Fatherhood Institute Research Summary: African Caribbean fathers

10 March 2010

The picture for UK fathers of Black Caribbean heritage is complex since as many of their children are now conceived with partners from outside Black Caribbean communities than are conceived within them. This pattern is not yet strong among UK fathers of Black African heritage, 81% of whose children are conceived within their own heritage group (Platt, 2009).

Black and Black British fathers are twice as likely as white British fathers (and three times as likely as British Asian fathers) to live apart from their children; and high rates of non-resident fatherhood are also found where children are of Mixed Heritage (Hunt, 2009a; Platt, 2009).  However, there are substantial social class differences here, and while cultural factors contribute (Reynolds, 2009) the main reasons for non-resident fatherhood in Black and Mixed Heritage families are the same as those found in white families: low socio-economic status, unemployment, low education, and so on (e.g. Amato & Sobolewski, 2004); Maclean & Eekelaar, 1997). Experience of racism, and institutionalised racism, are key to all of these (making them far more common in Black families) and are also relevant to other factors which further contribute to high levels of non-resident-fatherhood in Black families: early fatherhood, poor mental health, imprisonment, having been raised without own father present, and so on.

However, living apart from one’s children does not make a man ‘absent’ – and many non-resident Black fathers are far from ‘absent’.  ‘Visitation’ fatherhood has long been tolerated in Black communities; and Reynolds (2009) has charted substantial levels of engagement by non-resident Black fathers in Britain.  UK demographics tell a similar story: at the time of their baby’s birth, 4 out of 5 Black Caribbean, 3 out of 4 Black African and 5 out of 6 Mixed Heritage mothers are in a close relationship with their babies’ fathers (who are mostly Black or Mixed Heritage men).  Five years later, the great majority of these mothers and fathers continue ‘stably involved’, while not necessarily living together (Kiernan & Mensah, 2010).  It is also worth noting that among mothers who were defined as ‘lone parents’ at the time of their baby’s birth, 2 out of 3 of the Black Caribbean and Mixed Heritage mothers and 3 out of 4 of the Black Caribbean mothers were still stably involved with their child’s father when that child was aged five (Kiernan & Mensah, 2010).

Stereotypes of Black men as irresponsible or uninvolved abound, largely due to researchers’ building on the ‘absence’ demographic, drawing their samples from among inner-city socially excluded communities; failing to take age and social disadvantage into account, failing to acknowledge high levels of involvement by Black fathers who do not live with their children full-time (Franklin, 2010) and ignoring substantial involvement with children by uncles, grandfathers and other male family members (Reynolds, 2009).  Practitioners, too, tend to hold highly stereotyped views of Black fathers (Williams, 1997).  The highly involved Black father may in part be ‘invisible’ to the media, researchers, service providers and politicians because he does not fit the stereotype; and in part because the contributions of all non-resident fathers tend to be overlooked.

US research has found African American men fulfilling a personal sense of responsibility by maintaining, and developing, relationships with their children; and placing importance on nurturing and being close to them.   These fathers are as involved with their children as comparable white American fathers; when non-resident, possibly more involved; more connected into kin-groups; and more highly involved in domestic work, due often to having experienced their mothers and grandmothers working full-time (Franklin, 2010).  However, many still hold to the often-unrealisable dream of providing adequately for their families, which can contribute to failure to find a family-role (Franklin, 2010).

Similarly in the UK, many Black Caribbean and Black African fathers who live with their children, as well as those who don’t, have been found to spend substantial time engaging with them (Hauari & Hollingworth, 2009); and fathers in Black Caribbean, Black African and Mixed-Heritage families are more involved in their children’s education than fathers in other heritage groups including white families (Hunt, 2009b).  Black Caribbean fathers have been revealed to be very concerned with meeting their children’s health and mental health needs, as well as reflecting on and seeking to improve their own health and health practices (Williams, 2009; Williams & Hewison, 2009; Reynolds, 2009), and there is no reason to believe that Black African fathers would differ in these respects.

As in other communities, experiencing low income, unemployment, racism and poor housing all tend to affect Black fathers’ parenting style and levels of involvement with their children (Franklin, 2010).  Furthermore, anticipation of racialised prejudice may inhibit some from accessing services (Williams, 2007; Williams, 1999).  While adaptability of roles is one of the strengths of African Caribbean families, having to contend with the stereotype of the ‘indolent’ African Caribbean man may be particularly difficult for Black men who have accepted or welcomed the primary-carer role or who are looking for (and failing to find) sufficient employment.  Struggling with this stereotype may impact negatively on their mental health; and may even promote disengagement from their children (Franklin, 2010),

