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For Your Marriage

Marriage Today covers current trends and research pertaining to marriage and family life in today's world.

The New Dad: Not Your Father’s Model

A “quiet revolution” is under way among young fathers in America, born of a “new spirit and determination among men … to find their place not just at work but in the home,” according to “The New Dad,” a study released in mid-June by the Center for Work and Family at Jesuit-run Boston College.

Fathers of young children now “seem poised to embrace a new definition of fatherhood and to step up to the challenges and the rewards of parenting in a much fuller sense than was the case in the past,” the authors of this study observe.

“The New Dad” assesses the challenges encountered by the working husbands of working wives, challenges that frequently are parental in nature. The researchers wanted to learn what happens at home and in the workplace when fathers in dual-career marriages attempt to integrate new demands on the home front with career demands.

Marriage itself is affected by developments related to the home and workplace roles of both husbands and wives, the study indicates. For example, “conversation and coordination” between spouses plays a vital role as they strive together for parenthood success. The researchers discovered that couple conversations today “run a spectrum from simply discussing the mechanics and schedule of the family to loftier issues.”

If the old husband-wife model “of one breadwinner, one caregiver had many drawbacks, one of its attributes was a clear delineation of duties,” says “The New Dad.” Today’s “dual-career couple model, by contrast, leaves a considerable amount of room for role conflict, handoffs, coordination and, unfortunately, confusion.”

Mothers in the workplace often make special job-related arrangements allowing them to meet their children’s needs. One question the Boston researchers had was whether fathers now feel the need to make similar parenting arrangements and, if so, how the workplace might react to such a social development. In other words, is the workplace ready for the new dad?

The study compares and contrasts the struggle men experience in forging a new identity at home as husbands and fathers with the struggle women experienced in recent decades as they forged a new presence in the workplace.

“The New Dad” was authored by Brad Harrington, executive director of the Center for Work and Family, Fred Van Deusen, senior research associate at the center, and Jamie Lade of Northeastern University in Boston. They describe this as “a qualitative study of middle-income, first-time fathers that focuses on the under-researched area of men, careers and fatherhood.”

A qualitative study is one that attempts to gain understanding of a particular group or subject through conversations, for example, or through analysis of firsthand experiences. It differs from quantitative research, which often surveys large groups and reports statistical findings. The Boston study entailed in-depth interviews conducted over a year-long period with 33 fathers in dual-career homes; the study reviews numerous other published reports on fatherhood.

“Our study leaves us with the sense that a profound shift is taking place with today’s new dads. Overall, our research found fathers who were deeply committed to care-giving and sharing the work as evenly as possible with their spouses,” say the study’s authors.

The study suggests that:

  • Social expectations factor into the new father’s self-image. “There is still a strong cultural perspective that when men become fathers, little will change on the work front.”
  • Today’s employer needs “to see fatherhood as a more serious and time-consuming role and stop assuming that being a good father simply equates to being a good breadwinner.”
  • There is a transformation in how men view their roles at home. At a time when “women make up 50 percent of the U.S. work force,” the men in the study “were very happy in their roles as fathers and doing their best to spend time with their children.” These fathers were “rethinking and redefining traditional gender-based roles.”

The point has been reached when “in most families there is no long a stay-at-home parent focused on child rearing and management of the household,” the study states. Nonetheless, it says that “the low number of stay-at-home fathers” is an indication “that for a whole host of reasons, men’s role as father, nurturer and caregiver is still not fully embraced in our society or by the vast majority of employers.”

For 30 years women have fought “for legitimacy in the workplace.” Now men find themselves challenged to clarify their identity both at home and in the workplace,” says “The New Dad.” It indicates, however, that clarifying their identity at home is more that a family-based challenge for men; it also means clarifying their identity in the workplace, which can be complicated.

There is an expectation that men “will be more responsible and committed to their career after becoming a father,” the report explains. It adds, however, that this can “be a two-edged sword,” a signal, perhaps, that becoming a father is not expected to affect a man’s work in any but positive, work-related ways.

The authors of “The New Dad” comment at the outset of their report that “while gender inequity has adversely affected women in many ways (from lower pay to lower expectations to the glass ceiling), it has also made it difficult for men to be recognized as equal contributors as parents.”

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