Thursday 24 September 2015

Measuring Paternal Involvement in Childcare and Housework

Helen Norman and Mark Elliot, University of Manchester

How to measure the involvement of fathers in childcare is a matter of wide debate (e.g. Dermott 2008, 2003; Williams 2008; Mikelson 2008; Sanderson and Sanders-Thompson 2002; Cabrera et al 2000; McBride and Mills 1993; Lamb 1986). This is in contrast to the concept of maternal involvement, which is universalised and taken for granted (Miller 2010; 2011).

Paternal involvement is challenging to define and measure in quantitative research because it is a subjective and manifests itself in varied ways (e.g. see Dermott 2008; Pleck 2010; Palkovitz 1997). Yet a precise measurement of the term would prove useful for creating a benchmark for further research and conceptual elaboration as well as a reliable means for assessing the factors associated with being an ‘involved father’. Simplifying a complex term into a quantitative measure allows us to capture and summarise a diverse set of practices that reaches out to all types of fathers. This is particularly useful for exploring paternal involvement across a large cohort of fathers in order to help inform UK policy debates on both fathers' and mothers' work-family reconciliation, which has been a key concern for all UK Governments since the 1990’s.

In our paper, published in Sociological Research Online, we derive two measures of paternal involvement using household data from the UK's Millennium Cohort Study. These measures are based on two dimensions of paternal involvement coined by Michael Lamb in 1986: ‘engagement’ and ‘responsibility’. Engagement represents the one-to-one interaction time with the child such as feeding the child, helping the child with their homework and playing. Responsibility is defined as knowing in detail what childcare needed and ensuring it is provided by anticipating, planning and arranging provision. For example, knowing when the child needs to go to the doctor, making the appointment and ensuring the child gets to it is responsibility – going with the child to the doctors and talking to them about it is engagement.  Another way in which a father might evidence responsibility is through maintaining a clean and safe standard of living for the child i.e. housework. This also relieves the other parent (i.e. the mother) of these tasks so that she can concentrate on other activities such as looking after the child.

In order to derive our two measures, we use variables from the MCS that measure the fathers' accounts of their childcare practices when children are very young and the mothers' reports on fathers' contributions to housework. This use of a combination of mothers' and fathers' reports for different variables is primarily driven by the structure of the MCS questionnaire design but doing this also allows us to gain a balanced perspective of fathers' involvement. We use three different factor analytic techniques to derive our measures or ‘factors’. Factor analysis works by reducing a large number of variables to a smaller number of factors that can be used in subsequent analyses. Our factor analyses confirmed the existence of ‘engagement’ and ‘responsibility’ factors in the data.

We then explored the relationship between socio-demographic, attitudinal and employment variables, and paternal engagement and responsibility. Our results show that fathers are more likely to be engaged and responsible when they work shorter hours or have a partner who works longer hours. Interestingly, mothers' employment hours had a higher correlation with paternal engagement and responsibility than fathers' own employment hours. Fathers were also more engaged when they had a higher level of education and more egalitarian gender role attitudes. Our analysis also reveals variations in paternal involvement according to the father's ethnicity. For example, Black/Black British fathers are most likely to show most evidence of responsibility (through housework), and are also most likely to be engaged in childcare. Engagement and responsibility is lowest for fathers with a Pakistani and Bangladeshi background. The variations in paternal involvement according to ethnicity may be related to cultural differences as shown by Hauari and Hollingsworth (2009) for example, but further research is needed to explore this.

Our results suggest a modest shift in gender relations whereby it is no longer the fathers' but the mothers' employment that primarily shapes how involved a father is with his children. In two-parent households, fathers' labour market roles have historically been given precedence as the 'primary' earner in the couple (also see Warin et al. 1999) so this role is expected to dictate the amount of time available to spend with children. However, our results suggest this is no longer the case with the mother’s employment being even more important than the father’s in shaping how involved he is in childcare and housework.

In future, it would be interesting to explore the association between paternal involvement and paternity and parental leave, as well as different forms of flexible working, for a more recent cohort of fathers in order to assess the impact and success of these different levels of Government support.


Dermott., E. (2008): Intimate Fatherhood: A sociological analysis. Oxon, Routledge.

Dermott, E. (2003): The Intimate Father': Defining paternal involvement. Sociological Research Online, Volume 8, Issue 4.

Hauari H. and Hollingworth, K. (2009). Understanding Fathering: Masculinity, diversity and change. London, Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Lamb, M. (198). The Father's Role: Applied Perspectives. New York, John Wiley & Sons.

Pleck, J. (2010): Paternal involvement: Revised conceptualization and theoretical linkages with child outcomes in M. E. Lamb (Ed.), The role of the father in child development, 5th ed, New York: Wiley.

