Study: The new meaning of fatherhood – Kidscreen

Presented today at Kidscreen Summit in Miami, the latest global research from Viacom Insights reveals that modern dads are rejecting traditional gender roles.


A new study from Viacom’s global consumer insights division that examines the lives of fathers around the world has found that today’s dads are carving out a fresh identity for themselves by rejecting stereotypical parenting roles and traditional definitions of family, but societal support for this new concept of fatherhood is lacking.

Modern Dads: Fatherhood in a Changing World, officially presented by Viacom’s global consumer insights SVP Christian Kurz at Kidscreen Summit in Miami today, surveyed 9,800 dads across 22 countries—Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Thailand, the UK, and the US—and compared the online results to research from 10 years ago (not included in the sample size).

Viacom Insights also conducted filmed interviews with 21 dads in eight markets (the UK, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, Australia, Sweden, Colombia, and Thailand), and held dinner discussions and focus groups in additional countries.

The biggest takeaway from the research, according to Kurz, is that 80% of dads want to be better fathers to their kids than their own dads were to them. Today’s dads want to be seen as supportive and emotionally involved figures for their children, not as detached rule enforcers.

The research found that today’s fathers are encouraging high levels of communication and addressing sensitive topics head-on with their kids. Men are also paying more attention to their physical and mental well-being after becoming parents. Compared with men without children, dads are 42% more likely to have regular check-ups, 18% more likely to take supplements, 14% more likely to make efforts to manage their stress levels, and 9% more likely to eat healthily.

Despite the changes for modern dads, 50% of fathers in the US, for example, wish they had more guidance on how to be a parent and more opportunities to learn from other parents, a desire shared by many dads globally. Dads today turn to their inner circle of family and friends for support, whereas societal support for modern dads—particularly in the workplace—is lacking. “The same support systems that are available for moms just don’t exist for dads, meaning they’re left talking to their friends and those who are closest to them who face similar obstacles. Though we’re starting to see more online support groups, it’s quite pocketed,” says Kurz.

“There’s also the complication that men, traditionally or historically, aren’t supposed to talk about their feelings, which isn’t true anymore, but speaks to the broader questions we’re facing around masculinity and what it means to be a man, or a boy, today,” he adds. “This is a real issue for dads because they want to be good role models for their kids, and this is where a lot of the advice and support groups are falling short.”

Encouragingly, Kurz notes that organizations are increasingly looking at how men and women can be represented in more realistic ways than they used to be.

“In the UK, ad watchdog Advertising Standards Authority will enforce a new code from this June banning British companies from making promotions that depict men and women in gender-stereotypical roles. It means there are real changes taking place that could help relieve moms and dads alike of the weight of old stereotypes,” he says.

According to Viacom’s Modern Dads research, the number one response from surveyed fathers when asked about their primary household role was playing with their children, followed by watching TV with their kids. Both activities trumped traditional responsibilities like buying essentials for the family and financial support. According to the study, 91% of dads said having their kids around makes them laugh daily and nearly 90% want their children to think of them as a friend. “Dad is primarily the fun parent, whereas mom still does a lot more when it comes to raising the kids. However, in households where moms work full-time, dads are taking over more of the morning routine,” says Kurz.

Compared with households in which moms stay home or work part-time, Viacom found that dads with full-time working partners are contributing 10% more to getting their children up and ready in the morning, including feeding, changing and bathing, and 16% more in transporting their kids to school or child care. 

Modern Dads found that men increasingly don’t want to be tied to stereotypical roles—they resent being seen as secondary caregivers or as solely responsible for family finances. Despite the ongoing disparity in household roles, 81% of men surveyed think dads should be as hands-on as moms when it comes to bringing up their children.

In further examining how attitudes about gender are loosening, the study revealed that dads are passing down a more relaxed approach to gender to their kids. Two-thirds of surveyed fathers said they don’t mind their sons playing with “girls” toys, and more than three-quarters are fine with their daughters playing with “boys” toys. The countries where dads are most open to this approach are The Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, Germany and Australia, while countries like the Philippines, Brazil, Russia and the US are less open. “I’m happy the numbers are high for dads taking this approach, but it’s still disappointing that there is a clear difference being made between daughters and sons,” says Kurz.

“Looking at the broader geographic variation, while attitudes are shifting, it’s interesting that the US is not the forerunner in changing these attitudes despite things that have helped like Target removing gender-based labelling from its toy aisles.”

Other notable research from the study found that nearly half (44%) of dads strongly agree that being a good father is the single most important thing in their lives. And despite the fact that today’s dads have more time with their kids than dads did 10 years ago, 45% of fathers feel frustrated about not being able to see their kids as much as they’d like in their efforts to balance work and family. In the US, dads spend an average of three hours more per day with their kids on weekdays and two hours more on weekends than a decade ago.

More information about Modern Dads: Fatherhood in a Changing World and Viacom Insights can be found here.