- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 6, 2002

A new study shows that fathers of the evangelical and Catholic faiths may be better parents than secular dads, if judged by the time they spend with their children in activities or at the dinner table.

The author of the study, reported in the Journal of Marriage and Family, said the findings contradict a stereotype that conservative Protestant fathers leave child rearing to stay-at-home wives.

"Evangelical Protestant fathers, including Southern Baptists, are very involved with their children, which I found surprising, given their tendency to embrace traditional gender attitudes," said W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia.

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Findings were based on time spent on five kinds of one-on-one activities, such as reading or playing a game.

Evangelical fathers on average spent more hours per week with their children than other dads. They reported being at an average of 27 more family dinners a year than those with no religious affiliation.

Catholic fathers, who excelled in devotion to group activities with their children, on average spent about two hours more a week with their children than fathers of no religion.

Both exceeded the time spent by fathers in mainline Protestant churches or with no religious affiliation.

The study looked at data on fathers and children ages 5 to 18 in the National Survey of Families and Households.

The way churches organize may explain why some churchgoing fathers are more active with children, Mr. Wilcox said.

"Evangelical Protestant and Catholic churches may sponsor more youth-related activities than other churches, providing a broader range of activities for fathers and children to share," he said.

Mainline Protestant churches, according to other studies, have an aging population and thus fewer youth groups.

The report is one more suggestion that studying religious attitudes will help policy-makers understand family trends, which have been analyzed mostly by economics, jobs, race and sex.

"Religious culture or subculture matters," said Sally Gallagher, an Oregon State University sociologist who reviewed the report. Religious belief can "make a difference in men's involvement as parents," she said.

General Social Survey findings from 1994 to 2000 tend to confirm the Wilcox report, said Tom Smith of the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), which conducts the massive annual survey.

"Overall, evangelical Protestant fathers are the most child-oriented while fathers with no religious affiliation are the least focused on children," Mr. Smith said.

While 30 percent of evangelical fathers agree that people without children "lead empty lives," that is the belief of 22 percent of Catholic fathers, 18 percent of mainline Protestant fathers and 10 percent of fathers with no religion.

At the same time, evangelical fathers are less likely to believe they "are very successful in balancing work and family."

Just 29 percent think they strike that balance. That compares with 30 percent of Catholics, 36 percent of nonreligious fathers and 42 percent of mainline Protestant churchgoers.

Accordingly, more than half of evangelical (56 percent) and Catholic (52 percent) fathers "want to spend much more time with their families," the NORC survey said.

In the Wilcox study, the evangelical category included Southern Baptist, Assembly of God, Pentecostal, Missionary Alliance, Christian Reformed and other conservative churches.

Mainline Protestant fathers were those who identified themselves as Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist or Congregational.

The survey did not assess the educational backgrounds, incomes, professions or work schedules of the fathers.

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