they attend religious services, the gap in involvement between fathers who take leave and those who do not increases at higher levels of religious participation. Specifically, among fathers who attend religious services weekly, those who take leave engage with their child over one-half day more frequently (0.4 standard deviations) than fathers who do not take leave.
These findings suggest that religious participation may be one contextual factor that may motivate fathers to become more invested in their family life while on leave. Fathers who attend religious services frequently may sanctify their family relationships and find more meaning in learning and performing parenting tasks after the birth of a new child compared to less religious fathers (Mahoney et al. 2003
). Actively religious fathers may also be more willing to collaborate with mothers during this time, and perhaps focus more on the positive aspects of being a new parent as opposed to the frustrations and stresses that can also occur (Mahoney 2005
; Mahoney et al. 1999
). As such, fathers who attend religious services frequently may have fewer arguments with mothers while on leave compared to fathers who attend religious services less frequently. Due to the lack of a national paid family leave policy as well as other barriers to leave-taking for fathers, most fathers take relatively short periods of time off when a child is born (Albiston and O’Connor 2016
; Petts et al. 2018
). Results from this study suggest that involvement in a religious community may encourage fathers to make the most of the limited time at home they have, resulting in an increased likelihood of being engaged in their child’s life one year later and a decreased likelihood of arguing with mothers (Bartkowski and Xu 2000
; King 2003
; Wilcox and Wolfinger 2008
There are also some limitations to acknowledge in this study. First, the data contains limited information about how fathers were able to take time off for the birth of their child. Fathers in these data may be using workplace paternity (or parental) leave programs, unpaid time off through FMLA, or other forms of leave (using sick, personal, or vacation days). The publicly available data also does not contain information about the state or region that respondents reside in, which is important given state variations in paid family leave. Knowing exactly what type of leave fathers have access to and are using is essential to get an accurate assessment of the consequences of paternity leave, as well as to better understand potential barriers to paternity leave-taking.
Second, the moderating influence of religious participation on the associations between paternity leave, father involvement, and parental conflict is speculated to be due to religiously active fathers sanctifying their family relationships. Unfortunately, the indicators of religiosity available in the data are limited, and there are no questions that allow for an assessment of the role sanctification plays in these processes. or the extent to which fathers are exposed to religious messages about the importance of family life. Future studies should incorporate additional measures of religiosity—and measures of sanctification in particular—to better understand whether and how religion shapes fathers’ decisions and actions while on paternity leave.
Third, this study focuses on a sample of urban families that are relatively disadvantaged. Although this dataset has been used extensively to study various outcomes associated with fathers’ religious participation (e.g., Petts 2007
; Wolfinger and Wilcox 2008
), the findings uncovered here may differ for fathers within different socioeconomic and regional contexts. Future studies should explore the role of religion in decisions about, and consequences of, paternity leave in other contexts (rural, higher SES, etc.).
Despite these limitations, this study contributes to the areas of religion and family life by exploring whether fathers’ religious participation moderates the associations between paternity leave, father involvement, and parental conflict. Although previous studies have found evidence that paternity leave-taking and religious participation may both be associated with family outcomes, this study is the first to examine whether fathers’ religious participation may contextualize the experience of paternity leave. Overall, there is some evidence suggesting that taking paternity leave, and longer periods of leave, is more likely to be associated with more frequent father involvement and lower parental conflict among fathers who attend religious services frequently than among fathers who attend less frequently. Future studies should continue to examine the intersection of family and religion in predicting family outcomes, and the role religion may play in fathers’ decisions about, and behaviors during, paternity leave to better understand the context of paternity leave within the United States.