However a UK study found some Black Caribbean fathers challenging stereotypical assumptions about ‘hypermasculine’ ‘feckless’ ‘errant’ or ‘irresponsible’ African-Caribbean fathers (Williams, 2009).  And while Black African and Black Caribbean fathers describe their parenting responsibilities, joys and challenges in very much the same terms as fathers in other cultural groups, they also identify the need to help their children deal with stereotypical expectations and media representations of Black fathers; structural barriers associated with racism; and disappointing behaviour by other fathers and men in their own communities.  For some African Caribbean fathers in the UK active fatherhood extends beyond their immediate family, as they take wider responsibility for supporting other family and community members (Williams & Hewison, 2009; Reynolds, 2009).  For children born to white mothers and black fathers (such children are identified as Black by society) and whose parents may be particularly likely to part, the lack of a resident Black parent who can assist them in dealing with racism may be a particular loss.

Early fatherhood is relatively common among men of African Caribbean heritage (Higginbottom et al, 2006); and the combination of ethnicity and age may result in these fathers being particularly likely to be sidelined by services (Pollock, 2005).   This may be compounded by cultural practices in which female family members play a particularly substantial role in supporting mothers through pregnancy, birth and beyond:  in most cultures, strong female kin-support is correlated with low involvement by fathers (Hewlett, 1992).

Having a child with more than one partner is, in the US, more commonly associated with African American fathers than with men from other cultural groups.  However, the reason in most cases is likely to be the early age at which these men tend to become fathers. An important US study found young men’s age to be more important than their cultural heritage to their attitudes to sex and babies (Marsiglio & Hutchinson, 2002); similarly, in the UK, a recent study of UK fathers in Pakistani, White British, Black Caribbean and Black African families found more similarities than differences in fathers’ behaviours, attitudes and aspirations, and the challenges they face (Hauari & Hollingworth, 2009).


Amato, P.R., &  Sobolewski, M. (2004). The effects of divorce on fathers and children: nonresidential fathers and stepfathers. In M.E. Lamb (ed.), The Role of the Father in Child Development (4th ed.). Hoboken NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Franklin, A.J. (2010).  ‘Another side of invisibility’ in C.J. Oren & D. Chase Oren (eds) Counsellling Fathers.  London: Routledge.

Hauari, H. & Hollingworth, K. (2009).  Understanding fathering: masculinity, diversity and change.  York:  Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Hewlett, B. (ed.) (1992). Father-child relations: cultural and biosocial contexts.  New York:  Aldine De Gruyter

Higginbottom, G., Mathers, P., Marsh, M., Kirkham, J.M., Owen, J., & Serrant-Green, L. (2006). Young people of ethnic minority origin in England and early parenthood: views from young parents and service providers. Social Science and Medicine, 63(4): 858-870.

Hunt S.A. (2009a).  Major demographic trends. In S.A. Hunt (ed.), Family Trends:  British families since the 1950s.  London:  Family and Parenting Institute.

Hunt S.A. (2009b). Fathers involvement in family life.  In S.A. Hunt (ed.), Family Trends:  British families since the 1950s.  London:  Family and Parenting Institute.

Kiernan, K. & Mensah, F. (2010).  Partnership trajectories, parent and child wellbeing. In K. Hansen, H. Joshi & S. Dex (eds.), Children of the 21st Century: the first five years. Bristol:  the Policy Press.

Maclean, M., & Eekelaar, J. (1997). The parental obligation:  A study of parenthood across households. Oxford: Hart Publishing.

Marsiglio, W., & Hutchinson, W., (2002).  Sex, men and babies:  stories of awareness and responsibility.  New York: New York University Press.

Platt, L. (2009).  Ethnicity and family: relationships within and between ethnic groups: an analysis using the Labour Force Survey.  London:  Equality & Human Rights Commission.

Pollock, S., Trew, R., & Jones, K. (2005). Young black fathers and maternity services. London: Fathers Direct.

Reynolds, T. (2009). Exploring the absent/present dilemma: black fathers, familyrelationships, and social capital in Britain. ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science: Sage.

Williams, R.A. (2009) Fathering and ethnicity. Community, Work and Family. 12 (1): 57-73.

Williams, R.A. (2007).  Masculinities, fathering and health: the experiences of African-Caribbean and white working class fathers. Social Science and Medicine. 64 (2): 338-349

Williams, R. (1999). Going the Distance: fathers, health, and health visiting. Reading: University of Reading and Queens Nursing Institute.

Williams, R.A. & Hewison, A. (2009). We’re doing our best’: African-caribbean fathers’ views and experiences of fatherhood, health, and preventive primary care services.  University of Birmingham: Final Report.submitted to Heart of Birmingham Teaching Primary Care Trust.


Working with African Caribbean Fathers Guide

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