MONTREAL, September 9, 2011 ( – Research at Montreal’s Concordia University has shown that fathers who actively engage in raising their children make important contributions to their children’s cognitive abilities and behavioral functioning.

The study carried out by Erin Pougnet, a PhD candidate in the Concordia University Department of Psychology, and associates, used data from the Concordia Longitudinal Risk Project, an intergenerational longitudinal data set collected in inner city areas of Montreal.

“This topic is particularly relevant in Québec, a demographically and culturally unique province in which female lone parenthood is relatively common,” Pougnet explains in the preface to the report.

According to recent Statistics Canada figures, 22 per cent of Quebec families are comprised of households where biological fathers are absent, compared to a national average of 13 per cent.

“This pattern is related to socioeconomic disadvantages that predict negative cognitive and behavioural outcomes in youth,” the researchers state.

One hundred and thirty-eight children and their parents from lower to middle income backgrounds participated in two waves of data collection: at ages 3 to 5, and again at 9 to 13 years old.

The children were given IQ tests, while their mothers completed questionnaires on spousal conflict and the home environment.

The children’s teachers contributed to the research by observing and reporting the child’s behavior at school.

“Teachers were a somewhat more independent source of information than mothers, fathers or children themselves,” Pougnet said in a press release from Concordia University, “because a father’s absence can result in home conflict, maternal distress and child distress.”

The study found that, “Compared with other children with absentee dads, kids whose fathers were active parents in early and middle childhood had fewer behaviour problems and higher intellectual abilities as they grew older — even among socio-economically at-risk families.”

“Regardless of whether fathers lived with their children, their ability to set appropriate limits and structure their children’s behaviour positively influenced problem-solving and decreased emotional problems, such as sadness, social withdrawal and anxiety,” said Pougnet.

The study also found that girls were more affected by absent fathers than boys.

“Girls whose fathers were absent during their middle childhood had significantly higher levels of emotional problems at school than girls whose fathers were present,” said Pougnet.

The research team suggests that the findings of their study not only contribute to the body of research connecting fathers and childhood development, but should also be used by governments to establish policies that support the role of fathers in their families and society.

“These findings add to the increasing body of literature suggesting that fathers make important contributions to their children’s cognitive and behavioural functioning,” the report concludes, “and point to the benefits of developing policies that encourage fathers to spend time with their children (i.e., parental leave for men) and promote positive fathering and involvement through parenting courses.”

The study, titled, “Fathers’ Influence on Children’s Cognitive and Behavioural Functioning: A Longitudinal Study of Canadian Families,” was published in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science. An abstract is available here.