WEDNESDAY, May 31, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Well-educated men tend to make better fathers, according a new U.S. government report on fatherhood.
"Education is very important," said report co-author Gladys Martinez, a demographer at the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Men with higher education wait longer to get married and have children -- so they are more prepared," she said.
The report, Fertility, Contraception, and Fatherhood: Data on Men and Women From Cycle 6 of the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, was released by the CDC on May 31.
"We have been collecting data on women since 1973," Martinez said. "In 2002, we decided to include men to round out the picture," she added.
The report includes data on over 7,600 women and nearly 5,000 men, ages 15 to 44. The data were collected through interviews done between March 2002 and March 2003.
Martinez's team found that 28 million men in the United States have children less than 19 years of age, and three-quarters of those men live with their children. "As you would suspect, because the father lives with their children, he is more likely to engage in activities with the children. Eighty-one percent play with their kids daily, and 74 percent ate with their kids," she added.
Education was a key factor in all aspects of fatherhood, Martinez said. About half of the men without a high-school education have fathered a child outside of marriage compared to just 6 percent of college graduates.
The main predictor of a father's involvement with his children was his level of education, Martinez said. "Those with higher levels of education report higher levels of activity with their children," she said.
Among fathers who don't live with their children, some 74 percent had contact with their children during the past year, Martinez noted. "About half of these guys reported having activities with their children in the past four weeks," she said.
In addition, among fathers who live apart from their children, 85 percent of fathers with higher incomes contributed to their children's support on a regular basis, compared with 64 percent of fathers with income below the poverty level.
Moreover, the researchers found that among men and women who had children but were not married, 18 percent of the men were living with the women when the baby was born. Two-thirds of first births occur among married couples, Martinez said, and 16 percent occur among couples who are not married or living together.
"The race differences are very striking," Martinez said. "We know that blacks are less likely to marry, so you would expect those births outside of marriage would be greater," she said. "About 50 percent of births to Hispanics were within marriage, 77 percent of births to whites were within marriage, but only 36 percent of births to blacks were within marriage," she said.
Other data in the report show that among non-Hispanic black fathers, 25 percent fathered their first child before they were 20 years old; 19 percent of Hispanic fathers also became fathers as teenagers, and 11 percent of non-Hispanic white men became fathers while they were teens.
But across all races, a dad's education still made all the difference, Martinez said. Well-educated men "are more likely to be married when they have children and are more likely to be active in the lives of their children," she said. "Education trumps race," she said.
One expert thinks that the report paints a positive picture, but added that dads still need support, especially those in lower-income brackets.
"This is a very optimistic picture of the role of dads and fatherhood in America," said Shelley Waters Boots, vice president for policy and programs at the Washington, D.C.-based Parents Action for Children. "It is quite affirming that a lot of dads are doing a lot of the work of parenting," she added.
"In America, we don't give parents credit for how hard it is, and how hard it is to do it well," Waters Boots said. "So, if you have higher income and more flexibility, you see dads really step up to the plate. For dads who are really struggling to bring home the paycheck, they are paying a price of not doing the parenting job they want to do. We need to be giving dads more support," she said.
For more on fatherhood, head to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.