Palkovitz, R. (1997): Reconstructing involvement: Expanding conceptualizations of men's caring in contemporary families, in Hawkins, A.J., Dollahite, D.C. (eds):'Generative fathering: Beyond deficit perspectives.'Thousand Oaks CA, Sage.

Warin J., Y. Solomon, Lewis, & Langford (1999). Fathers, Work and Family Life. Findings. London, Joseph Rowntree Foundation.


Tuesday 1 September 2015

The Matter of Race

By Nasar Meer, Anoop Nayak and Raksha Pande

Ideas of race seem as salient today as they have ever been, even when we are not directly talking about issues of race. In our new themed section on The Matter of Race, and with contributions from Les Back, Paul Bagguley, Daniel Burdsey, Sarah Burton, Bridget Byrne, Yasmin Hussein and Maggie Tate, we show that because of the slippery fashion in which ideas of race have shifted, transmuted and pluralised, race continues to matter even if it is presented as non-race concern.  What we describe might be understood as a trend in new directions in racial formation.  As Paul Gilroy (2004: 111) accepted over a decade ago, ‘it is impossible to deny that we are living through a profound transformation in the way the idea of ‘race’ is understood and acted upon’. We can see this if we reflect for moment on how debates about the European Union and sovereignty proceed with a firm view of the ‘migrant’ in mind, or how debates about ‘British values’ quickly become entrenched in ethnic hierarchies, or indeed how race is more broadly translated into a mode of ‘resentment as 'a political idea'’ (Ware, 2008). Each of these moves a little beyond Atlantocentric (black-white) notions of race, something that is further illustrated in issue of Islamophobia, antisemitism and anti-Roma discourse.

In our themed section the papers by Daniel Burdsey, and Paul Bagguley and Yasmin Hussein respectively, take up this focus to span issues of representation and sport, and the ways in which ethnicities encounter crisis, diversity and re-composition in post-imperial settings. Burdsey focuses on a case study of England cricketer Moeen Ali in order to explore how race, religion and citizenship are configured in the sporting arena and made sense of in the wider popular press and national media. The implications are that we might ‘think differently about the relationship between sport, politics and the sporting hero, and to reconsider conventional analyses of agency, activism and the use of sport as a platform from which to “speak” in the public sphere’ (Burdsey, themed section).  Bagguley and Hussein meanwhile present an analysis of how people present and negotiate their ethnicity reflexively in relation to nation, citizenship and processes of racialization. Using qualitative interview study (N=140) on how different ethnic groups in West Yorkshire were affected the 7/7 London bombings, they show how these different forms of reflexivity – meta-reflexivity, autonomous reflexivity, communicative reflexivity and fractured reflexivity – become operable amongst different ethnic groups. ‘The re-composition of ethnicised identity claims, and increased reflexivity of identity that this is demanding of people’, they maintain, ‘is seen to be rooted in the political and identity crises generated by Britain’s role in and response to the war on terror’. In their analysis these differentiated expressions are rooted in the specific politics and histories of migration and racialization in relation to dominant discourses of whiteness and the state.

In her contribution meanwhile, Bridget Byrne shows how campaigns around citizenship rights in Britain rely on the production of whiteness in a way that has profound implications for ideas of citizens and non-citizens in Britain, whilst also highlighting the need for a complex range of vocabularies to enable the analysis of different exclusions, not least through intersectional registers.  These different exclusions are, in her account, ‘clustered around these imaginations are notions of integration, language and love which rely on shared and interwoven assumptions about race, gender and religion as well as class and sexuality’ (Byrne, themed section).

These sets of argument may however encounter the charge that we are witnessing a ‘growing culture of racial equivalence’ (Song, 2014: 109).  In this view ‘the concept of racism has suffered from conceptual inflation, resulting in the declining utility of this important concept’ (ibid. 108).  While the recognition of racism’s plural character (and its many possible incarnations) is not unequivocally welcomed, it remains necessary if we are to capture the changing status of race concept over a longue durĂ©e, and grasp ‘what race does and what is done in the name of race’ (Murji and Solomos, 2-15: 276). 

The challenge for the discipline of Sociology is that race presents a paradox that sociologists constantly grapple with. Many tend to portray the term under erasure by presenting it in inverted commas so as to indicate that we are referring to a socially constructed category, based upon a problem­atic idea, instead of something that is self-evidently real in the world.  Even those who do not repeat this practice agree with the thrust of the argument. Perhaps the simplest way to frame this is to say that sociolo­gists tend to be interested in the dynamic and relational properties of race as both a his­torical idea and social category.  Yet is this insufficient?

