Elevating Fatherhood: Policies, Organizations and Health and Wellbeing

Harvard Kennedy School, Cambridge, MA | June 25-26, 2018

Fatherhood involvement is influenced by multiple factors operating at macro- (institutional practices and culture), meso- (peer and family support), and micro-levels (personal characteristics) over the life course. This meeting will take a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the favorable conditions at each level that allow fathers to be as involved as they want to be, and thereby transmit differential advantages to their children.

Fatherhood is in transition. Recent social, economic, technological and demographic changes have considerably modified fathers’ attitudes and behaviors. These changes include, among many others, the erosion of the male-breadwinner model, an increase in fathers’ participation in tasks mainly done by mothers decades ago, a new reconfiguration of men’s central priorities, which includes work-family balance, and a growing number of stay-at-home fathers, some by necessity and others by personal choice.

A solid body of research has systematically demonstrated that fatherhood involvement has a positive impact not only on children’s health, gender equality, and partners’ satisfaction, but also on fathers themselves and their workplaces. Due to fathers playing a crucial role in child development, we have witnessed a flourishing interest in fathering, fatherhood and fathers in the media, politics and academia.

Despite these relatively new attitudes and behaviors among men towards care and children, together with promising social policies to encourage fathers to be actively involved at home, the revolution is stalling. However, in all countries without exception, mothers continue to devote more time to their children than fathers. Many fathers, despite devoting more time to their children compared to previous generations, continue not to be available at short notice or not to be involved in the care of sick children, thereby not allowing their partners to fully develop themselves in other domains. It is also true that some empirical research draws a type of father who is truly egalitarian, completed involved and with a strong motivation to share parental leave even if this causes financial losses; however they are still purely symbolic.

There is a growing body of research that aims to understand the main barriers that fathers face to be as involved as they would like. Among these barriers, it seems that organizational reasons are the most important factor in explaining the low levels of fatherhood involvement. Even though increasing numbers of organizations are offering flexible work arrangement, there is a clear “underutilization” of flexible policies  due to “flexibility stigmas” associated with utilizing/accessing such arrangements. Although the literature has extensively demonstrated that fathers benefit from a “fatherhood premium”, and mothers suffer from a “motherhood penalty”, recent studies suggest that involved fathers may also experience more of a penalty than a premium. In a very interesting study, the top 200 Swedish companies were classified according to their support for men taking parental leave and utilizing other flexible arrangements. The authors found that one third clearly showed passive opposition, two thirds showed conditional support, and only 3% showed active support.

Another domain where there is also an “underutilization” of policies offered to men is in social policy. In the seventies, Nordic countries started to develop policies in order to foster the active involvement of men at home. It is in these countries that we can find a fertile body of research analyzing the use and impact of such policies. As an illustration, a Danish study posits the following reasons for why men do not use parental leave: the mother is still breastfeeding; it is not economically inviable; it is unacceptable for the father’s work; the family does not consider this an option; the mother can provide better care; and father is not interested. Another study found that only 47% of senior managers in Norway use the Daddy days, or Daddy quota, specifically reserved for fathers. Also in United States, where there are interesting programs on low-income fathers, the results are far from successful.

In this line, class is a crucial element of analysis that has not always been sufficiently considered in studies about fatherhood. Many studies tend to focus on middle or upper-middle-class fathers, and thus provide an uncompleted picture. Unfortunately, inequality exists, and as such, different levels of resources, in the form of capital (human, social, cultural or economic), are available for fathers. The sum of such capital can determine a father’s class and it has some implications for gender attitudes, working environment and behaviors, which construct the cultural logic of child-rearing. At the same time, this cultural logic of child-rearing is translated into daily involvement, intra-couple negotiations, as well as decisions regarding the use of parental leave offered by governments and flexible options offered by organizations. As an illustration, Lareau clearly exposed how middle-class families raise their children following a concerted cultivation approach, which results in a sense of entitlement in their kids, while working-class families raise their children based on the accomplishment of natural growth, which results in a sense of constraint in their children. In contrast, Shows and Gerstel found that professional men (physicians) are more like to engage in “public fatherhood” -attending public events with the children- reproducing the traditional gender order, whereas working-class men (technicians) are more likely to engage in “private fatherhood”, understood as daily involvement, which supposes “undoing gender”.

