Keeping Contact with Children: Assessing the Father/Child Post-separation Relationship from the Male Perspective

III. PROFILE OF FATHERS ACCORDING TO THE
FREQUENCY OF CONTACT WITH THEIR CHILDREN

A. CHILD-RELATED SOCIO-DEMOGRAPHIC CHARACTERISTICS

Using the child sample, this section explores various socio-demographic characteristics shown to be relevant to the analysis of father/child contact in North American and European research (for a review, see Cooksey and Craig, 1999). These include the child's age at the time of the survey and at the time of his or her parents' separation, the time elapsed since the separation, the type of parental union at the child's birth and a variety of factors regarding custody arrangements, including the father's satisfaction with these arrangements. Several of the variables were not directly available from the micro-data file on child data produced by Statistics Canada. In order to describe the parents' conjugal situation at the child's birth, for instance, or establish the age at parental separation, or the time passed since the separation, the birth of each child had first to be allocated to the appropriate union (if born within one); to do this, we had to combine the data in the child file with those in the union file.[5] Table 6 contains the results of the bi-variate analyses carried out using these variables.

A study of children's family histories, based on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY), revealed a close link between the type of conjugal union into which a baby is born and the probability that this child subsequently experiences the breakdown of his parents' union (Marcil-Gratton, 1998). Thus, children born to cohabiting parents appear considerably more at risk of living through family disruption than those whose parents had married directly, even in Quebec where cohabitation is tending to replace marriage as the context for starting a family. One might, initially, have expected cohabiting fathers to be more likely to maintain a close relationship with their children after separation than more "traditionally" wed fathers, given the greater equality between partners observed among cohabiting couples (Le Bourdais and Sauriol, 1998; Shelton and John, 1993). However, our results reveal a different and more complex picture. A higher proportion (38.1 percent) of children whose parents married directly had frequent contact with their father (5 months and more) than those whose parents had cohabited at some point, whether or not they had subsequently married (30.0 percent and 25.2 percent); however, at the other end of the scale, children born to married parents (19.4 percent) are also a little more likely than the others (around 15 percent) to see their father rarely or not at all.

Table 6:
Distribution (%) of children 0-17 years, according to the time spent with their father, by various socio-demographic characteristics
  Time spent with the father
Socio-demographic characteristics Less than 1 week 1 week to 2 months 2 to 5 months 5 months and over Total %
N a 98 95 98 127 418  
Type of union at the child's birth
Direct marriage 19.4 19.7 22.8 38.1 100 42.4
Marriage preceded by cohabitation 15.2 25.5 29.3 30.0 100 18.9
Cohabitation 15.9 29.9 30.0 25.2 100 10.4
Birth out of union 34.6 21.6 20.8 23.0 100 28.3
χ 2 = 19.277, p = 0.023, missing cases: 44
Child's age at time of separation
0-5 years 34.0 24.2 24.3 17.5 100 19.4
6-11 years 17.2 20.8 29.2 32.8 100 38.3
12-14 years 20.2 25.5 17.6 36.7 100 19.5
15-17 years 27.7 22.4 17.8 32.1 100 22.8
χ 2 = 18.925, p = 0.026
Child's age at time of separation
0-1 years (includes children born out of union) 36.0 25.4 20.0 18.6 100 37.8
2-5 years 15.5 20.8 30.7 33.0 100 30.8
6-11 years 13.7 18.9 25.8 41.7 100 24.0
12-17 years 10.4 25.4 13.6 50.6 100 7.4
χ 2 = 38.497, p = 0.001, missing cases: 44
Time elapsed since separation
Less than 2 years 17.5 18.5 19.3 44.7 100 18.1
2-4 years 13.0 24.5 24.9 37.6 100 28.8
5-9 years 24.4 20.0 32.0 23.6 100 36.3
10 years and over 39.7 28.3 11.5 20.5 100 16.8
χ 2 =34.159, p = 0.001, missing cases: 44
Distance between the parents' domiciles
Less than 10 km 18.3 11.2 26.0 44.5 100 33.6
10-49 km 15.2 26.3 30.1 28.4 100 25.9
50-399 km 19.0 32.5 28.7 19.8 100 19.0
400 km and more 38.5 29.6 8.3 23.6 100 21.5
χ2 = 52.571, p = 0.001, missing cases: 9

Source: Statistics Canada, General Social Survey (GSS), Cycle 10: the Family, 1995.
a Weighted data, brought back to the original sample size.

