What do dads do? A gap in the research

DadsLast Sunday was Father’s Day, and it got us thinking about what we know about the role of fathers in modern Britain. One charity in the UK who publishes lots of information about fathers (and father-figures) is The Fatherhood Institute. They aim to contribute to research on fathers, influence policy to ensure a “father-inclusive approach” and to lobby for changes so that it’s easier for fathers to take on caring roles for their children. They aspire for a society that “gives all children a strong and positive relationship with their father and any father-figures; supports both mothers and fathers as earners and carers; and prepares boys and girls for a future shared role in caring for children.”

The Fatherhood Institute have been working to collate a series of reports about fathers and fatherhood by systematically reviewing studies and pieces of research carried out in the last 20 years. One of these is called “Where’s the daddy?” (Goldman and Burgess, 2018), which examines what is known about fathers and father-figures in the UK. They cite research from Speight et al. (2013) that almost 90% of 70-year-olds have fathered a child or played a significant role in a child’s life, but say despite this what we know about them and their experiences is limited. For instance, they suggest that in cohort studies (like those conducted by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies) often fathers are overlooked because they are more likely to not be living with their child, and also less likely than mothers to be interviewed about their child. The report also states that much of what is known about fathers is gathered through mothers’ and children’s perspectives, rather than the men themselves. The implication of this, the Fatherhood Institute believes, is that when policy is being developed, it’s being developed based on research that has gaps and is incomplete, and thus may “fail to address key issues, and to meet parents’ and children’s needs” (Goldman and Burgess, 2018: 3).

The Fatherhood Institute isn’t the only organisation seeking to build a more informed picture of contemporary fatherhood in the UK. There’s also a funded research collaboration that seeks to do this called Modern Fatherhood. They are interested in who fathers are, what their work lives are like and what fathers’ relationships with their families are like. For example, using Understanding Society data they’ve been able to compile information about how involved fathers are with their families, for instance that they are less likely than mothers to help children with their homework (Poole et al., 2013). They say doing research like this is important because it provides stronger evidence about fathers, to help “policy makers, employers and practitioners develop father friendly work-family policies and practices” and provide “space for a conversation about men, families and work life” (Modern Fatherhood, 2018).

Can you think of other reasons why doing research into the lives of fathers might be important? What do you think the Fatherhood Institute and Modern Fatherhood should investigate, and why?

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