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Culture And Fatherhood

Cultural variations and constraints that promote or inhibit men's involvement with families are a relatively new focus of research. Father-involvement is often determined by differences in ethnicity, nationality, occupation, religion, and social class. (see Bozett and Hanson 1991; Lamb 1987 for cross-cultural and international perspectives). To illustrate the impact of culture on fathering, two ethnic groups, African-American and Latino, will be examined.

The persistent image of African-American fathers is one of an invisible figure that is absent from or, at best, peripheral to day-to-day family functioning. This view is challenged by research that finds that African-American fathers are neither absent nor uninvolved in family life, but play essential roles within families (Yeung et al. 2001). What distinguishes the emerging scholarship on African-American families is its emphasis on family unity, stability, and adaptability. Middle-class African-American fathers are involved in the rearing of their children; maintain warm, interpersonal relations with them; and their children are well-adjusted and motivated. A national survey found few differences in the level of father-involvement in intact families or the type of involvement (play versus caregiving) between African-American fathers and fathers of other ethnic groups (Yeung et al. 2001). Clearly, many African-American fathers play an integral role in the family contrary to earlier stereotypes.

Hispanic or Latino men have been depicted as visible, dominant, authoritarian figures who rule their families with an iron hand (Mirande 1991). Research calls into question the notion of Latino fathers as cold, distant authority figures. In the traditional view, fathers made all major decisions and were masters of the household. Fathers were thought to avoid family intimacy, maintain respect by instilling fear in their wives and children, and punish their children severely. Research suggests that the power of males may be less absolute than once believed and that Latino families are not as rigidly structured along age and gender lines as had previously been thought. Latino fathers are found to be warm and affectionate with children and to have significant influence on their children's development (Coltrane 1996). Hence, Hispanic fathers do not conform to the stereotypical portrayals commonly found in the literature.

Although these ethnic families and fathers do not deviate much from Anglo-American families and fathers, they still should not be judged by white middle-class standards. Ethnic minority families are diverse, and there is no single monolithic ethnic family structure among or within them. Internal variation within major ethnic groups prohibits generalization.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaPregnancy & ParenthoodFatherhood - Historical Perspectives, Fathers Across The Life Span, Determinants Of Father-involvement, Divorced And Single Fathers