Figure 2: Distribution of children according to type of union at birth and time spent with father


Figure 2 : Distribution of children according to type of union at birth and time spent with father

[ Description ]

One might also expect more contact between fathers and children who had lived together long enough before the separation to establish a durable relationship. Consequently, we anticipated that children whose parents were not living together at their birth would have less frequent contact with their father than those born to married or cohabiting parents. Figure 2 shows this to be the case: children born outside a conjugal union are much more at risk of never seeing their father than those born within a union, with almost one-third of the former in this situation compared with less than one-fifth of the latter. Less predictable, perhaps, is the finding that almost a quarter (23.3 percent) of children born outside a union spent at least five months with their father in the year preceding the survey. This proportion is certainly over-estimated, however, because of higher rates of under-reporting among children born outside a union who have no contact with their fathers.

We next examined variations in father/child contact according to the age of children at the time of the survey. The children were allocated to one of four age groups, linked to important stages in their development: the preschool period (0-5 years); primary school age (6-11 years); and secondary school age, divided into two groups (12-14 years and 15-17 years) on the assumption that the growing importance of peer group relations during adolescence would translate, in the statistics, into a reduction in the time spent with the "other" parent.

Table 6 demonstrates that the youngest children spend the least time with their fathers: one-third (34.0 percent) of preschool children had seen him little or not at all in the 12 months before the survey--a proportion twice that observed among children of primary school age (17.2 percent). At the other extreme, the proportions are inverted: almost twice the percentage of children aged 6-11 years spent at least five months with their father (32.8 percent compared with 17.5 percent among the youngest group). The children most likely to have frequent contact with their father are those aged 12 to 14 years, of whom more than one-third (36.7 percent) spent at least five months with their father during the previous year. Up to this point, our findings corroborate those of other research, showing that fathers have most regular contact with their older children (Seltzer, 1991). For adolescents aged 15 to 17 years, however, the image is a little less clear. Although the proportion of children spending a great deal of time with their father remains high, at slightly under one-third, over one-quarter have all but lost contact with him. These differences are no doubt linked to changes in behaviour during adolescence. Also partly responsible may be the fact that this age group includes both those children for whom the time elapsed since separation is the longest and those who were the oldest at the time of separation, two characteristics intimately associated with the number of father/child contacts.

Figure 3: Distribution of children according to age at separation and time spent with father

Figure 3 :  Distribution of children according to age at separation and time spent with father

[ Description ]

The child’s age at separation provides a useful gauge of the length of time during which a father was able to develop a relationship with their children on a daily basis (see Figure 3). Once again, age groups were defined to correspond to periods of schooling. However, in this case the preschool age group was divided in two, in order to identify the children who had never lived with both parents, or those who were still very young at the time of separation. As expected, the proportion of children spending at least five months a year with their father increased steadily with the child’s age at separation: half (50.6 percent) of the children aged 12 years and over when their parents separated lived at least five months a year with their father, compared with less than one-fifth (18.6 percent) of children aged under two years. The latter were three and a half times more likely to have little or no contact with their father (36.0 percent as against 10.4 percent), a result undoubtedly linked to the fact that the group of children aged under two years at the separation includes, by definition, children born outside a union.

Research on father/child contact reveals that fathers have a tendency, over time, to gradually lose contact with their children. Our findings are entirely consistent with this. As can be seen in Table 6, the more recent the separation, the more time fathers and children spend together: a little under half (44.7 percent) the children experiencing parental separation within the two years preceding the survey stayed with their father at least five months a year, compared with less than a quarter of children whose parents had been separated for five years or more.

These last three variables are obviously closely related to one another. Children who were very young at the time of the survey, for example, experienced their parents’ separation at a very early age and are necessarily included in the group of children for whom the time since separation is short. In the third phase of this research, we attempt to assess the relative impact of each of these characteristics on the degree of father/child contact by applying a multivariate analysis to the data.

The geographic distance separating the households of the two parents is a key factor in the continuation of father/child contact. Geographic proximity facilitates enormously the movement of children from one parent’s home to the other and, without this proximity, joint custody is virtually inconceivable, given the problems of organising schooling and social life.

As foreseen, the shorter the distance between the two residences, the more frequent the contact between fathers and children. Thus, the proportion (44.5 percent) of children maintaining a close relationship with their father is significantly higher when their parents’ homes are less than 10 kilometres apart.

