Like Father, like Son? the Transmission of Values, Family Practices, and Work-Family Adaptations to Sons of Work-Sharing Men

By Bjornholt, Margunn | Fathering, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Like Father, like Son? the Transmission of Values, Family Practices, and Work-Family Adaptations to Sons of Work-Sharing Men


Bjornholt, Margunn, Fathering


This article explores egalitarian patterns of work and household responsibility as transferred from one generation to the next using a father-son approach. The fathers participated in an experimental study, referred to as the Work-Sharing Couples study, in Norway, during the first part of the 1970s. In this study, both spouses worked part-time and shared household and childcare responsibility equally. An analysis of the interviews done with the sons indicates that egalitarian patterns that are established in one generation do not necessarily transfer to the next generation. The sons, who are today themselves the fathers of young children, were found to live in "neo-traditional" work-family arrangements, although, to a large extent, they identified with their fathers and expressed egalitarian attitudes. These findings challenge the assumption that greater participation by men in childrearing in children's early years will have a lasting effect on future gender relations.

Keywords: fathers and sons, work-family balance, intergenerational transmission, gender equality

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Over the last few decades there has been a strong research interest in fathering as part of men's lives and as a tool in changing gender relations. In popular discourse and in policymaking, the topic of fathers and sons in particular and the role of men in the socialization of boys are high on the agenda. One of the implicit assumptions in this area is that greater participation by men in the daily care of their families will have a lasting effect on future gender relations; the egalitarian family patterns, once obtained, will be transferred to the next generation. This article presents the results of a longitudinal follow-up study of the sons of parents who participated in a Norwegian experimental research project, initiated by the founder and leader of the Norwegian Family Council, Ola Rokkones and led by the Norwegian sociologist Erik Gronseth. This project examined gender equality in the family in the 1970s and was referred to as the Work-Sharing Couples project. In this study, both parents worked part-time (1) and shared domestic work and care (Gronseth, 1975a, b, & c).

Today, the sons are themselves the fathers of young children. This follow-up study explores the young men's experiences growing up in the families of the work-sharing experiment and their current work-family adaptations, or arrangements, with the goal of investigating the extent of intergenerational transmission.

The article starts with a discussion of relevant literature, and then presents the Work-Sharing Couples study, and finally, the design and method for this follow-up study of the original participants and their children thirty years later. The findings are presented through two cases, and followed by a discussion.

A large and growing body of research and theory on fathering has provided new insights and new and more fine-grained conceptualizations of fatherhood, father involvement and fathering practices (Doucet, 2006, Featherstone, 2009, Lamb, 2010). Nevertheless, according to Devault, Milcent, Ouellet, Laurin, Jauron, and Lacharite (2008), with respect to paternal involvement, the individual history of fathers has received relatively little attention. Some studies support the hypothesis that fathers are more likely to be involved if they had a positive relationship with their own fathers in childhood, while other studies support the hypothesis that involvement is greater among fathers who compensate by being more present in the lives of their children than were their own fathers.

Following the introduction of a paternal quota of parental leave in some of the Nordic countries, men's use of parental leave has been a major focus in research and policy-making (Bekkengen, 2002; Brandth & Kvande, 2003; Haas & Hwang, 2009; Lammi-Taskula, 2006; O'Brien & Moss, 2010). Less attention has been paid to men's general adjustments to work and care as part of their fathering practices (but see Dermott, 2008), and there are few longitudinal, life course and intergenerational studies. …

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