Open Journal of Medical Psychology, 2013, 2, 1-6
doi:10.4236/ojmp.2013.24B001 Published Online October 2013 (
Parental Involvement in Child’s Development:
Father vs. Mother
Yeoh Si Han, Woo Pei Jun
Department of Psychology, Sunway University, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia
Received May, 2013
This study aims to investigate on Malaysian young adults’ perceived father and mother involvement. A questionnaire
survey with Father Involvement Scale, and Mother Involvement Scale was carried out on 100 male and 100 female lo-
cal university and college student aged 18 and 25 years old. The findings show that mothers engaged more in expressive
and mentoring/advising involvement as compared to fathers. However, there is no difference between fathers and
mothers in instrumental involvement. This study gives us a better understanding on the pattern of parental involvement
in Malaysia and hence helps to promote better parent-child relationship.
Keywords: Parental Involvement; Father; Mother
1. Introduction
For years, theorists and scholars have been acknowl-
edged that fathers and mothers play a different role in
family systems (see [1]). Fathers assume the role of
breadwinner, working outside and earning a living for the
family while mothers are usually the primary caregivers,
taking care and fulfilling th e needs of the children . Half a
decade ago, Parsons and Bales’ [2] suggested that fathers
were more engaged in instrumental functions, such as
disciplining children and providing income whereas
mothers were expected to be involved in expressive
functions such as care giving , sharing activities and com-
panionship. Today, women are getting more involved in
the workforce as compared to a few decades before.
Hence, will this structural distribution of parental in-
volvement be remained? This study aims to investigate
whether fathers and mothers involve differently in their
children’s development in terms of the three dimensions
of involvement (i.e., expressive involvement [EI], in-
strumental involvement [II], and mentoring/advising in-
volvement [MAI]).
2. Parental I nvolvement
2.1. Definitions and Theories
Many researchers have defined parental involvement
differently based on their purposes of studies [3-5]. Singh
et al. [3] noted that parental involvement has been con-
sidered a multidimensional construct with multiple do-
mains. A widely used model by Lamb and colleagues [4]
conceptualised three typologies of involvement: (1) In-
teraction – one to one in teraction with the child inclu ding
feeding, playing and reading; (2) Accessibility – avail-
ability to the child , even if not directly involving; And (3)
responsibility – assuming responsibility for child care
and welfare.
On the other hand, Mo and Singh [5] described paren-
tal involvement as “initiated by the parents as part of
their responsibility for children's psychosocial and edu-
cational development” (p.1). According to Mo and Singh
[5], parental involvement consisted of three components:
parent-child relationship, parental involvement in school,
and parents’ educational aspirations for their children.
These involvements have found to be predictive to stu-
dents’ educational engagement and performance.
Theory of structure-functionalism [6] suggested that
individuals in society have separate and distinct roles; the
responsibility to complete these roles is necessary for
survival. Hence, when this concept is applied in family,
fathers and mothers are expected to function differently
in order to maintain the harmony in the family system.
Finley and Schwartz [7] found a similar differentiatio n of
parental involvement and have further expanded the two
components (i.e., EI and II) into three –EI, II and MAI.
These distinctions were found to be applied well to
young adults’ perceptions of pare nt al involvement [8].
Drawing on previous works on parental involvement
[2,7,8], this study defines parental involvement as par-
ents’ interaction and engagement in a child’s life, which
promote some aspects of development. This involvement
encompasses three dimensions: (1) EI – leisure, fun, and
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Y. S. HAN, W. P. JUN
play, companionship, sharing activities/interests, care-
giving, and promoting emotional, social, physical, and
spiritual development; (2) II – developing responsibility
and independence, encouraging ethical/moral and career
development, providing income, discipline, being protec-
tive, and concern about school or homework; (3) MAI –
developing competence, mentoring/teaching, advising,
and intellectual development.
2.2. Research Evidences on Parental
Involvement: Father vs. Mother
Thompson and Walker [9] noted that once women and
men become parents, they tend to relate to their children
differently and do different things with and for their
children. This insight suggests the complication that lies
beneath the experience of parenthood and the importance
of revealing the unique and similar aspects of the paren-
tal experience for men and women.
EI. Research has shown that in families, women often
take primary responsibility for emotional support, nur-
turing, establishing routines, setting rules and organising
their children, especially when the children are young
[10]. Besides, another study that researched on parental
involvement of Malay and Chinese families from penin-
sular Malaysia found that mothers generally spent more
time than fathers in childcare task [11].
