Involved fatherhood is good for children, good for fathers and good for society, State of World Father's report, fatherhood

Involved fatherhood is good for children, good for fathers and good for society

19 Jun 2015

Involved fatherhood is good for children, good for fathers and good for society.

Don't tell me you didn't know this...

I would think that most people would have known this intuitively - certainly if they are parents - but, for the first time, an analysis of almost 700 studies on the subject from every nation for which data is available has concluded this empirically to be true.

The first ever State of World Father's report, produced by MenCare - an international Non-Government organisation focusing on global 'fatherhood' promotion - found that fathers who were more involved with their children were happier, enjoyed fewer health problems, were more productive and lived for longer.

The report - timed to coincide with Father's Day this Sunday - complements the important advocacy of State of the World's Mothers, which has been published by Save the Children since 1999, and The State of the World's Children, which has been published by UNICEF since 1996.

So, it's good for you as a man! But there's more: children with a clearer demonstration of "involved fathers" have been shown to enjoy higher cognitive development, mental health and social skills. Now we're talking!

And yet more... It's good for society, too. Fathers who actively participate in childcare and domestic duties have a greater tendency to, in turn, bring up boys who are more likely to recognise equality; daughters of men who share domestic chores are more likely to aspire to higher-paying jobs. The report states "Taking up roles as caregivers also offers men the opportunity to begin to break free from the narrow concepts of manhood and fatherhood, providing their sons and daughters with positive role models, improved health and development, and higher hopes for the future."

And, as I'm sure we would all appreciate, it's good for women, too. When fathers are keenly involved before their children's birth, such as being present at antenatal visits, the study found a correlation with fewer woman dying in childbirth and, in more developed nations, lower rates of post-natal depression and better rates of breastfeeding.

However, despite these perceived and proved benefits, that's not what happens - not anywhere in the world. Women are still giving more than the lion's share of unpaid domestic and care work

The former UN Special Rapporteur defines "unpaid care work" as including "domestic work (meal preparation, cleaning, washing clothes, water and fuel collection) and direct care of persons (including children, older persons and persons with disabilities, as well as able-bodied adults) carried out in homes and communities", with no financial recompense.

One study cited by the report found that, even between 1965 and 2003, married, employed men in 20 industrialised nations (including the UK and US) contributed on average only an extra six hours per week to domestic duties. No-where did the time spent by men exceed 37% of that of women.

Why on earth not?

If I'm honest, I can think of one small reason for some of this difference, specifically in the newborn stage of parenting life when children are being breastfed. The mother is in the fairly unique position of providing breastmilk and, therefore, is likely to end up doing much of the initial childcare. That's not to wash ones hands of the whole issue, though: men are quite capable of getting up in the early hours to change a nappy; men can bottle-feed expressed milk at any time; when our twins were newborn, it would have been unthinkable for my wife to do all the night-wakings by herself - she simply never would have slept, at all.

We're more than capable of changing nappies, playing with the older children, or undertaking any of the activities that come with looking after an infant - including the other domestic chores required to keep the house running. As the report states, "traditional gender norms also continue to stand in the way. Becoming an involved father means challenging attitudes, stereotypes, and behaviours that are deeply entrenched. Both men and women reinforce these gender norms."

These enormous differences as they are at the moment would help to explain why women earn on average 24% less than men around the globe - even though women currently make up more than 40% of the global workforce. MenCare are quick to point out that a key part of the problem is a lack of official support for dads who want to be involved.

Paid paternity leave is practically non-existent (or, at best, very brief) in most counties; of the 92 nations in which paid paternity leave exists, roughly half offer less than three weeks. The MenCare study, however, proposes that more generous provision has "the potential to transform gender relations"; one piece of UK research included in the study found that fathers who took time off after their children's birth were more likely to help with duties like night feeds - even a year after the birth.

"When fathers take on their fair share of the unpaid care work, it can alter the nature of the relationships between men and women and children, as both fathers and mothers will have more time for their children, women are released from some of their double burden, and fathers get to experience the joys, satisfactions, and stresses of caring for their children."

The report's authors - backed by the UN, and with links to groups like Save the Children - therefore don't hold back with their recommendations: they calls for governments to introduce more aspiring paternity leave privileges.

Wouldn't that be something worth striving for? True equality?

Here in the UK, there are small but unrealised glimmers of optimism: Shared Parental Leave (SPL) was introduced earlier this year, although it does seem to have been a step that most men don't seem to know about (or, perhaps, are too scared to take, for fear of jeopardising their career?). I think that needs to change. With entrepreneurs like Richard Branson promising 52 weeks of shared paternity leave* making headlines, there might well be hope for the future.

*(read the fine-print though... only for Virgin Management employees working in London and Geneva with more than 4 years of service... still, though, it's a great start)

As the report concludes: "Engaging men in caregiving is about helping men to have the deep, meaningful connections to others that are at the root of well-being and happiness - but even more than that, it is about enabling men's, women's, and children's full potential. It is also about achieving full equality for women and girls. State of the World's Fathers 2015 argues that it is time to shift both the perception and the reality of the role that men can play in nurturing, and to bring in the social measures and economic, social, and political support that are necessary to make this transformation possible."

Picture Credit: "Superdad" by Andry Shango. ©2013-2015 Andry-Shango

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