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‘Involved’ Fathers, ‘Ideal’ Workers? Fathers’ Work–Family Experiences in the United States

Fathers, Childcare and Work: Cultures, Practices and Policies

ISBN: 978-1-78743-042-6, eISBN: 978-1-78743-041-9

Publication date: 1 June 2018


The purpose of this chapter is to analyse the interplay between fathers’ perceptions of the workplace and how they enact fatherhood. Data were derived from qualitative in-depth interviews with seven elite, professional fathers employed at multinational manufacturing corporations in Detroit, Michigan. Fathers are highly educated, have a significant income and all but one have wives in the paid labour market. This study shows how the persistence of the ideal worker norm and penalties for using work-family policies (WFP) perpetuate the gendered division of paid and unpaid work. First, fathers who are ideal workers are rewarded; fathers who do not face criticism and obstacles to promotions. Second, management and supervisor’s discretion results in uneven access to WFP, penalizing fathers for asking and preventing most from using them. Third, fathers express desire to be ‘involved’, but their engagement is largely visible fatherhood.

This study extends our theoretical understandings of work, WFP and fatherhood from a distinct departure point – the elite fathers highlighted here have been parenting for at least three years, and live and work in circumstances that seemingly would allow them to disrupt normative expectations of work and family. The United States provides a unique backdrop to examine the navigation of competing work and family demands because reconciliation is largely left to employees and their families. Public and individual company policies are not enough; there must be a corresponding supportive family-friendly culture – supervisor support and penalty-free WFP – to disrupt gendered work and family.



Brumley, K.M. (2018), "‘Involved’ Fathers, ‘Ideal’ Workers? Fathers’ Work–Family Experiences in the United States", Musumeci, R. and Santero, A. (Ed.) Fathers, Childcare and Work: Cultures, Practices and Policies (Contemporary Perspectives in Family Research, Vol. 12), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 209-232.



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