Tuesday, August 29, 2006

All News Can't Be Good News

If you've been coming here for any length of time, you know that I believe wholeheartedly that fatherhood has changed in the past two decades, and that today's new fathers are more committed to balance generally and fatherhood specifically than any past post-industrial generation.

So I was a bit shaken when I read some new research from the UK that finds that, after becoming fathers, dads tend to keep the same sort of work patterns as non-dads. Hopeful after reading the headline on the release ("Dads want flexibility, not shorter working hours"), I pulled the complete study. Unfortunately, while the study author, Esther Dermott, clearly thinks that fatherhood is evolving, there's not much evidence that we're all fleeing the traditional grind for part-time or flex-sked gigs. (Though working hours do dip in the first year of a child's life.)

Of course, looking at the limits of the research puts this in some perspective and makes me think that I'm not completely bonkers for continuing to claim that dads have changed. I've made a big deal in the past about Gen X and Gen Y fathers being particularly attuned to dad stuff, and this report doesn't exactly stick a fork in that. Dermott uses two datasets, including one that followed a group of guys born in 1958. I mean no offense to readers who may have been born in 1958 (or before!), but looking at 41-year-old guys (the last data is from earlier this decade) is not the best way to assess current patterns of fatherhood. Show me that new twenty-something dads are pulling 50-plus-hour weeks at the same frequency of their dads, and I'll accept defeat. But I don't think that's the case.

If anything, the study highlights how tough is it to say anything about modern fatherhood. The ground is shifting quickly, and what was true 10 years ago ain't necessarily the case now. Dermott seems to recognize that -- she really wants to say that dads have changed, but she's not working with the right tools. Of course, I don't have the right tools, either. Any idea if anyone is tracking truly new dads?

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