Elevating Fatherhood

05 Sep 2018

Active paternal involvement in the lives of children has been shown to make important differences to the health, wellbeing, satisfaction and productivity of individuals and the society they comprise.

The way we think of fatherhood is changing. Recent social, economic, technological and demographic changes have modified men’s attitudes about, and engagement in, their role as parents. The new situation has spurred growing academic study, as well as political and media interest in the role of father. We are witnessing the beginning of a trend that bodes well for individuals, families, homes, the workplace, and society in general. 

The “Elevating Fatherhood” experts meeting, held at the Harvard Kennedy School June 25-26, 2018, brought together experts from various disciplines to focus on fatherhood through three lenses:  health and wellbeing, public policy, and work organizations. The meeting, led by Marc Grau and Hanna Riley Bowles, was funded by the Social Trends Institute, and organized with support from the International Center for Work and Family, and hosted by Harvard University’s Women and Public Policy Program.

The main questions addressed were: What impact does paternal involvement have on children’s and parent’s health? What social policies effectively promote such involvement?  And what role do organizations play in supporting active paternity?

From the health perspective, four prestigious medical doctors presented research on the positive impact of fathers’ involvement on the health of their children and on their own and on the mother’s health. The experts concurred that fathers are crucial to the cognitive and social development of their children, including their academic and linguistic prowess and their emotional stability. They also presented evidence that paternal engagement is positively associated with mothers’ health in terms of reduced postpartum depression, and with heathier behaviors on the part of the men themselves. They proposed strategies for the medical community to include the father even before birth and to support the involvement of even non-resident fathers. 

Five public policy scholars explored how governmental family and social policies can effect paternal involvement and increase the number of men who take advantage of them. The landscape varies widely among countries with respect to family leave policies and cultural norms, and several cases were studied. All agreed that men are more likely to take advantage of family policies when they are well-remunerated, individual and non-transferable, and when they are culturally well-regarded. Another common conclusion was that fatherhood leave strengthens the bond between fathers and their offspring. Future challenges include stimulating cultural acceptance of and support for the use of paternity leave, and increasing eligibility to include all types of workers.

Finally, experts in organizations analyzed the impact that companies, their cultures and their leaders’ behaviors have on men’s involvement as fathers as well as on their satisfaction with their work and their dedication to it.  It was noted that men take relatively little advantage of flexible work policies, despite the increase in their availability and the evidence that they are positive for all involved. Future action, they concluded, should be directed at increasing the uptake of available policies so that they are not “in name only” options.

In order to share this research and stimulate further investigation in the field, the participating scholars will publish a report of findings and action items, and an edited volume, scheduled to be published by Springer. 


Lee el resumen en castellano aquí.