Worldwide study heralds global increase in father involvement and reveals why men have nipples

12 June 2005

Fatherworld Magazine coverNot for publication before 00.01 Monday 13 June

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A father’s nipple is perfectly suited to soothing a crying baby until it can be fed, according to a major report published for Fathers’ Day (June 19) on fatherhood across five continents, which identifies the world’s best dads.

FatherWorld, published by Fathers Direct, the UK national information centre on fatherhood, details a worldwide increase in active fathering. It names as “Best Dads in the World” the Aka Pygmies, a hunter-gatherer tribe from northern Congo, in central Africa. When the mother is not available, the father calms his baby by giving him a nipple to suck.

Aka Pygmy men do more infant care-giving than fathers in any other known society, finds the report. On average, they hold or are within arms’ reach of their infants 47 per cent of the time. They beat Swedish dads, the number ones in the Western world, who average 45 per cent of parental childcare. In typical British families, dads now average a third of the parental childcare, according to latest research from the Equal Opportunities Commission. Worldwide, fathers are estimated in today’s report to contribute between a quarter and a third as much time as women to direct childcare. However, FatherWorld, springing from a week-long summit at Oxford University of the world’s academic experts on fatherhood, reports that, of 156 cultures studied, only 20 per cent promote men’s close relationships with infants, and only 5 per cent with young children.

Aka fathers often take the child along when they go drinking palm wine. They may hold the baby close to their bodies for a couple of hours at a time, says the report which highlights findings by Barry Hewlett, an American anthropologist, who has studied the tribe for more than 20 years. The dads, rather than mums, are often the ones who settle the babies if they wake at night.

Sebastian Kraemer, child psychiatrist at London’s Whittington Hospital, said: “It is possible that, in prehistoric societies, this was a normal way of fathering. We should not assume from 10,000 years of history that our prevailing model is the right one.”

Caroline Flint, former President of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “I have come across cases of dads doing this. It’s not a case of the man saying to the baby, ‘Here you are, have my boobie,’ but usually of the baby snuffling along the father’s chest, finding the nipple and sucking. The men are usually very surprised, but the babies seem content. They love to snuggle up to their dads.”

Wayne Hemingway, designer and father of four, said: “I’m not sure I could be an Aka Pygmy dad. Placing nipper on the nipple could be a big challenge to the British male. Ray Mears should take a group of British dads and their babies out to the Congo for a couple of weeks to meet the Aka Pygmies and see what our dads can manage. But I am one dad who won’t be trying it out.”

Michael Lamb, professor of psychology at Cambridge University and the world’s leading academic expert on fatherhood, said: “Internationally, over the past 20 years, we have seen fathers who live with their children spending more time with them and doing more diverse activities not just in Britain but in every known society. However, we are also seeing another trend – increasing numbers of children who are fatherless for much of the time because of factors such as migrant labour, fragile relationships and divorce.”

Duncan Fisher, chief executive of Fathers Direct, said: “We are beginning to recognise that a revolution in paternal involvement with children is sweeping not just Britain but the world with huge potential benefits for families and for eradicating poverty and ill-health.”

In FatherWorld, Dr Patrice Engle, who leads the UN’s fatherhood programmes, describes how UNICEF has recently created new projects in dozens of countries to support fatherhood because of the latest evidence about its impact on child poverty, breastfeeding and education. Dr Engle said: “Perhaps the largest set of resources – money, time, food and caring – that could be directed to children are those controlled by men in families.”

Interesting facts from FatherWorld

• Countries all around the world are showing increased levels of actual engagement by fathers (ie time spent actually doing things with kids). For example, in the US, in the 1960s, fathers did about 25 per cent as much as mothers – by the late 1990s that had risen to between 55 and 70 per cent. In Canada, the increase between 1986 and 1996 was from 50 to 65 per cent. In the UK, according to EOC research, father engagement has risen by eight times in the last 30 years.

• Studies of 156 cultures found that only 20 per cent promoted men’s close relationships with infants, and only 5 per cent with young children.

• Few countries have provision for leave or financial considerations for fathers on the birth of their children. In Egypt, women receive leave to care for their children. Men are entitled only to leave to care for their parents.

• In Nicaragua and parts of the Caribbean, a father’s loyalty is primarily to his own mother and only then to his wife and family.

• Between 10 and 30 per cent of developing country households are officially defined as female –headed. In countries with the highest rates of men’s migration and/or low marriage rates, such as the Caribbean, the proportion can range up to 50 per cent.

• In the Latino gangs of Los Angeles, becoming a father is almost the only way to leave the gang alive.

• UK evidence indicates that high levels of father involvement early on predict more examination passes for their children at age 16 and lower likelihood of a criminal record by age 21 as well as long-term mental health and marital satisfaction in later life.

• Evidence from many countries indicates that fathers’ motivation to end violence towards their children’s mothers is substantially enhanced when the impact of domestic violence on their children is explained and explored.

Notes to Editors:

• FatherWorld is published by Fathers Direct, price £5.95. For copies call 0845 634 1328 or go to The report springs from a week-long conference at Oxford University of the world’s experts on fatherhood from more than 20 nations.
• Fathers Direct, the UK national information centre on fatherhood, is a charity, working to support positive relationships between men and their children. Fathers Direct, Herald House, Lambs Passage, Bunhill Row, London EC1Y 8TQ.

Aka Pygmy Photo
FatherWorld Magazine