B. Family and economic characteristics of fathers

This section explores the level of father/child contact in relation to the fathers' conjugal and family situation at the time of the survey and to a number of their socio-economic characteristics. This analysis is based on the father sample, as is the investigation of perceptions and attitudes in the following section.

Fathers' conjugal and family situation

The conjugal and parental trajectory chosen by parents after a separation is likely to modify the relationship they have with their children. Choosing to form a union with a new spouse, to live with that spouse's children, to have other children within that union, or to separate once again, are decisions that will probably influence the time and financial support that separated parents are able to offer their children. An earlier study demonstrated that the frequency of father/child contact decreased with the father's remarriage (Seltzer et al., 1989). A more recent study, however, showed how important it is to take into account the presence of children in the father's new family when examining the impact of the conjugal situation. Once the presence of children was controlled for in this study, remarried fathers actually appeared more disposed to see their children regularly than cohabiting or single (i.e. those living alone and never having married) fathers; moreover, while the birth of children within the new union led to a lower level of father/child contact, the presence in the household of the new spouse's children had no apparent effect (Cooksey and Craig, 1999). The impact of these events, therefore, is likely to be considerable and may vary according to the moment in time that they occur.

The GSS data enable us to describe the family situation of the responding parent at the time of the survey; they also permit the reconstruction of the conjugal and parental trajectories taken by respondents after the separation. As a first step, we categorised separated fathers according to whether or not they were living with a new partner at the time of the survey. For those without a partner at the time of the survey, we then established whether they had formed a new union at some point after the separation. Fathers living in a couple at the time of the survey were further classified according to whether this new household included children other than those from the earlier union--either children of the new partner, or those born within the current union. We traced the conjugal and parental history of fathers in this way from the breakdown of the union in which the youngest child in the sample was born; 29 fathers for whom the necessary information was unavailable were excluded from the analysis.

Table 7:
Distribution (%) of fathersa of children aged 0-17 years
according to the average time spent with the children
and by the fathers’ conjugal and parental trajectory
  Time spent with the children
Family situation
at time of survey
Less than
1 week
1 week to
2 months
2 to 5 months 5 months and over Total %
N b 59 64 61 78 262  
Without a partner:
- no subsequent union 25.8 20.3 22.6 31.3 100 45.4
- lived in a new union c 11.2 33.3 23.3 32.2 100 12.9
With a partner:
- without other children present 11.8 35.0 25.8 27.6 100 21.6
- with other children present 34.5 15.9 23.7 25.9 100 20.1

χ 2 = 15.417, p = 0.080, missing cases: 3

Source: Statistics Canada, General Social Survey (GSS), Cycle 10: the Family, 1995.

Between the time of separation (or the birth of a child born outside a union) and the survey, more than half the separated fathers had experienced at least one subsequent family relationship: 54.8 percent had formed a new union; 13.6 percent had lived with the children of a new partner; and 12.0 percent had fathered another child within a new union (data not presented).

At the time of the survey, over half the fathers were not living in a couple (see Table 7); of these, however, almost one in five had lived with a new partner between the time of separation and the survey (12.9 percent of 58.3 percent). Two-thirds of the fathers living in a couple at the time of the survey reported that they were cohabiting,[6] and only one-third had remarried (data not presented). Almost half the fathers living with a new partner (20.1 percent of 41.7f percent) stated that they were also living with children other than those from their previous union; around half the children in question were those of their new partner, and the other half were children born within the new union. Only 2 percent of fathers reported living with both their partner's children and with children born within the new union.

Contrary to our expectations, the frequency of father/child contact did not appear a priori to be significantly linked to the conjugal or family situation of fathers at the time of the survey. The absence of a statistical relationship is certainly due, in part, to the small sample size, but it may also result from the sample bias, which over-represents fathers who see their children regularly and which may well be related to the fathers' current family situation.

Fathers' socio-economic characteristics

The GSS provides a number of indicators of the respondents' socio-economic situation at the time of the survey. In Table 8, the distribution of fathers with regard to a number of these measures is presented, according to the average time spent with their children.

