First time fathers question their role as providers

November 12, 2001

Men worry about how they can integrate their role as so called providers with their new self image as family focused and 'involved fathers' according to new research. Although the cultural model of the 'new man' has enabled men to avoid the tendency to feel lost and confused on becoming a father, many in this study still worried about how they were going to combine their work and home lives as well as keeping their relationship with their partner secure.

The ESRC-funded research, took place at the School of Health Policy and Practice, University of East Anglia where researchers interviewed 30 first time fathers based in the Norfolk area. The aim of the research was to discover how fathers perceived the transition to fatherhood and to explore the meanings of their accounts of becoming a first time father. Each father was questioned three times and was asked how they perceived and made sense of this extraordinary transition from being a single man to becoming a father.

How cultural images and trends relating to men and fatherhood were significant to them was also discussed as the research was interested in any implications these media images had for the interviewees and for their family's wellbeing, relationships and health.

'A second strand to the research' explains Dr Karen Henwood, author of the report 'was to find out how the fathers' experiences of fatherhood impacted on their own relationships with the baby's mother. We wanted to discover the extent to which the fathers benefited from their involvement with their baby and to what extent that depended upon his feeling secure in his relationship with his partner' she adds.

The decision to undertake the research was due in part to the popularity of the topic of fatherhood and the level of interest shown in men and masculinity in the news media. 'These were intensified with the birth of baby Leo to Tony and Cherie Blair and many simultaneously depicted a sense of joy and continuity in fatherhood and family life while raising questions about the changes which are taking place in contemporary families and the meaning of fatherhood and masculinity' says Dr Henwood.

The research showed that men have a certain amount of difficulty in combining work and home loyalties. 'They found it difficult to reconcile being both provider and supportive partner and home builder' says Dr Henwood. Secondly they worry about their feelings of insecurity in their relationships with other family members. 'We wanted to analyse the possible risks and benefits to men's psychological well being as a consequence of the match between the 'good father' ideal and their desires, along with tensions between this and the way they continue to live and practice as a 'providing' father' explains Dr Henwood.

'Society has shifted during the 20th century and made prominent issues of equity and fairness in the family situation. The research undertaken for this study suggests that these issues are permeating what it means to be a father and how fathers tended to 'negotiate' their family responsibilities and working life. As these issues have consequences for their own and their family's wellbeing we need more research to explore them in more detail' says Dr Henwood.
For further information contact Dr Karen Henwood at the School of Medicine, Health Policy and Practice, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ Tel: 01603-593594, email: Or contact Julie Robertson, Lesley Lilley or Karen Emerton in ESRC External Relations on 01793 413032, 413119 or 413122.


1. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It has a track record of providing high-quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and government. The ESRC invests more than £46 million every year in social science research. At any time, its range of funding schemes may be supporting 2,000 researchers within academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences, thereby nurturing the researchers of tomorrow. The ESRC website address is
2. REGARD is the ESRC's database of research. It provides a key source of information on ESRC social science research awards and all associated publications and products. The website can be found at
3. 'Mind the Gap', the ESRC's 5th National Conference will take place at the QEII Conference Centre in London on Wednesday 15 November. The role of social science in policymaking, the democratic deficit, direct action and political parties; the provision of services; the changing role of trade unions and personnel departments will be under the spotlight. Key speakers include broadcasters Jon Snow and Jonathan Freedland, Doug Parr (Greenpeace), Stephen Thornton (NHS Confederation), Tim Martin (Rail Regulator), Professor Julian Le Grand, Professor Betsy Stanko, and Professor John Ermisch. For further information contact David Ridley, External Relations, ESRC. Telephone 01793 413118.

Economic & Social Research Council

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