Furthermore, Yeung and colleagues’ [12] study which
examined on 1761 children aged 0 to12 years old re-
vealed that as compared to fathers, mothers generally
engaged more in personal care activities, play and com-
panionship activities, achievement-related activities,
household activities, and social activities. Additionally,
research findings on 1714 young adult university stu-
dents (M age = 19.9 years) showed that mothers were
perceived to be significantly more involved in the do-
mains of expressive dimensions, especially in the area of
emotional development, caregiving, spiritual develop-
ment, companionship and social development [8].
Nonetheless, there were also researchers and scholars
who proposed that fathers are getting more involved in
expressive functions [13-15]. Giele and Holst [13] found
that there were changes in gender roles as a result of so-
cial revolution during the 1960s and 1970s. Therefore,
they presumed that fathers are now become more in-
volved in child rearing and activities at home (e.g., care-
giving). Besides, reviews by scholars also suggested that
fathers are getting more engaged in expressing areas such
as companionship and care giving (e.g., [15]). Guided by
the theory of structure-functionalism and findings from
the majority studies, it is predicted that mothers as com-
pared to fathers enrol more in expressive functions.
II. Traditional aspects of II are often characterised by
fathering roles – providing income, discipline, protecting,
moral guide, and encouraging responsibility. A state-
wide, random household telephone survey of 1010 adults
on the social norms about expectations of fathers re-
vealed that a majority of participants agreed that most
fathers engaged in the areas of financial support, protec-
tion, and moral or faith-based guidance [16]. Another
study [17] researched on 1492 young adult university
students from intact families also found that fathers were
significantly more involved in instrumental functions as
compared to expressive functions. The findings also
showed that seven out of the eight most heavily endorsed
fathering functions were from the instrumental dimen-
sion (i.e., providing income, being protective, discipline,
responsibility, moral/ethical, independence, and career).
Additionally, to examine the moderating effect of ethnic-
ity in fathering functions, the study also revealed that
Asian fathers were significantly more involved in the
instrumental dimensions as compared to the expressive
dimension of involvement [17].
Furthermore, studies on specific ethnic groups also
found similar finding s (e.g., [18-20]).One of these studies
illustrated that African American fathers were character-
ised as more involved in instrumental functions such as
monitoring but as relatively unaffectio nate [18]. Besides,
Asian fathering role has also app eared to lend itself more
to instrumental rather than expressive functions [19].
Lastly, a study using national-level data to examine
American fathers’ involvement in child rearing for chil-
dren aged 5 to 18 years revealed that Hispanic fathers
participated more in cognitive domains, such as rein-
forcing family rules and monitoring homework [20].
On the contrary, study by Finley et al. [8] showed that
other than proving incomes, fathers were significantly
less involved in all domains of parental involvement (i.e.,
EI, II, and MAI). However, there was a trend showing
that fathers were more involved in instrumental function
as compared to expressive functions [8].
Although fewer studies have been researched on fa-
thers’ II in comparative to that of mothers, drawing on
most of the supporting findings that fathers engaged
more in II [16-20], this study predicts that fathers would
participate more in this dimension of involvement as
compared to mothers.
MAI. This dimension of involvement is indeed con-
ceptually overlapping between expressive and instru-
mental parenting, thus limited studies are done particu-
larly on this dimension of involvement. Among these
limited studies, Finley et al. [8] found that mothers as
compared to fathers were more engaged in MAI. Spe-
cifically, the findings indicated that mothers were sig-
nificantly more involved in the domains of advising, in-
tellectual development, mentoring, and developing com-
petence. Additionally, Yeung and colleagues’ study also
revealed that mothers relatively spent more time with
their children as compared to fathers in teaching related
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Y. S. HAN, W. P. JUN 3
activities, such as studying, doing homework, reading,
and in educational lesson s [1 2].
Based on the promising findings from the previous
studies [8, 12], it is of interest to explore whether parents
in Malaysia follow this pattern of invo lvement. Therefo r e,
this study expects to see that mothers show higher level
of involvement in this mentoring/advising dimension as
compared to fathers.
3. Hypotheses
Specifically, this study tested three hypotheses: (1) Moth-
ers as compared to fathers involve more in EI; (2) Fathers
as compared to mothers involve more in II; And (3)
mothers as compared to fathers involve more in MAI.