Table 8:
Distribution (%) of fathers of children aged 0-17 years according to the average time spent with the children and by certain economic characteristics of the father
  Time spent with the child
Father's economic characteristics Less than
1 week
1 week to
2 months
2 to 5 months 5 months
and over
Total %
N a 67 69 68 87 291  
Highest level of education
Primary and part of secondary 28.2 24.9 17.5 29.4 100 24.7
Secondary 10.7 31.4 24.5 33.4 100 15.6
Post-secondary 23.6 20.4 28.8 27.2 100 38.3
University 27.2 24.0 21.3 27.5 100 21.4
χ 2 = 8.668, p = 0.468, missing cases: 6
Total income for the 12 months preceding the survey
Less than $20,000 31.8 25.6 15.0 27.6 100 24.9
$20,000 - $29,999 7.6 37.1 17.1 38.2 100 22.3
$30,000 - $49,999 30.9 18.7 29.6 20.8 100 28.5
$50,000 and over 4.1 17.2 37.4 41.3 100 24.3
χ 2 = 36.876, p = 0.001, missing cases: 65
Main activity in the 12 months preceding the survey
Employed 23.2 20.6 26.4 29.8 100 79.9
Looking for work 30.4 26.7 13.2 29.7 100 9.8
Other 18.4 46.4 12.1 23.1 100 10.3
χ 2 = 12.404, p = 0.054, missing cases: 5
Number of weeks worked during the 12 months preceding the survey b
32 weeks or more 23.2 19.8 27.7 29.3 100 83.7
Less than 32 weeks 29.7 33.4 17.6 19.3 100 16.3
χ 2 = 6.355, p = 0.096, missing cases: 1
Worked evenings, nights or weekends on a regular basis b
Yes 25.7 24.4 22.6 27.3 100 61.3
No 22.0 18.2 31.5 28.3 100 38.7
χ 2 = 3.436, p = 0.329

Source: Statistics Canada, General Social Survey (GSS), Cycle 10: the Family, 1995.

Overall, almost a quarter of separated fathers did not graduate from high school, while a proportion only slightly lower had completed a university education. Similarly, a quarter of fathers had a personal income of less than $20,000 during the year preceding the survey and a comparable proportion had an annual income of $50,000 or more. During the same period, four fathers in five reported paid employment as their principal activity. Among the 20 percent of unemployed fathers, half were looking for work and the other half reported a variety of principal activities (studies, running the household or chronic illness). Finally, for fathers who were employed or self-employed at some point during the 12 months preceding the survey, the vast majority worked at least 32 weeks, and almost two-thirds (61.3 percent) reported working evenings, nights or weekends on a regular basis. It is difficult to judge to what point our sample is representative of separated fathers as a whole concerning their socio-economic characteristics. We can assume, however, as results of a recent American study imply, that the fathers contacted by the 1995 GSS have a somewhat higher than average socio-economic status (Lin et al., 1998).

One might expect fathers’ socio-economic characteristics, and their working hours in particular, to be linked to the frequency of contact with their children. However, the analysis of GSS data reveals only a slender association between the variables. In fact, when these socio-economic characteristics are examined in relation to the average time spent with children, neither the level of education, nor the fact of being employed, working normal hours on a regular basis, appear to be linked in any significant way to the frequency of father/child contact (see Figure 4). Only income seems to influence the amount of contact in any significant way. Among fathers enjoying a personal annual income of $50,000 or more, 40 percent reported maintaining a close relationship with their children, and only 4 percent declared that they almost never saw them. This latter figure contrasts strongly with the much higher fraction (31.8 percent) of fathers in the lowest income group (less than $20,000 a year) who had little or no contact with their children. This result lends support to the hypothesis advanced in other research (Seltzer, 1994) indicating that fathers who are unable to meet their financial obligations tend to cut off links with their children.

Figure 4: Distribution of fathers according to yearly income and time spent with children

Figure 4 : Distribution of fathers according to yearly income and time spent with children

[ Description ]

C. Fathers' perceptions of diverse aspects of conjugal and family life

The GSS collected information on respondents' perceptions of several aspects of conjugal and family life. Separated fathers' attitudes towards certain facets of the paternal role are presented in Table 9, their stance on masculine and feminine roles in Table 10, and their perception of personal happiness in Table 11.

For each of the perception and attitude questions, respondents were asked to select one of four replies, according to whether they "strongly agreed," "agreed," "disagreed" or "strongly disagreed" with the statement put to them.[7] The micro-data file produced by Statistics Canada also contains an additional category for respondents with "no opinion" on the subject. In the case of variables where one or other of the extreme categories contained only a small number of fathers, responses were grouped according to the number of replies. Moreover, the small number of fathers with "no opinion" on any given question were normally treated as missing and excluded from the analysis.

