Father Figures

views updated

Father Figures

News article

By: Polly Curtis

Date: April 8, 2006

Source: Curtis, Polly. The Guardian. "Father Figures." April 8, 2006. 〈http://money.guardian.co.uk/worklifebalance/story/0,,1749367,00.html〉 (accessed July 23, 2006).

About the Author: Polly Curtis is a reporter for the print and online versions of The Guardian in the United Kingdom, writing on topics related to education and society.


Gender roles and division of labor in families have changed dramatically in the United States and Western Europe over the past fifty years. Women gained the right to vote in most western nations by 1950 and entered the workforce in greater numbers for a wide range of reasons, from personal fulfillment to financial need. By the 1960s and 1970s, the modern family had trimmed down; families with four or five children were replaced with those with two or three offspring, and because women were sharing the burden of earning income, they began to expect men to share some of the burden of household management and childcare.

As the divorce rate in the United States and England climbed in the 1970s, reaching fourteen divorces per one thousand in England in 2004 and 4.2 divorces per one thousand in 1999 in the United States, the number of non-custodial fathers climbed. Combined with an increase in the number of children born to women out of wedlock—thirty-five percent of all births in the United States in 2004 and forty-two percent in England—cultural critics, psychologists, and researchers began to examine the impact of the father on family life and child development.

A great deal of research into fatherhood and the role of a father's involvement—or lack of involvement—cites the obvious: having a loving father involved in a child's life helps the child to be emotionally secure. A 1997 U.S. study shows that children with fathers who participate in educational activities have higher grades and higher participation rates in school activities and sports, while a 1996 poll by the National Center for Fathering shows that more than fifty-seven percent of fathers believe that their workplaces do not recognize the need for fathers to have more flexibility to attend such events and to have more flex-time for family issues.


[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]


The English maternity leave system, unlike the United States system, provides up to twenty-six weeks paid leave for new mothers, but both countries give no paternity leave. In 2002, Iceland began a program that gave fathers three months leave with eighty percent pay, with virtually one hundred percent of fathers taking the paternity leave after the birth of a child. Iceland's birth rate is the second highest in Europe; in addition to the three months for fathers, mothers receive three months and the couple receives three more months to split between them. Paternity policies such as Iceland's, or paternity leave policies in Sweden and Denmark, have led to marked increases in fathers' participation in their children's early years.

As the author notes, her father was an anomaly, but a trailblazer; the percentages of fathers willing to change their work life for the sake of children is steadily increasing. In Sweden, fathers who take less than two months' paternity leave are looked down upon, while in the United States, where paternity leave policies are scarce and provided by private employers, fathers wishing to take more than their set vacation days for a new birth are considered to be less committed to their career. Although the United States has the Family Medical Leave Act, which guarantees twelve weeks of unpaid leave and bars employers from firing employees who take the leave, the law applies only to businesses with fifty employees or more, and because the time is unpaid most fathers cannot afford to take time off using FMLA.

Single fathers, like single mothers, have been on the rise as well; in the United States in 1970 there were 400,000 single fathers; in 2005 there were 2.3 million. While Time magazine analyzed the twenty-two percent of women with graduate and professional degrees who choose to stay at home with their children, the 157,000 men who identified themselves as stay-at-home dads in 2005 receive little attention; viewed not as a trend but a fluke, stay-at-home fathers are viewed as men between full-time jobs or starting a new business, though mothers who choose to stay at home are rarely viewed the same way.

In the United States, only six percent of fathers provide the majority of child care for their school-aged children as of 2005, yet thirty-two percent of fathers who work night or midnight shifts provide child care for their preschool-age children while their wives work. Between 1981 and 2006, the amount of time full-time employed fathers spent with their children each day rose from 1.8 hours to 2.7 hours. The changes, though slow, steadily increase the amount of time and involvement fathers have in their children's daily lives.



Fatherhood: Research, Interventions, and Policies, edited by H. Elizabeth Peters and Gary W. Peterson. Binghamton, N.Y.: Haworth Press, 2000.


Atkinson, Maxine and Stephen Blackwelder. "Fathering in the 20th Century." Journal of Marriage and the Family 55 (1993): 975-986.

Cocks, Jay. "How Long Till Equality?" Time (July 12, 1982).

National Center for Education Statistics. "Fathers' Involvement in Schools." Government Printing Office (1997).

Web sites

At Home Dad. 〈http://www.athomedad.com〉 (accessed July 22, 2006).

National Center for Fathering. 〈http://www.fathers.com〉 (accessed July 22, 2006).

National Fatherhood Initiative. 〈http://www.fatherhood.org〉 (accessed July 22, 2006).

Time.com. "Bring on the Daddy Wars." 〈http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1168125,00.html〉 (accessed July 22, 2006).