Fatherhood Raises Men's Social Capital

Wednesday Mar 26, 2008

Living with children and being married has a beneficial effect on men's social networks, according to a new study by FIRA researcher, Zenaida Ravanera. Dr. Ravanera, a research associate at the Population Studies Centre at the University of Western Ontario, analyzed data from the Statistics Canada's 2003 General Social Survey (GSS) on Social Engagement to assess possible effects of fatherhood on men's social capital.

Social capital refers to the relationships and connections between and within the social networks that enhance the health, well-being and productivity of individuals in society. "Researchers have often looked at social capital as a factor in child development," Ravanera explains. "For example, reduced social capital is often cited as one of the reasons that children from non-intact families are at increased risk for developmental problems. I wanted to look at the possible link between fatherhood status and men's social capital."

Ravanera's analysis, the first attempt to use GSS data tp gauge the affect of fatherhood on men's social capital, shows that a fatherhood and marriage do have beneficial effects on men's social networks.

The General Social Survey on Social Engagement gathered information on social networks such as the number of people the respondent felt close to, how many people they knew in their neighborhoods and their level of trust in family and friends. Ravanera analyzed the data and compared married, cohabiting, step and lone fathers living with children to married, cohabiting, never married, divorced/separated and widowed men who did not live with children.

Overall, men living with children had higher levels of social capital from informal networks than men not living with children. That is, on average, they reported having more friends and neighbours they felt connected to and higher levels of trust in their family and friends. The differences were statistically significant. However, closer scrutiny revealed that the largest differences were between certain subgroups of fathers.

Married men living with children had the highest social capital of all groups. However, when other factors such education, religiosity and place of residence were factored in, the social capital of married fathers living with children did not differ significantly from that of married stepfathers, co-habiting men living with children and also married men without children and widowers. The subgroups of men with the lowest levels of social capital were men who had never married, divorced/separated fathers not living with children, cohabiting stepfathers and lone parent fathers. Ravanera suggests that future research should perhaps look at how reduced social capital in lone fathers and non-resident divorced fathers might affect their well-being and that of their children.

"It seems likely that children would help parents reach out to and connect with people in their neighbourhood," says Ravanera. "And the differences in social capital between cohabiting and married men, suggest that the stability of marriage may be a positive factor as well. But we cannot say for sure, from this type of study, that being married and having children is what causes men's social capital to improve. All we know is that married men with children tend to have somewhat better social networks than other groups of men. We need to look more closely at other indicators of social capital as they affect men, such as the nature and quality of relationships within the family and also men's connections to community institutions and to people outside of family and friend networks."

Source: Ravanera, Z. (2007). Informal networks social capital of fathers: What does the social engagement survey tell us?. Social Indicators Research, 83(2), 351-373.

Read an online version of Informal Networks Social Capital Of Fathers: What Does The Social Engagement Survey Tell Us?