Fathers' responses to these questions were examined in relation to the frequency of contact they had with their children. Our aim, in other words, was to discover whether the perceptions and attitudes of fathers with little or no contact with their children differed in any way from those of fathers who had remained in close contact with them. This analysis is an exploratory one, and does not enable us to explain the behaviour of fathers on the issue of contact with their children based on their perception of diverse aspects of family life, at the time of the survey; these perceptions can as easily be the result as the cause of the observed behaviour. It can nevertheless provide several suggestions for interpreting the observed results. In the context of this analysis, it must be kept in mind that the amount of time fathers spend with their children does not depend entirely on their own wishes; several other factors, not taken into consideration here, can facilitate or thwart the father's relationship with his offspring when he does not live with their mother.

Fathers' perceptions of the paternal role

Fathers who had their children within a union were asked about the impact of the divorce or separation on the relationship with their children. Fathers with children from different unions had to reply to this question for each previous union. The following analysis refers only to the union in which the youngest child in the sample was born. In other words, unions that broke down before the last child's birth are not taken into consideration; and fathers who had never lived in a couple have also been excluded.

Table 9:
Distribution (%) of fathers of children aged 0-17 years according to the average time spent with the children and their perception of various aspects of the paternal role
  Time spent with the child
Less than
1 week
1 week to
2 months
2 to 5
months
5 months
and over
%
N a 67 69 68 87 291
Effect of the sepdration/divorce on father's relationship with the children b
Positive 7.3 22.2 33.0 52.0 32.0
No effect 32.7 44.2 36.3 14.9 30.8
Negative 49.2 17.2 2.6 7.7 16.1
Very negative 10.8 16.4 28.1 25.4 21.1
Total 100 100 100 100 100
χ 2 = 48.466, p = 0.001, missing cases: 21 (in addition to those not applicable)
During childhood, the father very close emotionally to his own father
Yes 59.7 52.0 66.8 59.0 59.2
No 40.3 48.0 33.2 41.0 40.8
Total 100 100 100 100 100
χ 2 = 2.975, p =0.395, missing cases: 17
Respondent thinks he is a better father than his own father was
Yes 53.4 46.4 60.4 72.7 59.1
No 46.6 53.6 39.6 27.3 40.9
Total 100 100 100 100 100
χ 2 = 10.114, p = 0.018, missing cases: 40
Level of satisfdction with the amount of time spent generally with the children
Very satisfied 19.2 17.0 17.8 40.5 24.6
Satisfied 26.2 40.5 53.1 47.5 42.2
Dissatisfied 54.6 42.5 29.1 12.0 33.2
Total 100 100 100 100 100
χ 2 = 41.626, p = 0.001, missing cases: 5
If the respondent could live his life over, he would not have had children
Agree 10.2 7.5 4.8 3.1 6.2
Disagree 61.9 64.1 56.1 47.4 56.7
Strongly disagree 27.9 28.4 39.1 49.5 37.1
Total 100 100 100 100 100
χ 2 = 12.042, p = 0.061, missing cases: 9
Having children made the respondent a happier person
Strongly agree 30.3 28.1 45.6 45.4 37.9
Agree 54.8 53.7 47.2 53.0 52.2
Disagree 14.9 18.2 7.2 1.6 9.9
Total 100 100 100 100 100
χ 2 = 18.115, p = 0.006, missing cases: 6

Source: Statistics Canada, General Social Survey (GSS), Cycle 10: the Family, 1995.

Figure 5: Effect of divorce on relationship with children according to time spent with them

Figure 5 : Effect of divorce on relationship with children according to time spent with them

[ Description ]

Overall, fathers were almost equally distributed (approximately one-third) in their perception that the union breakdown had had a positive effect, no effect or a more or less negative effect on their relationship with their children (see Table 9). However, as is clear from Figure 5, their perception of the effect differed significantly according to the amount of time spent with the children. Around 60 percent (49.2 percent + 10.8 percent) of fathers with little or no contact with their children judged that the divorce had had a negative or very negative impact--almost twice that observed for the other three groups of fathers (around 30 percent). Just over half (52.0 percent) of the fathers in the highest contact group considered that the separation had in fact improved their relationship with their children; a quarter of these fathers, nonetheless, judged that the impact of separation or divorce had been very negative. For the former, the union breakdown appears to have brought them closer to their children; for the latter, one must assume that the separation had the opposite effect, perhaps by reducing the frequency of contact for these fathers who had a close relationship with their children from the start.

