Academic journal article Fathering

Trends in Academic Attention to Fathers, 1930-2006

Academic journal article Fathering

Trends in Academic Attention to Fathers, 1930-2006

Article excerpt

This systematic analysis of 1115 articles in five child development and family journals was conducted to: 1) examine whether academic attention to fathers has increased over time, and 2) describe temporal changes in content areas relevant to fathering and child development. Each article was coded for type of family structure, dimension of fatherhood, and type of child outcome. Percentages of articles per year were the dependent measures and analyses were conducted using regression curve-estimation techniques. Considered together, journals increased their father-relevant publications over time, but there was individual variation by journal. Content analyses showed increased attention to diverse types of fathers and to a wide range of areas of fathering and child outcomes. Both linear and non-linear trend lines fit these data. Results indicate that the "culture of fatherhood" is alive and well in academic journals, although the historical patterns of academic attention to fathers are often complex.

Keywords: historical perspectives, research trends, family structure, characteristics of fathers, father involvement, child development


The last two decades of the twentieth century have been distinguished by the amount of attention from social scientists and policymakers to the roles that fathers play in the lives of their children (Cabrera, Tamis-LeMonda, Bradley, Hofferth, & Lamb, 2000). There have been many assertions that scholarly interest in fathers increased over the course of the last century, but there is scant evidence upon which to base that assertion (Atkinson & Blackwelder, 1993). It is the intent of the current analysis to address this omission by reviewing the pattern of academic attention to fathers in child development and family studies journals from as early as 1930 to the present day.

Fatherhood has been studied not only in relation to the parenting of minor children but also in terms of its place in men's own development and relations with others. Studies and reviews of the literature have examined the impact of the transition to fatherhood on men's psychological well-being, social connections, family relations, and work (Eggebeen & Knoester, 2001), the effect of multiple roles in relation to men's psychological distress (Barnett, Marshall, & Pleck, 1992; O'Neil & Greenberger, 1994), fathers' relative contributions to the division of household and childcare tasks (Himsel & Goldberg, 2003), marital quality and father-child relations (Almeida, Wethington, & Chandler, 1999; Rogers & White, 1988), fathers and family relations across generations (Eggebeen & Knoester, 2001; Suitor & Pillemer, 1988), and adult parent-child relations (Lye, 1996). These studies reveal a wide range of ways that being a father influences men's well-being and their relationships with family members and others in their lives.

Changing Conceptualizations of Fathers

Perspectives on the role of the father in the family system have ranged from conceptualizing the father as patriarch, moral teacher, and economic provider, to a gender-role model, to viewing fathers as nurturing parents (Lamb & Tamis-LeMonda, 2004). In her classic 1981 article, Jessie Bernard reflected upon the rise and fall of the father in the role of the "good provider." Bernard chronicled the association of men with the traditional gender roles of "head of household" and "provider" and described the psychological consequences for men of such gender-limited roles. These roles prioritized men's activities outside the home and did not include a warm, nurturing component to fathering or a shared role in family labor. Modern fathers are expected to be providers and be involved with their children (Bianchi, Robinson, & Milkie, 2006).

Over the course of the last half-century, we have developed a more complex appreciation of fathers and fathering, which led to a multifaceted conceptualization of fathers' roles and fathers' contributions than those articulated by Bernard decades ago. …

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