Survey: Perceptions of Role of Fathers in Families Has Changed

A new telephone survey published by the Pew Research Center finds that Americans expect fathers to be more of a “moral teacher and emotional comforter” rather than a “breadwinner or disciplinarian.”

Entitled “The New American Father,” the survey, based on a sample of 1,004 adults, finds that 58% of participants said it is “extremely important” for a father to bestow values and morals upon his children. Of those surveyed, 52% believe it is “extremely important” for a father to give emotional support, 47% say discipline is “extremely important,” and 41% believe earning income for his children is one of a father’s most important responsibilities.

According to the survey, the same question asked about the role of mothers generated about the same ordered list of responses, with values and emotional support viewed as most important and providing income coming in last.

A prior Pew Research Center survey, based on U.S. Census Bureau data, demonstrated that mothers are the sole or primary income provider in 40% of all households that have children under the age of 18. The fact that the current research regarding the importance of roles for fathers and mothers finds that just 25% of participants say “income provider” is an extremely important role for mothers, compared with 41% who believe it is at the same level of importance for fathers, suggests that Americans weigh maternal and paternal roles differently when the role of “breadwinner” is considered.

In addition, researchers find that 61% of those surveyed say providing emotional support is an “extremely important role for mothers, compared with 52% who say the same about fathers.”

61% of respondents believe it is “extremely important” for mothers to provide values and morals to children, while 58% say it is “extremely important” for fathers. Both mothers, at 46%, and fathers, at 47%, are also perceived as having an equally strong responsibility to discipline children.

The Pew Research Center survey authors summarize their findings as follows:

Overwhelming majorities of Americans believe that all four roles are important. About nine-in-ten (86%) say providing income is “extremely important” or “very important” for a father. Even larger proportions place equal importance on a father’s responsibility to provide discipline (90%), emotional support (93%), and values and morals (95%).

An interesting demographic feature of the survey is the broad agreement between black and white participants on the importance of three of the paternal roles measured in the study. One obvious exception, however, is the relative importance of both fathers and mothers to be providers of financial support for their families.

From the report:

According to the survey, blacks are far more likely than whites to see earning a living as a top responsibility of dads and moms. Fully half (51%) of blacks say providing income is “extremely important” for fathers compared with 40% of whites.

The gap more than doubles when blacks and whites are asked about how important it is that a mother provide income for her children. Again, about half (49%) of blacks but only 21% of whites say this is an extremely important role for moms.

Considering the differences between men’s and women’s views of a father’s most important role, the survey finds that both genders have similar priorities, with each placing a father’s role as “moral educator” at the top of the hierarchy.

The greatest difference, however, is found on the issue of the importance of a father’s role as provider of emotional support to his children. 58% of women, but 46% of men, say that role is “extremely important,” a 12-point gap.


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