Academic journal article Fathering

The Importance of Fatherhood to U.S. Married and Cohabiting Men

Academic journal article Fathering

The Importance of Fatherhood to U.S. Married and Cohabiting Men

Article excerpt

Using a non-hierarchical approach to identity theory, we construct a scale to analyze the characteristics associated with the importance of fatherhood in a national sample of male partners (N = 932) of U.S. women of reproductive age, including fathers and non-fathers. OLS multiple regression shows that economic situation is not associated with importance of fatherhood, but valuing career success, higher education, higher religiosity and non-egalitarian gender attitudes (compared to egalitarian) are associated with higher importance of fatherhood scores. Leisure, age, fertility problems, and non-egalitarian gender attitudes are associated with importance of fatherhood scores differently for fathers and non-fathers. Although fathers place a higher value on fatherhood than do non-fathers, non-fathers, especially those who have experienced infertility, also have high importance of fatherhood scores.

Keywords: fatherhood, fertility, identity, values, work-life

How important is fatherhood to married and cohabiting men in the United States? There has been great interest in fathering behavior, especially providing for children and father involvement in the lives of their children, but less attention has been paid to how important fatherhood is to individual men, or to the factors associated with differences in importance of fatherhood among men.

Although not all men become fathers, most do, making fatherhood a normative part of adult men's experience. Both qualitative and national survey data demonstrate that most men expect to be fathers and that fatherhood is often viewed as inevitable or as the next logical step in one's life (Lupton & Barclay, 1997; Marsiglio, 1998). Dramatic changes in social and family life over the last several decades, however, present a challenge to gendered assumptions about masculinity and therefore have implications for the meanings and importance of fatherhood in men's lives (Gerson, 2009). Fatherhood for White middle and upper class men in the United States in the mid-twentieth century was constructed as being largely about providing. Definitions of what it means to be a "good" father, however, have been shifting, suggesting that providing may no longer be enough. Men are increasingly called upon to be "involved" with their children (Gerson 1993) because greater father involvement is associated with improved well-being and better outcomes for children (Cherlin, 2010). In short, the behavior of men appears to be changing and shifting expectations regarding work, family, and the balance between the two may have an impact on how men view fatherhood.

Not surprisingly, much recent research on fatherhood is framed by identity theory and has focused on the salience, centrality, and importance of the father identity in men's lives, especially as it may be linked to men's involvement with their children (DeGarmo, 2010; Habib & Lancaster, 2006; Nicholson, Howard, & Borkowski, 2008). The more central fatherhood is to men's identities, the greater their involvement in the mental and physical caregiving tasks of parenting (Nicholson et al., 2008). Typically, research on fatherhood constructs "father" as an identity that exists in a hierarchy of multiple identities available to men. The hierarchical approach to identity, however, does not allow men to report that fatherhood is as important as their "worker" identity, for example. In this article, we seek to build on a non-hierarchical approach to identity theory by asking men to rate the importance of fatherhood in their lives alongside other identities or interests that might compete with fatherhood (such as work and leisure) without forcing them to rank one in relation to the other. Most research on fatherhood and identity treats the salience and centrality of the fatherhood identity as independent variables, which are then used to account for levels of parental involvement or other fathering behaviors; variations in fatherhood identity are taken as given. …

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