A father’s social class and fatherhood involvement also have a direct impact on their children’s health. For example, infants with a parent working non-standard hours are more likely to have behavioral problems during the first two years of life than infants with parents who work regular shifts. Fatherhood involvement, which is a clear predictor of maternal behavior during the prenatal period, despite remaining understudied, may have consequences for the partner’s health, her pregnancy, and children’s health care.

Speakers

María José BoschESE Business School in Chile

Xiana Bueno Autonomous University of Barcelona

Craig GarfieldNorthwestern University

Brad Harrington - Boston College Center for Work and Family

Mireia las HerasIESE Business School

Alison KoslowskiUniversity of Edinburgh

Milton KotelchuckHarvard Medical School

Elin Kvande - Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Jamie LadgeNortheastern University

Ray LevyMassachusetts General Hospital

Alexandra Macht - Oxford Brookes University

Margaret O’Brien - University College London

Eunsil OhHarvard University

Sabrina TanquerelNormandy School of Management (France)

Michael YogmanHarvard Medical School

Paper Abstracts

Xiana Bueno and Eunsil Oh - Autonomous University of Barcelona/Harvard University

Fatherhood and parental leave: a comparative study of South Korea, Spain and the U.S.

This study aims to understand how men in South Korea, Spain, and the US plan and use parental leave. These three countries have distinct labor-market structures, division of unpaid and paid labor based on gender, and parental leave policies. We leverage such different features to understand how macro context relates to individuals’ intentions and decisions of using leave policies. Using in-depth interviews of 80 men, half of them fathers and half of them planning to be fathers, we show how workplace culture and social policy shape men’s intentions to and behaviors of using leave. Findings show that whether the leave system is paid or unpaid critically shapes which men and how long men use and plan to use parental leave. This is especially true in Spain and the US where a majority of men intended to use and used parental leave only when it was paid. In these two countries, a small group of fathers without paid leave engaged in active fatherhood by adjusting their working conditions when they had a child to have higher flexibility in terms of workhours and work schedules. In contrast, while Korea has generous paid parental leave, almost no Korean men intended to use and used parental leave. Korean men took for granted that fathers would not take leave but would work even harder. In the end, the macro context of gender norms, workplace culture, and paid versus unpaid leave system play key roles in explaining the differences in men’s reasoning across the three countries. 

 

María José Bosch, Mireia las Heras and Gemma Riera - ESE Business School in Chile/IESE Business School

Small changes that do a great difference: reading, playing and eating with your children.

Parenting is a challenging in today’s world. Dual careers, hyper-connectivity and long distances take almost all our time and parents must integrate their different roles. A direct impact of this hectic life is the time we spend reading and eating with our children. In this chapter we will analyze how much time parents spend eating and reading with their children. We will compare different countries and relate this amount of time with other work life balance indicators like satisfaction with work life balance and work motivations. 

 

Xiana Bueno and Eunsil Oh - Autonomous University of Barcelona/Harvard University 

How do men talk about taking leave? Fatherhood and parental leave policies in south Korea, Spain and the U.S

This study aims to understand how men in South Korea, Spain, and the US plan and use parental leave. These three countries have distinct labor-market structures, division of unpaid and paid labor based on gender, and parental leave policies. We leverage such different features to understand how macro context relates to individuals’ intentions and decisions of using leave policies. Using in-depth interviews of 80 men, half of them fathers and half of them planning to be fathers, we show how workplace culture and social policy shape men’s intentions to and behaviors of using leave. Findings show that whether the leave system is paid or unpaid critically shapes which men and how long men use and plan to use parental leave. This is especially true in Spain and the US where a majority of men intended to use and used parental leave only when it was paid. In these two countries, a small group of fathers without paid leave engaged in active fatherhood by adjusting their working conditions when they had a child to have higher flexibility in terms of workhours and work schedules. In contrast, while Korea has generous paid parental leave, almost no Korean men intended to use and used parental leave. Korean men took for granted that fathers would not take leave but would work even harder. In the end, the macro context of gender norms, workplace culture, and paid versus unpaid leave system play key roles in explaining the differences in men’s reasoning across the three countries. 

