01:44am Saturday 19 October 2019

Deadbeat dad perception of poor fathers shattered by visiting researcher

Professor Kathryn Edin.

Professor Kathryn Edin.

United States expert in family studies Professor Kathryn Edin visits The University of Queensland’s Institute for Social Science Research and the School of Social Science to present a seminar on Friday, July 20 at 1pm.

The seminar will focus on the changing nature of fatherhood, based on an eight-year ethnographic study of 110 low-income unmarried fathers in Camden and Philadelphia in the United States and published in the book Doing the Best I Can.

Professor Edin says the revelations on how poor urban men view their roles as fathers turn the notion of fatherhood on its head and could have a major impact on policy.

The study revealed a radical redefinition of family life where the father-child bond is central and the parental tie is peripheral.

“It gives a new understanding of a group of men often dismissed as ‘deadbeat dads’. Although not breadwinners with the shrunken labour market for unskilled and semiskilled males, these men do aspire to be their child’s best friend,” Professor Edin said.

The expectations of traditional parenting are in stark contrast to the realities, she said.
“It is a harsh neighbourhood context, nearly devoid of conventional opportunities with the pervasiveness of death, incarceration or addiction.

“It is the contrast between these deviant, even life threatening, pursuits and the unsullied, simple acts of parenting a child that allows young men to perceive fatherhood as a heroic act,” Professor Edin said.

“These men reject the old package deal of family life where the couple relationship was central and was what bound men to their children, in favour of the new package deal where the father-child bond is central and the mother is on the periphery.”

Fathers in the study felt that spending quality time with their child and boosting the child’s self-esteem were important to withstand possible separation, should incarceration, substance abuse, or other barriers keep men from their children for a time.

“At the same time, these men have retreated from traditional aspect of the father role, they have embraced fatherhood’s softer side, imparting love and maintaining a clear channel of communication,” she said.

She said some men lack the necessary commitment, but most falter due to a deficit of psychological resources.

“Over time fatherhood can simply become too difficult, too damaging to a man’s fragile self-esteem, and can offer too few rewards,” she said.

Professor Edin was invited to Australia by Professor Janeen Baxter an expert in family and life course studies at The School of Social Science and the Institute for Social Science Research at UQ.

“Her research provides fascinating insights into the ways low income, urban, mostly ethnic minorities in America navigate relationships, marriage and parenting,” Professor Baxter said.

“We are pleased to welcome Kathy back to UQ to hear about her latest research. Her seminar this week builds on her earlier research on marriage and mothering among low income women in the US.”

Professor Edin is a sociologist in Public Policy and Management at the Malcolm Wiener Centre for Social Policy, Harvard Kennedy School in the United States.

Media: Professor Janeen Baxter, ISSR and School of Social Sciences (07 3365 2871 or j.baxter@uq.edu.au)

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