Whether or not separated fathers felt close to their own father during childhood does not seem to have any significant impact on the degree of contact they maintained with their children; in fact, approximately the same proportion (59 percent) of fathers felt close to their fathers in both the "no contact" and the "close contact" groups.

Overall, almost six men in 10 agreed with the statement that they were better fathers than their own father had been. However, the proportion varies significantly according to the degree of father/child contact. Almost three-quarters (72.7 percent) of fathers who spent at least five months with their children felt they were better fathers than their own had been. This may be because, when the children are with them, they participate fully in the daily organisation of their children's lives, while their own fathers, remaining married to the mother of their children, left running the household entirely to her. Less easy to explain, however, is the fact that more than half the fathers with little or no contact with their children also saw themselves as better than their own fathers had been. Perhaps in this case we are dealing with fathers who were quite close to their children, but who had to put an end to these relationships, at least temporarily, after a breakup that they experienced as a painful separation distancing them from their children (Quéniart, 1999).

The satisfaction expressed by fathers with the time they spent in general with their children is closely linked to the frequency of contact they have with them. Almost nine fathers in 10 (88.0 percent) of those who spent at least five months with their children were satisfied with the situation, and four out of 10 were very satisfied. At the other extreme, more than half (54.6 percent) of fathers with little or no contact are dissatisfied with the time they spend with their children.

Despite the problems, fathers did not appear to regret having had children. Only one in 16 stated that, if he could start over again, he would not have a child. Fathers with the closest contact were the most certain of their choice: almost half (49.5 percent) strongly disagreed with the statement that if they could begin again they would not have had children, and only 3.1 percent were in agreement. In contrast, among fathers with scarcely any contact, one in ten regretted the decision, and only 27.9 percent completely disagreed with the idea that they would not have had children. Nine out of ten fathers declared that having children made them happier. The degree of agreement with this statement varies, however, according to the amount of father/child contact. The more fathers saw their children, the more they declared themselves very much in agreement with the statement that having children made them happier (45 percent among fathers spending at least 5 months with children, compared with 30.3 percent among those with little or no contact); at the other extreme, the less they saw their children, the more they disagreed with the statement (14.9 percent versus 1.6 percent).

Fathers' perceptions of masculine and feminine roles

The GSS collected information on the respondents' perception of male and female roles today. For this, respondents had to indicate their level of agreement with a series of statements such as: "Having a job is the best way for a woman to be an independent person;" "A man should refuse a promotion at work if it means spending too little time with his family." Table 10 contains the fathers' responses to these questions according to the time spent with their children.

Table 10:
Distribution (%) of fathers of children aged 0-17 years according to the average time spent with the children and according to their perception of feminine and masculine roles
  Time spent with the child
% of fathers who agree or disagree with the following statements Less than
1 week
1 week to
2 months
2 to 5 months 5 months
and over
%
N a 67 69 68 87 291
Having a job is the best way for a woman to be independent
Agree 68.0 56.6 57.6 68.5 63.0
Disagree 32.0 43.4 42.4 31.5 37.0
Total 100 100 100 100 100
χ 2 = 3.574, p = 0.311, missing cases: 26
Both the man and the woman should contribute to the household income
Strongly agree 3.5 15.3 12.8 13.9 11.6
Agree 81.4 59.1 58.3 65.7 65.9
Disagree 15.1 25.6 28.9 20.4 22.5
Total 100 100 100 100 100
χ 2 = 10.961, p = 0.090, missing cases: 25
A job is all right, but what most women really want is a home and children
Agree 59.9 49.8 47.6 59.4 54.6
Disagree 40.1 50.2 52.4 40.6 45.4
Total 100 100 100 100 100
χ 2 = 3.064, p = 0.382, missing cases: 37
The everyday tasks of raising children are not primarily a man's responsibility
Agree 17.2 4.1 1.8 1.5 5.7
Disagree 65.2 69.9 55.9 54.7 61.0
Strongly disagree 17.6 26.0 42.3 43.8 33.3
Total 100 100 100 100 100
χ2 = 31.151, p = 0.001; missing cases: 9
If a man erings enough money home so his wife and children have a comfortable life, he has fulfilled his role as a husband and a parent
Agree 38.0 19.6 22.6 25.8 26.2
Disagree 51.2 63.5 55.7 60.5 58.0
Strongly disagree 10.8 16.9 21.7 13.7 15.7
Total 100 100 100 100 100
χ 2 = 8.656, p = 0.194, missing cases: 6
A man should refuse a promotion at work if it means spending too little time with his family
Agree 55.3 52.6 53.0 55.1 54.0
Disagree 44.7 47.4 47.0 44.9 46.0
Total 100 100 100 100 100
χ 2 = 0.145, p = 0.986, missing cases: 40

