Sad dads: depressed fathers spank more, read less


Postpartum depression among mothers is well-known, and medical professionals know to keep an eye out for signs that a mother’s blues are affecting her child.

A new study suggests that they should be on the lookout for sad dads too.

Fathers who are depressed are more than three times as likely to spank their 1-year-old children as fathers who are not depressed, reported researchers from the University of Michigan in the April edition of the journal Pediatrics. Depressed dads are also less likely to read to their children at least three times a week. Spanking is associated with negative outcomes for kids; reading is associated with positive ones.


The team looked at interview data from 1,746 fathers of 1-year-old children who took part in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. They asked the fathers how often they played with, sang to and read to their kids; whether they had spanked their kids in the last month; and whether they had spoken to their child’s medical provider in the past year. The fathers were also assessed for depression.

Seven percent of the fathers had depression. Of those, 41% said they read to their child at least three times a week (compared with 58% of fathers who weren’t depressed); 41% also said they had hit their child in the last month (compared with 13% of fathers who weren’t depressed.) The researchers noted no difference in reading and playing between depressed and non-depressed fathers.

The good news: They found that 77% of depressed fathers had talked with their children’s doctor in the past year. That suggests that pediatricians have an opportunity to intervene when they notice signs of depression in fathers. “Well child visits may be an opportunity to screen fathers for depression and refer them for treatment,” the researchers wrote.

In a related commentary, Dr. Craig F. Garfield of Northwestern University and researcher Richard Fletcher wrote, “The field of pediatrics is now faced with finding ways to support fathers in their parenting role much in the same way we support mothers.”


Read the study in Pediatrics here.

Read the related commentary here.

Booster Shots blogpost on mothers, fathers, parenting styles and spanking.