Many Men Believe It Is More Important to Be an Active Father Than Breadwinner Interview with:
“fathers day” by James Simkins is licensed under CC BY 2.0Richard J. Petts PhD

Department of Sociology
Ball State University
North Quad 213
Muncie, IN 47306 What is the background for this study?

Response: This study looked at a national sample of over 2,000 fathers with children aged 2-18 to assess whether attitudes about traditional masculine norms and attitudes toward the new fatherhood ideal influence the degree to which fathers are involved in their children’s lives.

Our research shows that fathers who adhere to more traditional forms of masculinity (acting tough, being independent, not expressing emotion), are less involved in their children’s lives and have a greater likelihood of engaging in harsh punishment.

In contrast, fathers who identify more with the new fatherhood ideal (which emphasizes engaged, nurturing, supportive fathering) are involved more frequently in their children’s lives. We know from a large body of research that father involvement is associated with numerous positive outcomes for children (e.g., fewer problem behaviors, higher psychological well-being, better academic outcomes). What are the main findings?

Response: Our research in this study suggests that adherence to the new fatherhood ideal is a strong predictor of greater father involvement across various indicators of involvement as well as for younger and older children. Yet, many men still struggle to follow-through with their attitudes due to larger cultural constraints. Workplace practices, cultural beliefs, and economic policies largely support traditional gender attitudes which emphasize the primary role of fathers as breadwinners. Thus, men have to balance meeting these traditional expectations with the more contemporary expectations.

Our research suggests that there is a bit of a tradeoff here – fathers who adhere more to traditional ideas of masculinity are less involved at least partly because they identify less with new fatherhood expectations. In contrast, fathers who emphasize the importance of nurturing, engaged fathering are more involved in their children’s lives (and less closely adhere to traditional ideas of masculinity). What should readers take away from your report?

Response: I think the message from the study to dads is that it is OK to embrace being an involved father. We often judge men based on their job title, how much they work, and how much money they make as a society. Yet, many men believe that being an active father is more important than being a breadwinner. Take time to be a dad. You will be happier (fathers who are more involved have higher well-being), and your kids will be happier. Also know that you are not alone! Our research suggests that fathers are more likely to support engaged, nurturing fathering than traditional masculine norms. Even though this is not a message we often see in the workplace or media, this is something that many men actually support and believe. The more open and active fathers are about their desires to be an engaged father, the more accepting and supportive we as a society might be for active, engaged fatherhood. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: More research understanding factors that may influence fathers’ attitudes both about fatherhood as well as larger gender norms about masculinity would be helpful. We know that fathers are increasingly supportive of engaged, nurturing fathering, but understanding how men navigate the competing expectations of traditional ideas about masculinity and the new fatherhood ideal is needed. More research is also needed on how social/structural changes may influence the degree to which men may enact on their desires to be engaged fathers and increase their involvement further. Such programs and policies include workplace flexibility, family-friendly supportive workplace environments, and paid paternity leave. Such policies have the potential to encourage (or dissuade if fathers do not have access to such programs) fathers to be more involved in their children’s lives, but we do not know much about how policies/programs and attitudes may interact with one another to influence father involvement. 


Petts, R. J., Shafer, K. M. and Essig, L. (2018), Does Adherence to Masculine Norms Shape Fathering Behavior?. Fam Relat, 80: 704-720. doi:10.1111/jomf.12476  

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Last Updated on June 13, 2018 by Marie Benz MD FAAD