Asia Fatherhood Research Conference Panel 1: Father Involvement in a Changing Asia

Introduction

tree11The following article summarises research presentations on Vietnam, India, Taiwan, and Malaysia, and distils relevant points for discussion and reflection in shaping more involved fatherhood.

The presentations were made at Panel 1: Father Involvement in a Changing Asia as part of the first Asia fatherhood research conference entitled Fatherhood in 21st Century Asia: Research, Interventions, and Policies.

Notable Research Findings

Change and Continuity in Fathers’ Roles in Vietnamese Families: The Impacts of Social Changes, A/P Rukmalie Jayakody, Ms Pham Thi Thu Phuong

The presentation discussed how traditional Confucian roles underpinning the Vietnamese family have changed across time; and the social and economic forces linked to these changes.

The quantitative study leveraged on data from three waves of the Vietnam Household Living Standards Survey; the Vietnam Demographic Health Survey, and three cohorts of the Vietnam Family Survey corresponding to the Vietnam-U.S war, the post-reunification period, and the “Renovation” period characterised by economic reforms and growing global influence.

The study found:

  • No significant differences across the historical periods in attitudes towards men making the important decisions in family life or sharing housework equally with women when both spouses work.
  • Significant differences by historical period in behaviour. Men in more recent cohorts were more likely to report looking after, bathing, and feeding their children.
  • Consistently low participation by men in childcare – while 28% of mothers in recent cohorts said they spend at least three hours daily caring for children aged 15 and under, 30% of fathers reported spending less than an hour daily with their children.

Proactive Role of Fathers in Children’s Lives: The Indian Scenario, Dr Rajalakshmi Sriram, Ms Gurpreet Sandhu

The presentation discussed fathers’ notions of their child’s success and achievement in India; their involvement with children in activities related to their success, and their reasons for involvement.

The study involved: (1) a qualitative approach using in-depth interviews with 12 educated middle-class fathers with children aged 6-21 years; and (2) a quantitative approach involving interviews with 120 educated middle-class fathers with at least one child aged 8-14 years. Respondents were from Baroda, a city in Western India.

Key findings are discussed below:

  • In terms of fathering goals and notions of children’s success, fathers explained success as good grades leading to a good career, developing good human values, and being happy and satisfied.
  • Top activities fathers were involved in include: planning and providing for their child’s future, guiding and mentoring child, and providing practical and emotional support to reduce stress and promote learning of the child.
  • Mothers’ involvement scores were higher than fathers’ on all domains, except in planning and providing for children.
  • There was also a positive correlation between fathers’ and mothers’ involvement.

Father Involvement in the Lives of Young Children in Taiwan, Prof Ho Hsiu-Zu, A/P Ko Chu-Ting, Dr Chen Wei-Wen, Ms Jessica Phillips, Ms Connie Tran

The presentation discussed government policies that promote father involvement; fatherhood roles in Taiwanese society; and comparisons between fathers and mothers in child activity engagement and parental role beliefs.

The study involved: (1) collecting qualitative and quantitative data through a survey of 26 pairs of parents to second-grade students in a local elementary school in Taipei; and (2) parent magazine content analysis.

Key findings are discussed below:

  • Government policy legislating parental involvement in schools and allowing all employees (both mothers and fathers) up to two years of unpaid parental leave for each child until their child reaches three years of age; parental leave subsidies; local parent education centres; and community programmes serving to enable father involvement. However, public support for such policies is still limited.
  • Mothers remain more engaged than fathers in childcare, but for many activities, when mothers were more involved, fathers followed suit.
  • Parenting magazines have been proactive in carrying progressive messages promoting the enlarged role of “new age” fathers and critiquing men who do not help out at home. However, fathers appear to experience stress balancing their new roles carving out successful careers while simultaneously participating in the raising of children.

Contributions of Self, Contextual and Child Characteristics on Father Involvement among Muslims in Malaysia, by Rumaya Juhari, Siti Nor Yaacob and Mansor Abu Talib

The presentation explored how contextual, father, and child characteristics predict father involvement among Malay-Muslims in Malaysia.

1019 Malay-Muslim fathers of school-going children aged 10 through 16 from intact families in the state of Selangor were surveyed.

The study found that:

  • Fathers who were more educated and more satisfied with their job were more likely to be involved with their children.
  • Fathers who were more satisfied with their marriage and with their own fathers’ involvement were more likely to be involved with their children.
  • Fewer children, younger children, a higher level of education attained and income earned by the wife, and higher family income predict greater father involvement.
  • Fathers of younger children tend to report a higher degree of involvement. The gender of the child was not a significant predictor.

Plenary Discussion

Participants were interested in how fathers can appropriately support their children’s success. Dr Rajalakshmi suggested that her own research showed that Indian fathers do seek to nurture their children’s success, but also pointed to the critical need for parents to teach children how to accept failure in an increasingly competitive context.

There was also discussion on the impact of the loss of fathers suffered by Vietnamese families to war. A/P Jayakody agreed that kinship networks, including uncles, were consequently often involved in fathering the fatherless.

When asked about the effects of policy changes in Taiwan, Prof Ho noted that Taiwanese fathers are becoming more involved, but that father involvement still lags that of mothers. However, some initiatives, such as parent education centres have only been established recently, so clear evidence on the impact is not known.

Nonetheless, further efforts to encourage and help fathers nurture psycho-social bonds with their children are needed.  Dr Rajalakshmi shared about her challenges committing lower-class fathers to parenting programmes in India. Nonetheless, she highlighted opportunities to build fatherhood elements into early childhood programmes.

One participant asked how speakers may explain persistent gaps in father involvement, given growing policy and programme efforts.

Prof Ho surmised that a lack of intergenerational fathering role models is one factor, hence the proactive role of the mass media and school-based education to shape more egalitarian gender roles in Taiwan. A/P Jayakody felt that existing policy shifts are insufficient and that more systematic efforts at all levels are needed.

Conclusion

Notable themes emerge across the diverse contexts. Firstly, father involvement continues to lag mother involvement though both the “culture” and “conduct” of fatherhood are gradually changing, with occasional tensions between the two. Secondly, intergenerational fathering role models while lacking, do influence on how fathers are involved with children.

Thirdly, mother and father involvement are positively correlated, possibly because involved parenting is a family rather than just personal characteristic and parents offer role models for each other.

Finally, there are significant opportunities for cross-learning in strategies to promote active fatherhood, particularly from countries such as Taiwan, which have taken significant steps to socialise the public, including young children, to accept and adopt more egalitarian gender roles.


References:

1. Jayakody, R. & Pham, T. T. P. (2010). Change and continuity in fathers’ roles in Vietnamese families: the impacts of social changes. Proceedings from International Conference on Fatherhood in the 21st Century Asia: Research, Interventions, and Policies, Singapore.

2. Rajalakshmi, S. & Sandhu, G. (2010). Proactive role of fathers in children’s lives: the Indian scenario. Proceedings from International Conference on Fatherhood in the 21st Century Asia: Research, Interventions, and Policies, Singapore.

3. Ho, H.Z., Ko, C., Chen, W. & Phillips, J. (2010). Father involvement in the lives of young children in Taiwan. Proceedings from International Conference on Fatherhood in the 21st Century Asia: Research, Interventions, and Policies, Singapore.

4. Juhari, R., Yaacob, S., & Talib, M. (2010). Contributions of self, contextual and child characteristics on father involvement among Muslims in Malaysia. Proceedings from International Conference on Fatherhood in the 21st Century Asia: Research, Interventions, and Policies, Singapore.


About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.


First published on 28-04-2011.

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