Does Parenthood Change Attitudes to Fathering? Evidence from Australia and Britain
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A wealth of research has established that the transition to parenthood can shift men’s and women’s attitudes to motherhood. We add to this knowledge base by examining how attitudes to fatherhood change across the transition to parenthood. This is important within a historical period in which definitions of what it means to be a good father are changing to emphasise hands-on involvement in childcare, yet there has been little institutional change to support this. Our empirical analyses rely on long-running, panel data from Britain and Australia, and fixed-effect panel regression models. We find that attitudes to fatherhood change significantly after the birth of a first child. For most of the measures considered, parenthood results in men’s attitudes to fatherhood becoming comparatively more egalitarian than women’s. While both Australian and British men become more enthusiastic towards being involved in the care and upbringing of their children after experiencing parenthood, Australian women become less likely to agree that fathers should do so. These findings provide a partial explanation for why couples engage in more traditional gender divisions of labour after parenthood. They suggest that men’s involvement in childcare is not only constrained at the institutional and employment levels, but also by their female partners becoming more reluctant to support an active fathering role. More broadly, our research adds to growing evidence demonstrating that first births are an important life-course marker, and parenthood has the capacity to shift how men and women perceive their familial roles and their broader roles in society.
KeywordsGender attitudes Fatherhood Parenthood Longitudinal Australia Britain
The present research was supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course (project number CE140100027) and the European Research Council under the European Union's 7th Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013) / ERC Grant Agreement n. 263651. This paper uses unit record data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey. The HILDA Project was initiated and is funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services (DSS) and is managed by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (Melbourne Institute). The findings and views reported in this paper, however, are those of the authors and should not be attributed to either DSS or the Melbourne Institute.
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Ethical Responsibilities of Authors
The authors confirm that the manuscript has not been submitted to more than one journal for simultaneous consideration.
Francisco Perales and Janeen Baxter are supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course (project number CE140100027).
Conflict of Interest
All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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