2019 saw the publication of the third landmark State of the World’s Fathers report looking at the challenges dads face across the globe, and the steps they can take to improve things.
2019 was a State of the World’s Fathers year.
Just as golf fans look forward to the Ryder Cup every second year so anyone interested in equal parenting anticipates a new State of the World’s Fathers report (SOWF). (If you like golf and equal parenting then every year brings one or the other treat!) SOWF is a huge international effort authored by experts from a range of fields, drawing on data from across the globe and backed by the United Nations.
The first, in 2015, flagged up many of the benefits to men of getting involved in family life. Coming hot on the heels of the introduction of Shared Parental Leave in the UK it marked a real moment as the movement to recognise men’s role as fathers achieved momentum.
The establishment of workingdads.co.uk in 2019 is very much part of that timeline.
The last SOWF report in 2017 focussed on domestic work. On moving the view of men as breadwinners to caregivers. And emphasising that the two are not mutually exclusive.
This year’s report returned to that theme.
But key to achieving its goals is a call for more paternity leave and more help for dads.
The report’s recommendations also include a demand that governments take these issues seriously. And employers and advertisers are urged to step up and challenge stereotypes.
As ever the message from fathers was loud and clear – 85% of those surveyed across seven countries said they’d do anything to spend more time with their family, particularly in the first weeks and months of their baby’s life. And yet still many, many fathers don’t get involved. That’s partly down to legislation and economics. Most countries, 52%, still don’t provide for paid paternity leave in law.
But there are also huge social and cultural barriers. Drawing on data from 23 countries the authors found that significant proportions of men and women agreed that “changing diapers, giving baths to children, and feeding children should be the mother’s/woman’s responsibility.”
In every country in the world women do more domestic work than men. The Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway and Denmark come closest to parity. And they are also the nations with the most generous paternity and parental leave policies.
Cambodia is far and away the mosts unequal in this regard with women doing 10 times more domestic work than men. They are followed by Burkina Faso and Albania. The UK sits between Hungary and Australia in the league table with women doing nearly two hours domestic work for every hour a man puts in.
And yet if men get involved in the domestic sphere they benefit. According to the State of the World’s Fathers report, “Research shows that men themselves benefit from greater engagement in caregiving, including improved physical, mental, and sexual health and reduced risk-taking. Fathers who are involved in the home and with their children say it’s one of their most important sources of well-being and happiness.”
Crucially the report includes a list of demands to improve the situation.
Key among them is a call for governments to focus on their parental leave policies.
British fathers come out quite well compared to other countries in this regard. Seven nations were focused on for the report – the UK, the Netherlands, Canada, the USA, Argentina, Brazil and Japan. The lowest proportion of dads taking no paternity leave was in the UK. The highest proportion of dads taking their full statutory entitlement was also in the UK.
However the report finds that a ‘daddy quota’ of non transferable leave for dads is the most effective in helping dads build their confidence and define their role in the family. It also suggests that lawmakers should not focus solely on newborns and seek to normalise flexible working to allow fathers of older children to stay involved.
Without those steps we arrive at the situation highlighted in the report where the majority of men (outwith South America) admit they rely on their partner for information and knowledge of parenting.
That’s why the report suggests setting up education programmes to teach men how to parent and build their confidence.
Social norms are also identified in SOWF 2019 as a vital area for defining fathers’ roles. The authors single out the controversial Gillette ad from earlier this year as a way of challenging gender norms and starting a conversation.
Men in Serbia, Columbia and Holland were most likely to disagree with the idea that a man who cares for his child is less of a man.
Religious and political leaders ought to advocate for more equality and role model a more progressive approach to fatherhood according to the report. And schools have a role in teaching boys what engaged fatherhood looks like.
This SOWF may be the third but there’s some very familiar passages in it. Yet again it draws together the evidence on why equal parenting is good for men, women and children. Engaged dads are happier and healthier. Mums with more engaged partners are physically and mentally healthier over all and report better relationships. Children whose dads are involved in their upbringing report better educational outcomes and are better at coping with stress among other benefits.
Fundamentally making change is down to dads though. The report suggests that if fathers do 50 minutes more domestic labour each day then the load will be shared 50/50 between women and men.
It’ll be interesting to see in 2021 how far the report has moved on. The disparity between the sexes in terms of domestic labour is unlikely to be rebalanced by then (on current trends it’ll 202 rather than two years to reach equality). And the benefits to fathers will hopefully be even more widely known.
The State of the World’s Fathers 2019 is yet another invaluable document packed with useful evidence for dads who want to make the case for a change in their role.
But SOWF 2021 will have to be different, focus on new areas, and come up with achievable solutions if it is to keep up the momentum begun with the first report in 2015.
You can read the full report here
And you can read our interview with report author Nikki van der Gaag here