Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Imagining Fatherhood: Young Australian Men's Perspectives on Fathering

Academic journal article International Journal of Men's Health

Imagining Fatherhood: Young Australian Men's Perspectives on Fathering

Article excerpt

Cultural norms that view men as peripheral to family life and to decision-making about parenthood have shaped mainstream research agendas and underlie the relative lack of research on men's perspectives on fatherhood. This semi-structured interview study explored the subjective meaning of having children and being a father in the imagined future lives of 16 male university students in Australia. The men generally had well-considered preferences, attitudes and aspirations about fatherhood and shared them readily and articulately, challenging persisting gender stereotypes. We identified four themes in their talk. Fulfilment and contentment dealt with positively looking forward to an adult life encompassing satisfying work, marriage, and children. Traditional and new fatherhood described talk that simultaneously valued a traditional 'breadwinner' role and close, involved fatherhood, and generally failed to address the inherent contradictions in managing these two models of fatherhood. Time of preparation encompassed talk about the perceived necessity of finishing education, establishing a stable, financially rewarding career, and developing personal maturity as preconditions to fatherhood. Models of family and fatherhood referred to the men's frequent reference to their own families as models that they wished to replicate or, at times, correct in their own fatherhood. Altogether, this study provides a justification for systematic and comprehensive research on men's perspectives, preferences and attitudes regarding fatherhood and family.

Keywords: men, attitudes, fatherhood, family, qualitative


A large body of research has documented women's attitudes, behaviour and experiences related to having children and being parents. In recent years, trends in developed countries towards smaller families and later childbearing have prompted a particular emphasis on research that seeks to understand the meaning that women attach to parenthood and their perspectives on having children. There is, for example, substantial evidence on women's attitudes towards motherhood (Arthur & Lee, 2008; Johnstone & Lee, 2009; Tyden et al., 2006), their desired number of children (Holton et al., 2009; Lee & Gramotnev, 2006), their understanding of age-related fertility decline (Bretherick et al., 2010; Maheshwari et al., 2008) and the factors associated with their timing of having children (Benzies et al., 2006).

Far less research has been conducted in the area of men's aspirations, expectations, and attitudes towards having children and being parents. Although there are some exceptions (e.g., Marsiglio et al., 2000; Singleton, 2005), men are very often a small minority of participants in studies in this field (e.g., Lampic et al., 2006; Skoog Svanberg et al., 2006; Virtala et al., 2011). At other times, men have been excluded completely, or studied largely in order to explain or contextualise women's perspectives or experiences. Men have rarely been identified as legitimate focus of research in their own right.

The neglect of men in this research field can be attributed to several factors. As Lee and Owens (2002) have argued, hegemonic models of masculinity position paid work as central to men's identities and frequently reduce men's role in the family to that of the "breadwinner" (i.e., material provider) rather than an involved co-parent. Although in Australia, the recent National Male Health Policy (Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, 2010) acknowledges the importance of men in parenting and in families, the emphasis of the policy is still mainly on health issues associated with transitions into work, health-sustaining work practices, and making health services more accessible to full-time workers. The widespread downplaying of the involvement of men in the family, and the persisting belief that having children is primarily a concern of women, form a major barrier to the inclusion of men in research agendas (Greene & Biddlecom, 2000). …

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