Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Social Contact, Efficacy and Support Amongst Australian Fathers

Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Social Contact, Efficacy and Support Amongst Australian Fathers

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Recent findings that partnered and single fathers have less social contact than nearly all other types of men and women (Patulny, 2011) suggest that fatherhood brings the risk of a loss in men's social networks. This in turn risks a significant reduction in social support, particularly amongst men who separate and lose the bonding social capital resources of their female partners (Emerick, 2006). This paper examines social contact, efficacy and support amongst separated and partnered men and fathers using the 2006 Australian Bureau of Statistics" General Social Survey. Results show that fatherhood is not associated with any loss in social contact and support amongst married or de facto men. However, amongst separated men, fatherhood is associated with greater social contact, but less social support and efficacy in decision- making related to family and friends. The paper concludes that separated fathers feel less supported and empowered than partnered fathers, partnered mothers, or separated mothers; that this is potentially detrimental to their wellbeing and mental health; and that social engagement policies for men should be expanded with a greater focus on recently separated fathers.

KEYWORDS: fathers, gender, marital status, social contact, social efficacy, social support

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There has been little research on the impact of parenthood and separation on the social contact and support experienced by Australian fathers. A number of studies have examined gendered aspects of social contact and friendship (Pahl, 2000; Wellman & Frank, 2000), but few have sought to gauge precise estimates of the degree of social support enjoyed specifically by fathers.

This is a critical omission because of the importance of social support for the mental health and wellbeing of fathers. Several studies of social capital have made general connections between social contact/support and wellbeing/mental health (Cacioppo & Hawkley, 2003; Hawthorne, 2008). Such studies have not focused on fathers explicitly, however, nor examined the constraints faced by fathers in fostering and maintaining social networks and contact.

A brief review of the literature in the next section suggests that such constraints, and a consequent lack of support for Australian fathers, might be considerable. Australian men in general are likely to experience deeper loneliness with fewer people to turn to in addressing it (Franklin & Tranter, 2008), while partnered and single fathers in Australia report less social contact than nearly all other types of men and women (Fisher & Robinson, 2010; Patulny, 2011). This may simply reflect men's preferences, based on Emerick's (2006) suggestions that women prefer informal 'bonding' social connections, while men prefer work-oriented 'bridging' collegial connections. However, it may also reflect a genuine loss in support and wellbeing for Australian men and fathers, as increasingly flexible and competitive work environments (Van Wanrooy & Wilson, 2006) have lead to shorter and more disrupted social relations, and are (on average) less likely to offer the kind of personal support generally available through more informal (friends/family) contact.

Such loss in contact, support and wellbeing may be particularly exacerbated amongst separated as compared to partnered fathers. In addition to the loss of support that comes from separating from partners and their extended (bonding) social networks, any disruption in access to children and social networks associated with childcare also represents a potential loss in social support. The ongoing concerns amongst separated fathers in Australia over access and involvement in their children's lives (Cashmore et al., 2010) not only represent a risk to their capacity to be a committed father, but a barrier to their ability and efficacy in organising adequate social support, both for themselves and in relation to caring for children (e. …

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