Joseph Rowntree reports highlight breadwinning burden of modern British dads

18 September 2009

A new study from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that British fathers from a range of ethnic backgrounds are sharing care and spending more time with their children, but are still viewed as holding prime responsibility for ‘breadwinning’, as well as retaining a key role in child discipline and play.

Rob Williams, Chief Executive of the Fatherhood Institute welcomed the report as an important contribution to our understanding of how men and women are working together to bring up their children.

‘When fathers combine their breadwinning with more involvement at home, children are likely to avoid the problems of adolescence, such as early binge drinking and drug taking. So it’s good news that fathers are spending more time with their children.

‘But there is still a division of roles, in which men work and spend time with their children on play – and women take on most of the childcare and housework. Play can be fitted around working hours easier than the daily running of the household.

‘Before men can really take on the full range of parenting duties we need to release them from the assumption that they must be the breadwinner above all other things.’

Details about the study

The study, conducted by a team at the Thomas Coram Research Unit at London’s Institute of Education, focused on 29 two-parent families across four ethnic groups in England: Pakistani, White British, Black Caribbean and Black African.

Researchers found that on the surface the beliefs and attitudes of fathers, mothers and children suggest that parenting roles are less strictly differentiated than they have been: it has become normal to see fathering as multi-dimensional. However, closer examination revealed some traditional gender stereotypes still persisting in practice.

Certain roles were still seen as predominantly the father’s responsibility, namely financial provider and protector. Economic provision still defined the father’s role and conceptions of ‘good fathering’. Fathers were also viewed as having a key role in discipline. Both within families and across ethnic groups, there was agreement that fathers have a particularly important role in leisure and play with their children.

Interestingly, children were less likely to base expectations of parenting on parents’ gender, and the values and attitudes fathers described often differed significantly from their actual behaviour. The time fathers spent with their children varied considerably across ethnic groups, mainly due to differences in employment and working hours within the sample.

Focus on Asian dads

A separate JRF-funded report, conducted by researchers at Sheffield Hallam University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, found that fathers from a range of Asian religious/ethnic groups are also contributing regularly to day-to-day childcare tasks such as feeding and bathing, whilst continuing to see income-generation as an integral paternal responsibility. Many such dads were keen to distance themselves from remote, authoritarian stereotypes of Asian fatherhood, however.

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