The DADS Initiative: Measuring Father Involvement in Large Scale Surveys

Publication Year


Book Chapter

Although conceptualizations of what "good" fathers do or ought to do have proliferated in the past 10 years or so, methodological and measurement issues concerning how to recruit, interview, and retain fathers in research studies have progressed at a slower pace. Past approaches to the measurement of father involvement have been characterized by at least five limitations: (1) Mothers are often used as proxy for fathers, (2) the often interchangeable use of generic fathering versus child-specific fathering, (3) the limited generalization of findings from middle-class, European American groups to other cultural groups, (4) the validity of fathers' self-report data, and (5) the narrow or dichotomous (present/absent) definition of father involvement. However, in the past few years there have been serious and concerted efforts to improve on past methodologies. In this chapter we discuss methodological, design, and measurement issues related to studying father involvement and its impact on child development in three large national studies: the Early Head Start National Research and Evaluation Project Father Studies (EHS), the Fragile Families and Child-Well Being Study (FF), and the Early Longitudinal Study Birth-Cohort (ECLS-B). These studies are part of a coordinating effort titled Developing a Daddy Survey (DADS). The general mission of DADS is to increase comparability across surveys, and provide an integrated view of father involvement that can inform the field and serve as a guide for future projects that measure father involvement. This effort has resulted in substantial comparability in using similar constructs and survey questions as well as the opportunity to share each other's experiences and challenges. Given this level of coordination, the DADS project has provided a unique opportunity to share strategies for engaging fathers in these studies and a forum for discussing the methodological challenges and opportunities for studying fatherhood in this population. The specific goals of this chapter are to (1) briefly present the historical context for this project, (2) describe the projects that are part of DADS, (3) provide an overview of the methodological challenges faced in collecting data on father involvement in the DADS studies that focus on"being a dad," and (4) briefly present the way these studies have overcome challenges and the lessons learned.

Book Title
Conceptualizing and Measuring Father Involvement
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates