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Understanding Fathering: Masculinity, Diversity and Change

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation commissioned the Policy Research Bureau to undertake an investigation of the ways in which perceptions of masculinity in diverse ethnic communities influence fathering practices.

Over the last 50 years, dramatic changes in social attitudes and family structures have occurred. Fathers are steadily assuming more responsibility for the day-to-day care of their children as more mothers return to paid work. However, research suggests that many fathers feel excluded from child-related services, because they are marketed as 'mothers only' activities. We therefore need to find out more about 'what fathering means to fathers' to ensure that policy and practice remains relevant and father friendly.

Aims and objectives of the study
Fathering behaviour appears to be mediated by a variety of factors that include their religious beliefs, level of education, ethnicity and culture, as well as their perceptions of their partner's beliefs regarding their role as a parent. This study seeks to answer five broad interconnected questions in order to understand the ways in which these factors influence fathering practices:
  1. How fathers, mothers and children living in ordinary British families interpret the role of modern day fatherhood
  2. The ways in which individual interpretations of fatherhood are influenced by personal history, culture, ethnicity, religion and social circumstance.
  3. The degree to which beliefs and attitudes are similar or different for members of the same family.
  4. The ways in which the father's, mother's and children's beliefs within single family units influence fathering behaviour on a day-to-day basis
  5. The ways in which beliefs and practices are similar and dissimilar within and across ethnic groups and household structures.

This study utilises a variety of participatory and innovative methods to explore the ways in which men's personal histories and beliefs, and those of their partners and children, connect with what they do as parents. The study will be multi-method, using traditional qualitative depth interviewing methods, as well as quantitative data collected via 'activity diaries' that will allow us to make direct links between attitudes and self-reported behaviours. The respondents will be drawn from key groups that between them capture important aspects of diversity in modern Britain. Forty family units (a father, mother and child, who may or may not be co-resident) living in disadvantaged communities will be invited to participate in the study. Both parents will complete an activity diary over the course of a week at two different points over a six month period that will monitor the fathers' engagement, accessibility and parenting responsibilities. Each child will also be asked to complete a photo diary during this time. Once the diaries are completed, each family member will individually participate in an in-depth interview that will focus on their attitudes and beliefs regarding fathering and masculine behaviour. The data will be then triangulated within families, to capture the 'bi-directional' nature of parent-child and parent-parent interactions.

Timescale and dissemination
The project will span a two year period, commencing in June, 2006. A final report will be produced upon the conclusion of the study along with a summary briefing.

For further details, contact Deborah Ghate

Last updated March 2007