Research News: Father-Child Bonding and its Impact on Pediatric Developmental Outcomes

August 25, 2023

A new study underscores the importance of paternal involvement in infant care and its key developmental impacts among Japanese children

The extent of paternal involvement in childcare has been historically restricted in Japan because of the ingrained gender-based division of labor. However, recent trends show a paradigm shift in paternal parenting attitudes across Japan. A recent study examines paternal care among 6-month-old Japanese infants and its impact on various developmental outcomes at the age of 3 years. The study also assessed the impact of reduction of maternal parenting stress on childcare outcomes.

The early physical and mental development of a child sets the stage for lifelong progress and fulfillment. Spending quality time with their parents can bring out significant positive changes among children during their formative years.

Across Japan, the extent of fathers’ participation in childcare-related activities has historically been limited because of the entrenched gender-based division of labor. Fathers, especially those in their 20s–40s, are expected to show full commitment towards work and have been prioritizing their professional commitments over family. Consequently, a significant number of these fathers have found their engagement in childcare to be limited, regardless of their personal inclinations.

At the same time, the number of mothers in Japan who are engaged in fulltime employment have been on the rise in recent years. Compounded by the lack of support from other family members, the lack of paternal involvement in childcare has become a major social issue. In addition, because of the low fertility rates, the central government has actively been promoting paternal childcare. As a result, Japanese fathers are now expected to be co-caregivers, and not just the primary breadwinners. Indeed, recent trends show that they are increasingly spending more time with their children. However, despite the increase in paternal childcare across Japan, the impact of such active involvement on a child’s developmental outcomes remains largely unexplored and poorly understood.

A recent study based on the largest birth cohort data in Japan examines the association between paternal involvement and developmental outcomes in infants. It also assesses the impact of the reduction of maternal parenting stress on developmental outcomes. The study, led by Dr. Tsuguhiko Kato from the National Center for Child Health and Development and Doshisha University Center for Baby Science, Japan, was published in Pediatric Research on July 8, 2023. The team included several researchers form institutes across Japan, including Dr. Shoji Itakura from the Center for Baby Science, Doshisha University; Dr. Kumiko Kanatani from Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine; and Dr. Takeo Nakayama from the Kyoto University School of Public Health, among others.

“In developed countries, the time fathers spend on childcare has increased steadily in recent decades. However, studies on the relationship between paternal care and child outcomes remain scarce. In this study, we examined the association between paternal involvement in childcare and children’s developmental outcomes.” says Dr. Kato.

The research team used data from the Japan Environment and Children’s Study to investigate the association between paternal involvement in childcare and developmental outcomes. A total of 28,050 Japanese children who received paternal childcare at the age of 6 months were assessed for various developmental milestones at the age of 3 years. The potential mediation effect of maternal parenting stress was also examined at 1.5 years.

“The prevalence of employed mothers has been on the rise in Japan. As a result, Japan is witnessing a paradigm shift in its parenting culture. Fathers are increasingly getting involved in childcare-related parental activities.” explains Dr. Kato.

During the course of this study, paternal childcare was assessed with the help of seven key questions pertaining to important childcare-related tasks such as feeding, changing diapers, bathing, putting kids to sleep, playing with kids at home, taking children outside, and changing their clothes. Fathers were then rated based on the extent of their involvement in childcare. For instance, fathers who “never” offered any help with a certain task were awarded a score of 0 for that particular activity. On the contrary, fathers who “always” facilitated a childcare activity were awarded a score of 4. These results were then correlated with the extent of developmental delay among infants assessed using the Ages and Stages questionnaire. “Our research findings indicate that increased paternal engagement in childcare could yield advantages for both children and mothers alike,” asserts Dr. Kato.

The results of this extensive population study are indeed reassuring. High paternal involvement in childcare is associated with a lower risk of developmental delay across skill sets, including gross-motor, fine-motor, problem-solving, and personal-social domains, relative to low paternal involvement. Additionally, the fathers’ active involvement in childcare during infancy may also promote young children’s development partially by reducing maternal parenting stress.

Paternal childcare and its positive impacts on the child’s socio-physical development.

Adjusted risk ratios with 95% confidence intervals for the associations of paternal involvement in childcare.

Image courtesy: Tsuguhiko Kato from Doshisha University
Image license: Original content
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Title of original paper Paternal involvement in infant care and developmental milestone outcomes at age 3 years: the Japan Environment and Children’s Study (JECS)
Journal Pediatric Research
DOI 10.1038/s41390-023-02723-x

Additional information for EurekAlert

Latest Article Publication Date: July 8th , 2023
Method of Research: Observational study
Subject of Research: People
Conflicts of Interest Statement: The authors declare no competing interests.


Tsuguhiko Kato

Division Chief of the Department of Social Medicine’s Division of Behavioral Science, National Center for Child Health and Development

Dr. Tsuguhiko Kato is the Division Chief of the Department of Social Medicine’s Division of Behavioral Science, National Center for Child Health and Development, Japan. He also conducts research at the Doshisha University Center for Baby Science. Dr. Kato received his Ph.D. in education, and he has more than 55 publications to his credit thus far. His research interests include child development and health, childhood poverty, low fertility as well as maternal and child health. Dr. Kato is also a member of the Japan Society of Public Health.

Shoji Itakura

Professor, Organization for Research Initiatives and Development

Shoji Itakura is a Director of the Center for Baby Science at Doshisha University and a Fellow Professor. He is an emeritus professor at Kyoto University. The Center for Baby Science is an institute named ‘Baby Science’ for the first time in the world. Baby Science refers to the research areas that study all stages (from fetuses to neonates, infants, and toddlers), investigating what we believe to be the beginning of the origins of human life and the developmental processes and mechanisms that promote it. One of the center’s main goals is to return knowledge from basic research to society in close cooperation with local governments and businesses.

Media contact

Organization for Research Initiatives & Development
Doshisha University
Kyotanabe, Kyoto 610-0394, JAPAN