 

Craig Garfield - Northwestern University

Fatherhood is increasingly recognized as a social determinant of health, contributing to male preconception health as well as the health and wellbeing of the mother and infant in the perinatal period. As such, improvements in data measurement in the maternal and child health field must include these paternal influences on health for men and families. While public health surveillance systems can provide important information for monitoring the health and impact of fathers on maternal and infant health, they have been vastly underutilized. This paper demonstrates the need for father-focused public health surveillance programs to better understand paternal factors associated with infant health and male health during the reproductive years, briefly reviewing existing national and international surveillance systems with capacity to examine fatherhood. Next, this paper describes the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS), the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 30-year maternal surveillance system and the formative research that went into designing “PRAMS for Dads”, the first-of-its-kind surveillance system for men transitioning into fatherhood in the United States. Attention will be paid to the efforts to adequately represent current fathering paradigms in the United States as well as attempts to capture key data on fathers’ health and wellbeing during the transition to parenthood. Finally, this paper will describe the efforts in piloting the paternal perinatal surveillance in the state of Georgia beginning Summer 2018. 

 

Alison KoslowskiUniversity of Edinburgh

Monitoring leave provisions for men and women

This session aims to introduce the annual reporting work of the International Network on Leave Policies and Research, as well as to reflect on how we might develop and continue to refine this process. Today, the international network numbers more than 60 expert members from over 40 countries (including the US). The network produces an annual online review of leave policies and related research in the countries represented in the network. The review consists of standardized country notes and cross-national tables. It is used by organizations such as the World Bank, the ILO, the European Commission, and the OECD. Thus, the review has developed standard definitions for the various leave and other employment-related policies which aim to support parents. There is perhaps surprising variety in leave arrangements around the world, with every country presenting a different constellation of measures. Key indicators with regard to gender equality are the period of father-only, well-paid leave and the gap between the end of well-paid leave and access to Early Childhood Education and Care. The network is also engaged with work to develop indicators such as take up of leave. For more information go to www.leavenetwork.org 

 

Milton Kotelchuck - Harvard Medical School

The impact of father's health on infant/child health and development: and the impact of fatherhood on men's health and development - talk summary. 

The goals of this presentation are to:

Note the multiple policy rationales for enhancing men’s roles during the reproductive health period, including men’s health 

  • Explore the mechanisms and impact of father’s health on infant/child health and development 
  • Examine the impact of fatherhood on men’s own health and development 
  • Highlight the limited involvement of men/fathers in the existing maternal and child health (MCH) health services, especially reproductive health services 
  • Conceptualize a series of policy and program recommendations to support enhanced men’s health and paternal involvement in reproductive health, [linked in part to other themes of the conference: employment and public policy] 

 

Elin Kvande - Norwegian University of Science and Technology 

Individual leave for fathers - promoting gender equality 

Based on the long experiences with having an individual, non-transferable leave for fathers as part of the parental leave system in Norway we will analyze how this works in order to promote gender equality in family work. The Norwegian experience with a special fathers’ quota is that taking leave has become a norm for what men do when they become fathers. The fathers’ quota is also generally accepted in working life (Brandth and Kvande 2017). In order to understand why the quota works so well, the paper will unpack the design elements of the quota, and focus on the importance of designing it as an individual right which is earmarked for fathers and that it is generously compensated. This is in line with Brighthouse and Whyte’s (2008) findings concerning the effects of different types of leave might have on gender equality. The design elements of the father’s quota makes it into a leave policy that promotes gender equality through breaking down the cultural barriers in family and working life. 

 

Jamie Ladge - Northeastern University 

Impossible standards and unlikely trade-offs: can fathers be competent parents and professionals? 

“This is the worst period in history to be a dad.” 

– Adam Carolla from Daddy Stop Talking

Over the past ten years, I was engaged in a several academic studies that focused on fatherhood in the context of work. The research conducted stemmed from my prior research that focused on the transition to motherhood and back to work. Much of this work was conducted in in collaboration with the Center for Work and Family at Boston College. I often found myself intrigued by the extent to which this research caught the attention of other scholars and in particular, the media and popular press. We concluded that fatherhood was a “hot topic” in the midst of significant turning point in our society where it was okay to be an “involved father”. In fact, many of the media taglines suggested that from our research, we had largely concluded that involved fathers were good for business because some of our findings suggested that more time spent with children predicted greater job satisfaction and less work-life conflict. 