Source: Statistics Canada, General Social Survey (GSS), Cycle 10: the Family, 1995.
a Weighted data, brought back to the original sample size.

In contrast to the questions in the preceding section, which refer to the individual circumstances of fathers, the questions on male and female roles are of a more general nature and do not involve personal experience. In some cases, replies to these questions may be a better reflection of the image society projects than of their personal convictions. The difference in the formulation of the questions has without doubt caused the lack of variation observed in this second series of analyses, that is, the absence of a significant association between the opinions expressed by fathers on masculine and feminine roles and the degree of father/child contact.

Only the statement that "the everyday tasks of raising children are not primarily a man's responsibility" appears to discriminate between fathers in terms of the time spent with children: fathers with little or no contact were much more likely to declare themselves in agreement with this proposition than fathers spending two months or more with them (17.2 percent compared with less than 2 percent), and a smaller proportion expressed strong disagreement. This question is evidently the one in this group that relates most directly to men's personal lives.

Fathers' attitudes towards happiness

Table 11 presents our findings on the attitudes fathers hold concerning their personal happiness. Overall, nine out of ten men considered a lasting relationship to be important or very important for being happy in life, although just over half felt that marriage was important. Only three-quarters of fathers, however, thought that having a child was important for their personal happiness, while almost a quarter declared it unimportant. The breakdown by level of father/child contact immediately confirms what earlier analyses predicted--that the contact fathers maintain with their children is more obviously linked to their attitudes about father/child relations than about male/female issues.

The two questions on the importance of conjugal life for men's happiness do not appear to be closely linked to the level of father/child contact. In contrast, attitudes towards having a child appear to be significantly linked to the frequency of contact, though not always in the way one might have predicted. Fathers with close links to their children were the most inclined (37.5 percent) to consider having a child to be very important for happiness in life, and the least likely (14.6 percent) to attach no importance to it. In the two intermediate contact categories, the proportion of fathers who recognised the very positive effect of children decreased as the time spent with children declined, while the percentage not giving them any importance increased. Following this line of thought, we would have expected fathers with little or no contact with their children to be the least likely to attach great importance to children and, inversely, to be the most prone to attribute little value to them. However, the situation is somewhat different. This may be because, as certain studies have shown, this category includes both fathers who have never been close to their children and those who cut the close links they had had with their children after separation. (Quéniart, 1999)

Table 11:
Distribution (%) of fathers of children aged 0-17 years according to the average time spent with the children and according to their attitudes towards happiness
  Time spent with the child
% of fathers who, to be happy in life, consider it important or unimportant… Less than
1 week
1 week to
2 months
2 to 5
months
5 months
and over
%
N a 67 69 68 87 291
…to have a lasting relationship as a couple
Very important 57.6 37.9 50.9 46.6 48.1
Important 31.6 50.1 40.7 44.2 41.9
Not important 10.8 12.0 8.3 9.2 10.0
Total 100 100 100 100 100
χ 2 = 6.416, p = 0.378, missing cases: 2
…to be married
Very important 22.9 16.7 20.3 18.7 19.6
Important 38.0 29.4 30.0 27.0 30.8
Not important 39.1 53.9 49.7 54.3 49.6
Total 100 100 100 100 100
χ 2 = 4.499, p = 0.609, missing cases: 1
…to have at least one child
Very important 24.8 19.8 24.7 37.5 27.3
Important 55.0 47.0 44.7 47.9 48.6
Not important 20.2 33.2 30.6 14.6 24.1
Total 100 100 100 100 100
χ 2 = 12.964, p = 0.044, missing cases: 2

Source: Statistics Canada, General Social Survey (GSS), Cycle 10: the Family, 1995.
a Weighted data, brought back to the original sample size.


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