4. Methodology
4.1. Participants
A single survey was conducted to 100 male and 100 fe-
male students (aged 18 and 25 years old, M = 21.07, SD
= 1.75) from three public universities and one private
university in Malaysia. Among the participants, there
were 22 Malays (11.0%), 162 Chinese (81.0%), and 16
Indians (8.0%). In terms of religion, there were 22 Mus-
lims (11.0%), 33 Christians (16.5%), 120 Buddhists
(60.0%), 11 Hindus (5.5%) and 14 participants (7.0%)
who had other religions. All participants in this study
were single and from intact families. Regarding the par-
ents’ working status, 174 (87.0%) participants’ fathers
were reported as working, 3 (1.5%) of the participants’
fathers were not working, and 23 (11.5%) of their fathers
have retired. For mothers’ working status, participants
reported that 89 (44.5%) of their mothers were still
working, 101 (50.5%) participants’ mothers were not
working, an d 1 0 (5 .0%) of their mothers hav e reti red .
4.2. Procedures
A brief explanation of the study was given to the partici-
pants and written consents were obtained. Participants
were given approximately 15 minutes to complete the
questionnaires. Participants were also allowed to with-
draw from this study at any point of time without preju-
4.3. Measurement
Reported father and mother involvement. Young adults’
reports of father and mother involvement were measured
using the Father Involvement Scale (Finley & Schwartz,
2004) and Mother Involvement Scale (Finley et al.,
2008). These two scales consisted of similar content ex-
cept for the terms “father” and “mother” are stated ac-
cordingly. The scales consisted of 20 domains of parent-
ing and can be categorised into three subscales: (1) EI -
caregiving, companionship, sharing activities, emotional
development, social development, spiritual development,
physical development, and leisure, play and fun; (2) II -
discipline, being protective, providing income, school/
homework, ethical/moral development, developing re-
sponsibility, career development, and developing inde-
pendence; and (3) MAI - intellectual development, de-
veloping competence, mentoring/teaching, and giving
The response rating for reported involvement is a lin-
ear response rating, which ranges from 1 (never involved)
to 5 (always involved). Higher score indicates higher
level of involvement. No items are reversed scores. To tal
scores for reported involvement can be created by sum-
ming the respective domain ratings. Possible scores for
these totals range from 20 to 100. Subscale scores can be
generated by summing the domain scores of particular
subscale and dividing the number of items.
These scales had excellent internal consistencies (Finley
et al., 2008). For the reported father involvement, Cron-
bach’s alpha coefficients were .91 for EI, .90 for II, and
0.88 for MAI (Finley et al., 2008). For the reported
mother involvement, Cronbach’s alpha coefficients
were .86 for EI, .80 for II, .82 for MAI (Finley et al.,
5. Results
A paired sample t test was conducted to examine the dif-
ferences of fathers and mothers in the three dimensions
of involvement in a child’s development. For EI, the re-
sult reveals that there is a significant difference between
father EI (M = 3.03, SD = 0.67) and mother EI (M = 3.58,
SD = 0.72), t (199) = -10.04, p < .01. This result indicates
that mothers were perceived to be more involved in EI as
compared to father.
For II, the result shows that there is no significant dif-
ference between father II and mother II, t (199) = -1.1 2, p
> .05.
For MAI, the result reveals that there is a significant
difference between father MAI (M = 3.37, SD = .83) and
mother MAI (M = 3.63, SD = .81), t (199) = -4.16 p
< .01). This result indicates that mothers were perceived
to be more involved in MAI as compared to fathers.
To further analyse the differences between fathers and
mothers in the involvement domains, another paired
sample t test was conducted. The results show that there
is a significant difference between fathers and mothers in
all the eight domains of EI – emotional development (fa-
thers’ M = 2.86, SD = 0.97 vs. mothers’ M = 3.67, SD =
1.02), t (199) = -9.38, p < .01; social development (fa-
thers’ M = 3.06, SD = 1.04 vs. mothers’ M = 3.56, SD =
1.06), t (199) = -5.23, p < .01; spiritual develo pment (fa-
thers’ M = 3.08, SD = 1.18 vs. mothers’ M = 3.55, SD =
1.09), t (199) = -4.73, p < .01; physical development (fa-
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Y. S. HAN, W. P. JUN
thers’ M = 2.82, SD = 1.01 vs. mothers’ M = 3.26, SD =
1.13), t (199) = -4.46, p < .01; leisure, fun, and play (fa-
thers’ M = 2.99, SD = 1.11 vs. mothers’ M = 3.25, SD =
1.09), t (1 99) = -2.73, p < .01; sharing activities or inter-
est (fathers’ M = 2.83, SD = 1 .00 vs. mothers’ M = 3.32,
SD = 1.03, t (199) = -5.63, p < .01; caregiving(fathers’ M
= 3.61, SD = 1.04 vs. mothers’ M = 4.28, SD = .84), t
(199) = -8.42, p < .01; and companionship (fathers’ M =
3.01, SD = 1.03 vs. mothers’ M = 3.75, SD = 1.03), t
(199) = -8.72, p < .01 (see Table 1). These results indi-
cate that mothers as compared to fathers were signifi-
cantly more involved in all the eight domains in EI.
