Over the past decades an increasing number of mothers have remained in the work force after childbirth, attitudes have changed towards fatherhood, and public concerns have grown about rising numbers of fathers living apart from their children. In consequence, the role of fathers in family life is attracting increasing scholarly and policy attention. Scholars have shown that father involvement can be very beneficial for children social, emotional, cognitive and behavioural development. In addition, and importantly from both a scientific and societal perspective, recent studies suggest that father involvement may play a pivotal role in the intergenerational transmission of social inequality, as father involvement has become, and much more so than maternal involvement, increasingly polarized.

In this lecture I will provide a brief (historical) overview of the literature on fatherhood, and will devote attention to studies on linkages between father involvement and children’s developmental outcomes. In addition, I will argue that much can be learned about the influence fathers have on their children’s development and, more specifically, on the role fathers play in the intergenerational transmission of social inequality, by linking ‘old’ sociological stratification questions to a new line of developmental psychology research on father involvement. Finally, I will discuss the importance of national context, showing how laws, policies and national culture may strongly influence father involvement, and linkages between father involvement and child outcomes.