Virdee (2012: 1144), for example, reminds us that sociol­ogy did not stand outside a racialised modernity that ‘endowed some Europeans with privilege along with the power to occupy the centre of world history, and shape it accord­ing to its own image’.  The objective of this complaint is not to devalue British sociology. On the contrary. it is to make the argument for sociology, for ‘self scrutiny rather than sheer defensiveness’ (McLennan, 2006: 97), to encourage ‘without guarantees’ (Hall, 1986) inquiry on the ways in which race and sociology are already deeply implicated.  Sociologies of race therefore require ‘being atten­tive to the specificities of the current situation but also historical linkages through time’ (Back, personal correspondence with authors). This means going beyond surface level reconstructions, and challenging sociologists to reflect on how their discipline is organ­ised across sociology departments, ‘just as sociologists have criticized other disciplines on these matters’ (Murji, 2007: 853). As Claire Alexander (2011) has put it:

I think that sociology has at best failed to engage these discourses and positions and at worse been complicit with them – within the academy, discussions of ‘race’ have largely fallen from the agenda, and there is very little work that deals with issues of racism explicitly.

Such an activity would include a ‘critique of sociology’s reformism and its neglect of the historical conditions in which sociological ideas about race and racism developed’ (Murji, 2007: 853). Each of these concerns has implications for the kinds of research and teaching programs sociology departments are currently promoting (and indeed ignor­ing).  In our themed section the interventions here from Sarah Burton, and Les Back and Maggie Tate respectively, are instructive. For Burton, a focus on the figure of the ‘white theory boy’, or ‘dead white man’ and his relationship to knowledge production, serves as a means to probe the pedagogy of social theory teaching in the UK.  In one classical social theory module, for example, she observes that of the 43 authors listed as ‘essential’ reading, 37 were white men and 6 were white women, and that ‘no authors of colour appeared on the ‘essential’ reading lists in this course’ (Burton, themed section). The trend in her account is generalizable and falls not only along lines of inclusion and exclusion into the ‘canon’, but in terms of thematic range, in as far as minority sociologists are restricted to what are deemed minority topics, rather than the story of sociology more broadly.  This inevitably reflects how the ‘privileging of white, male, Western, and middle-class identities are ingrained into the very fabric of sociology’s ontological foundations’ (ibid).  The task of rediscovering alternative histories in social theory is therefore ripe and persuasively developed in Back and Tate’s contribution, and which challenges us to consider what an account of race and the intellectual heralds for the wider sociological tradition.  They point in their paper to two overlapping issues. One maintains that the white sociological mainstream has historically ignored the contribution of black sociologists, and the other that the discussion of racism is demoted to a specialist sub-field.  Black sociologists by contrast, they argue, have long been attentive to a white sociology that has set the prevailing agenda. Through a detailed exposition of the writings of W.E.B Du Bois and Stuart Hall in particular, and their respective dialogues with figures like Max Weber and C Wright Mills, Back and Tate make an argument for reconstructing sociology at the levels both of analysis and of form – each of which changes the ways in which sociology can talk about racism. ‘What is at stake’, they maintain, ‘is the possibility of sociological reconstruction that produces an alternative understanding of what sociology can include, starting with augmented modes of telling and writing that attract a broader and more inclusive audience’ (Back and Tate, themed section).  Our themed section on the Matter of Race therefore brings together a set of original argument authored by scholars who try to explore some of the present and future oriented ways in which race matters, and help us to plot out new directions in racial formation.


Alexander C (2011) Sociology’s Jurisdiction: Sociology’s Identities and Futures for the Discipline. British Sociological Association address, 7 April

Gilroy, P. (2004) Between Camps. London: Routledge.

Hall S (1986) The problem of ideology – Marxism without guarantees. Journal of Communication Inquiry 10(2): 28–44.

McLennan G (2006) Sociological Cultural Studies. London: Palgrave.

Murji, K. and Solomos, J. (2o15) Theories of Race and Ethnicity: Contemporary Debates and Perspectives. Cambridge: CUP.

Murji, K. (2007) ‘Sociological engagements: institutional racism and beyond’, Sociology, 41(5), 843-55.

Song, M. (2014) ‘Challenging a culture of racial equivalence’, British Journal of Sociology, 65 (1), 107-125

Virdee S (2012) Forward to the past: Race, the colour scale and Michael Banton. Ethnic and Racial Studies 35(7): 1143–50.

Ware, V. (2008) ‘Towards a Sociology of Resentment: A Debate on Class and Whiteness’, Sociological Research Online, 13 (5), <> doi:10.5153/sro.1802