For II, the results show that there is a significant dif-
ference between fathers and mothers in two domains –
providing income (fathers’ M = 3.98, SD = 1.11 vs.
mothers’ M = 3.39, SD = 1.20), t (199) = 5.49, p < .01,
and school/homework (fathers’ M = 2.43, SD = 1.15 vs.
mothers’ M = 3.01, SD = 1.27), t (199) = -6.27, p < .01
(see Table 2). These results indicate that fathers were
more involved in providing income as compared to
mothers. In contrast, mothers as compared to fathers
were more engaged in their children’s schoolwork. No
significant difference was found between fathers and
mothers in other domains – ethical/moral development,
career development, developing responsibility, develop-
ing independence, being protective, and discipline.
In terms of MAI, the results show that there is a sig-
nificant difference between fathers and mothers in three
out of the four domains – intellectual development (fa-
thers’ M = 3.47, SD = 1.02 vs. mothers’ M = 3.67, SD =
1.01), t (199) = -2.34, p < .05, mentoring/teaching (fa-
thers’ M = 3.04, SD = 1.17 vs. mothers’ M = 3.54, SD =
1.10), t (199 ) = -5.39, p < .01, and advising (fathers’ M
= 3.73, SD = 1.03 vs. mothers’ M = 3.92, SD = .98), t
(199) = -2.25, p < .05 (see Table 1). No significant dif-
ference was found between fathers and mothers in the
developing competence domain. Hence, the results indi-
cate that mothers as compared to fathers engaged more in
the domains of intellectual development, mentoring or
teaching, and advising.
6. Discussions
This study was designed to examine the differential in-
volvement of fathers and mothers in child’s development.
The results support the first hypothesis and shows that
mothers were significantly more involved in expressive
functions than fathers. This finding reinforces Parsons
and Bales’ [12] structural distribution of parental in-
volvement, and is in accordance to previous findings
which supported mothers’ greater involvement in care-
giving, companionship, emotional development and other
expressive tasks as compared to fathers[8,11,12].
For II, the results d o not support the secon d hypothesis
and show that there is no significant difference between
fathers and mothers in terms of their instrumental in-
volvement. Neither this finding supports Parsons and
Bales’ [12] structural distribution of parental roles where
fathers are expected to assume the instrumental functions
more than mothers nor Finley and colleagues’ [8] oppos-
ing findings that mothers as compared to fathers signifi-
cantly more engaged in II.
However, when each in strumental domain is taken in to
consideration, fathers were reported as often involved in
providing income and were significantly more involved
than mothers. Similar findings have shown fathers re-
mained to be the financial support for the household and
contributed a higher proportion of household income to
the families [12, 16]. Moreover, this finding is not unex-
pected given that the number of fathers in this study who
were reported as working doubled the number of those of
mothers. Based on these findings, a possible explanation
for the non-significant result between fathers and moth-
ers in the instrumental dimension could be that fathers’
greater involvement in providing income might compro-
mise the time spending with their children in developing
responsibility or independence, disciplining, or dealing
with school and homework. Fathers’ earning and work
Table 1. Mean score of reported involvement by parent and
Mean Score
Variable Father Mother t (199)
Emotional development 2.86 3.67 -9.38**
Social development 3.06 3.56 -5.23**
Spiritual development 3.08 3.55 -4.73**
Physical development 2.82 3.26 -4.46**
Leisure, fun, play 2.99 3.25 -2.73**
Sharing activities/interest 2.83 3.32 -5.63**
Caregiving 3.61 4.28 -8.42**
Companionship 3.01 3.75 -8.72**
Moral development 3.67 3.81 -1.66
Career development 3.39 3.44 -.57
Developing responsibility 3.70 3.82 -1.37
Developing independence 3.63 3.66 -.34
Providing income 3.98 3.39 5.49**
Being protective 3.87 3.90 -.45
Discipline 3.66 3.78 -1.46
School/homework 2.43 3.01 -6.27**
Intellectual development 3.47 3.67 -2.34*
Developing competence 3.26 3.42 -1.86
Mentoring/teaching 3.04 3.54 -5.39**
Advising 3.73 3.92 -2.25*
*p < .05. ** p< .01.
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Y. S. HAN, W. P. JUN 5
hours were found to be significantly and negatively af-
fecting their level of involvement with children [21],
especially during weekdays [12].