Although most people liked what we had to say and felt the topic was timely and relevant, there were some quiet and not so quiet protests from fathers themselves. We had at least one research participant profess that he was surprised (and admittedly annoyed) by how much involvement he had with this child relative to his spouse. One reaction that I got a kick out of was from comedian and radio personality, Adam Carolla (AC) when was asked about our research in an interview with Men’s Health Magazine (MH): 

“MH: Jamie Ladge, one of the professors who co-authored the study, said that we need to stop “promoting ideals based on outdated gender norms” and for fathers to start thinking about parenthood as a “time-consuming activity.” It doesn’t seem like you agree with this idea at all. 

AC: A certain amount of interaction between a father and his kids is necessary, sure. But here’s where the scientists have it wrong. It’s not about logging the minutes you’re spending with your kids. Something’s not better just because it’s more time-consuming. 

MH: But sometimes it is. The more time you spend with your wife, with your kids, with your parents, that’s a good thing ultimately. 

AC: Let me tell you something. I’m not a scientist but I know what I’m fucking talking about. My kids, here’s what they need. They need a lot of interaction with their mommy. And they need some interaction with their daddy. But mainly, they need to respect their dad. They need to say, “I don’t see my dad as much as I see my mom, but that’s okay because my dad busts his tail for this family.” 

Is AC right? Are we just creating even more impossible standards for fathers or do his comments reflect outdated gender norms and expectations? How do we determine what level of involvement is appropriate? Do the same ideal worker norms apply to parenting norms where time is equated to commitment? Finally, what does it actually mean to be an ideal father? 

 

María José Bosch, Mireia las Heras - ESE Business School in Chile/IESE Business School

Parenting is a challenging in today’s world. Dual careers, hyper-connectivity and long distances take almost all our time and parents have to integrate their different roles. A direct impact of this hectic life is the time we spend reading and eating with our children. In this presentation we will analyze how much time parents spend eating and reading with their children. We will compare different countries and relate this amount of time with other work life balance indicators like satisfaction with work life balance and work motivations. 

 

Ray Levy - Massachusetts General Hospital

Men's perceptions during prenatal care: the 2016 MGH fatherhood obstetrics survey

Background: Despite substantial literature documenting the positive impact of father involvement in early parenthood, little research exists about men’s involvement and needs during prenatal care. This study expands and updates our previous 2015 study. 

Study Aims: To assess men’s experiences, perceptions, and needs during prenatal care, including perceptions of current MCH child health recommendations. 

Methods: 520 men attending prenatal care with their partners at a major urban tertiary hospital center (MGH) (N= 450) and two affiliated Health Centers (N= 70) completed a one-time, anonymous, two-part Fatherhood Survey using iPad-mini’s (in English, Spanish, Portuguese or Arabic) during a two-week period in 2016. 

Results: 85% of fathers participated. While 94.6% felt confident in their abilities to be a father, 56.3% perceived becoming a father as stressful; 35.3% lacked people or places to go for fatherhood encouragement. Significant men’s health issues were noted: 22.8% were obese; 25.6% reported depression symptoms; 36.0% lacked an annual physical; and 21.5% had unplanned pregnancies. Men perceived MGH Obstetrics services positively (~80%); but 43.4% weren’t asked any questions by doctors. There was substantial desire for more fatherhood information, preferably written/media information. Men were generally supportive of breastfeeding, not co-sleeping and immunizations; however ~30% weren’t convinced. 

Discussion: Fatherhood begins before birth. Men have significant health needs, stresses and joys during the antenatal period; and their opinions could influence MCH newborn practices. These findings help inform our efforts to strengthen men’s inclusion in MGH prenatal care services. 

 

Alexandra Macht - Oxford Brookes University

Researching european fathers: an analysis of scottish and romanian leave policies and fathering research

In this paper I present an overview of studies on fathers and fatherhood, with a focus on father-child emotional well-being, and make a claim for the marginalization of Romanian and Scottish fathers from European research on family life. I set the findings from quantitative research on fathers (mostly concerned with father’s time at work, and number of hours spent in domestic work and childcare analysed according to Lamb et al.’s conceptualization of paternal involvement), alongside those of qualitative research (primarily concerned with gender equal arrangements between mothers and fathers, and alternative forms of fatherhood – stay-at-home, lone fathers, LGBT carers etc.), with paternity leave provisions in both the UK and Romania and findings from my own research. The purpose of the review is to establish connections between how academic research can potentially inform changes in social policies. The analysis will also take into account two axes: a) the usefulness of applying findings mostly done with North-Western samples of fathers, to an Eastern-European context (The Romanian one with its cultural particularities), and b) the problematic applicability of research done with English fathers to Scottish contexts. 