On the other hand, mothers were reported to be sig-
nificantly more involved than fathers in school or
homework domain. This outcome is congruent with
Hossain and Anziano’s [21] finding that mothers as com-
pared to fathers were more involved in academic work
such as homework, buying school supplies, school con-
tacting and tutor arrangement. For other instrumental
domains, the involvement of fathers did not differ from
those of mothers. Both parents were generally rated as
often involved in ethical or moral development, develop-
ing responsibility, developing independence, being pro-
tective, and in disciplining; whereas for career develop-
ment domain, both parents were rated as sometimes in-
Despite the non significant results for II, there was a
trend showed that fathers generally more involved in
instrumental dimension as compared to mentor-
ing/advising and expressive dimensions. The mean score
of father II indicated that fathers were generally rated as
often involved as compared to EI and MAI which were
rated as sometimes involved. This trend appears to sup-
port the previous ethnicity studies which revealed that
fathers tend to be more involved in instrumental func-
tions rather than ex pressive functions [19-21].
In terms of MAI, the result supports the third hypothe-
sis and is in congruence with previous findings [8, 12].
The finding shows that mothers were significantly more
involved than fathers in the MAI. Specifically, mothers
were more involved than fathers in the areas of intellec-
tual development, mentoring/teaching and advising. In
deference to Parsons and Bales, if the most highly en-
dorsed parental involvement for fathers (providing in-
come) and for mothers (caregiving) are considered, the
findings are indeed fully supportive of Parsons and
Bales’ [2] theoretical formulation.
This study has several strengths. Firstly, the scales that
are used in this study have high reliability and validity.
Secondly, questionnaire survey with closed-ended ques-
tions not only facilitates the process of scoring but also
result interpretation. In addition, this study is also one of
the few studies that look in to the differential functions of
fathers and mothers in the three dimensions of involve-
ment. Therefore, this study provides some base level data
for Malaysia parenting research and for future compari-
son. In particular, the use of retrospective report in this
study provides uniquely valuable information regarding
the young adults’ long term perception of parental in-
volvement in their lives instead of parents’ report on the
level of involvement.
Nevertheless, the findings of the present study should
also be considered in light of several limitations. Firstly,
the sample in this study is not representative of the cur-
rent Malaysian population due to the overrepresentation
of Chinese ethnicity. Secondly, the use of university
samples raises genera liability issues and may have
screened out young adults from lower educational back-
ground or those with intellectual, social, or emotional
challenges. Thirdly, although the use of retrospective
reports allows young adults to reflect back on their pa-
rental involvement from a more “mature” perspective,
this method is also vulnerable to recall biases [22]. Lastly,
there may be possibility that young adults’ reports of
their parents’ past involvement are affected by their cur-
rent relationship with their parents. Therefore, these
limitations should be kept in mind when interpreting the
Several suggestions for future research follow from the
present findings and limitations can be made. Firstly,
equal size of races should be considered so that the re-
sults would be more representative of Malaysia popula-
tion. Secondly, future research can also consider to ex-
amine whether similar findings would have emerged in
young adults from other backgrounds (i.e., lower educa-
tional background, social or emotional challenges, low
socioeconomic status, etc.). Thirdly, future research may
also investigate the behaviours or specific types of activ-
ity that contribute to each of the involvement domain.
For instance, spiritual involvement may includes talk
about meaning of life, attend weekly religious meeting,
share values and beliefs, etc. Additionally, as this study
has set a base level data on perceived parental involve-
ment which based on young adu lts from intact families, it
is recommended that future work can examine on young
adults from other family forms (i.e., dual career family,
single pare nt family, and divorce d fa mily).
The present study has several important implications
for the parenting research and program. First of all, the
findings enhance the existing knowledge regarding Ma-
laysian young adults’ long term perception on their par-
ents’ involvement. Besides, more informative workshops
or talks on how to interact with their children in those
significant domains (e.g., companionship, emotional de-
velopment, sharing activities, etc.) could also be organ-
ised to further enhance the involvement that parents have
in their children’ s development.
Lastly, to address the question posted prior in the be-
ginning of this study on whether social changes affect the
traditional distribution of parental involvement, this
study concludes that the tren d of this traditional structure
seems to be remained, mothers and fathers do involve
differently in their children’s development. In particular,
mothers were found to be more involved in expressive
and MAI. Whilst there is an egalitarian involvement of
both parents in instrumental dimension, fathers have
found to be more involved in instrumental functions as
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OJMP
Y. S. HAN, W. P. JUN
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OJMP
compared to other two dimensions of involvement. As
the present study is one of the few studies that research
on the different dimensions of parental involvement,
more studies are warranted, especially in examining
children from different backgrounds.
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