 

Margaret O’Brien - University College London

Fathers in parental leave policies 

“In a rapidly changing world, we will continue witnessing the growing momentum and recognition of the importance of men for gender equality, reconciling work-family life and impacting the future of their children” UN (2011) 

Fathers’ active participation in family life will likely be one of the most important social developments of the 21st century. However, uncertain global economic conditions may not provide an optimal environment to sustain nascent father-friendly policies. Similarly, the legacy of father as economic provider- in- chief remains a strong cultural force in many countries. My presentation will focus on fathers in parental leave policies. 

The Nordic countries have been a global touchstone for policies makers and academics concerned with encouraging greater participation of fathers in the care of children and gender equality. They have led the way in devising work-family policy innovation and attempts to emulate (taking a” Nordic turn”) are happening across Europe (Erler, 2009) and in other regions of the world (Chin, et al, 2011; O’Brien & Wall, 2017). The picture has become complex with even conservative and market-oriented governments and countries attempting to address work-family reconciliation. Demographic considerations in particular fertility decline have stimulated consideration of the role of fathers in work-family measures. 

In terms of classic father involvement constructs, I conceptualise father-friendly work policies such as paternity leave or daddy months as providing a macro/ distal context to potentiate paternal availability and interaction with infants and young children (Lamb, et al 1987). If fathers also receive some income replacement (through tax contribution, government or corporate support) the measure can promote transmission of paternal financial capital (Pleck, 2007). 

 

Sabrina TanquerelNormandy School of Management (France)

French fathers in work organizations: navigating the work-life balance challenges 

This paper aims at contributing to a better understanding of the challenges and tensions that French working fathers experience at work in trying to achieve work-life balance. Drawing on a sample of 20 fathers, aged 27–51, working in different work organizations, in-depth interviews were conducted to investigate how these fathers navigate tensions between the simultaneous pressure for having a successful career and for embodying an involved fatherhood. The findings show that the fathers’ perceptions and expectations towards work-life balance are different from women, fathers often associating their needs for work-life balance with occasional and informal flexibility and not always viewing the organization as a source of solutions. Heterogeneously influenced by their cultural ideals of work and fatherhood, they expect now more proactivity, recognition and support on the part of their organization and supervisor to fully carry out their fatherhood. A typology of three profiles with different ways of combining fatherhood and work is derived: the ‘breadwinner’ father, the ‘caring father’ and the ‘ambivalent’ father. These categories are further developed highlighting the practices and strategies French fathers mobilize to solve their work-life equation. 

 

Michael YogmanHarvard Medical School 

Fathers’ involvement in and influence on the health and development of their children have increased in a myriad of ways in the past 10 years and have been widely studied. The role of pediatricians in working with fathers has correspondingly increased in importance. This report reviews new studies of the epidemiology of father involvement, including nonresidential as well as residential fathers. The effects of father involvement on child outcomes are discussed within each phase of a child’s development. Particular emphasis is placed on (1) fathers’ involvement across childhood ages; and (2) the influence of fathers’ physical and mental health on their children. Implications and advice for all child health providers to encourage and support father involvement are outlined. Postpartum depression has not been adequately recognized in fathers and the need for identification and treatment will be emphasized. In addition the importance of understanding barriers to and benefits of engaging nonresidential fathers with their children will be highlighted.

Principal Inquiries

  • To what extent are “daddy quotas” really fostering fatherhood involvement?
  • Why, after many years of encouraging fatherhood involvement, have many programs failed?
  • How can governments reverse this situation?
  • What are the main challenges that working fathers experience at work?
  • How can organizations foster a truly fatherhood-friendly environment? What are the positive health consequences of fatherhood involvement for fathers themselves?
  • And for their children?
  • Does it differ by class?

Academic Leaders

Hannah Riley BowlesHarvard Kennedy School

Marc Grau-GrauHarvard Kennedy