January 6, 2020

Will social structures evolve to support the changing role of men?

Matt Carmichael // WTF GENDER

Manhood takes many forms and encompasses many labels. The Replacements made a critical distinction about one such label, singing “He might be a father, but he sure ain’t a dad.” Today, 72% of moms are employed, and the number of households where moms are the primary, sole or equal earner has quadrupled since 1960 to four in ten. Consequently, dads are spending considerably more time being dads than they used to. (And no, it’s still not equal by any stretch, but we’re focusing on dads here.)

It’s coming at a cost, according to research Ipsos conducted for the Movember Foundation, a nonprofit focused on men’s health issues. Half of men reported that there is more pressure now to be a good dad than in the past. That’s leading to high levels of stress, with almost one in five fathers surveyed saying that they felt isolated when they first became a father.

Part of the problem is that men and fathers aren’t prioritizing friendships and don’t recognize the proven mental and physical health benefits of having close friends. Fewer than one in four lists “having close friends” as one of the top three important aspects of their lives.

Broadly, parenthood takes a significant amount of time, energy and resources. That’s true for moms and dads. But why might fatherhood be particularly isolating? In a recent column for the Chicago Tribune, Heidi Stevens succinctly summed up one potential cause. “When women become parents, our friendships are woven into our parenting and our parenting is woven into our friendships,” she wrote. “Male friendships, on the other hand, have historically been built around time away from the kids.”

As we’ve been discussing in this issue, media representation plays a (perhaps oversized) part in how we understand gender issues. Dads are starting to see better part models in the more nurturing, involved and empathetic characters on shows like “Modern Family” and the less bumbling characters in advertising. Men’s rooms are getting changing tables. Dads are getting paternity leave.

But most of that is in the context of the household itself. Maybe we need to see more depiction of dads out with other dads – and their kids. Maybe we need to see more brands showing how their products and services can support those relationships.

Because if dads can be more comfortable with each other, and with their roles, they’ll provide better and perhaps more understanding examples for their kids, and other kids.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go pick up my kids from school.

Matt Carmichael

Matt Carmichael
Editor, What the Future and VP, Editorial Strategy
Ipsos North America
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What the Future is a quarterly deep dive into different aspects of consumer and social thought and behavior. Each edition features exclusive new data from world-leading research firm Ipsos. WTF explores how a single industry or behavior fits into the broader culture now and in the coming decades. Read Previous WTF Issues »


There is enough attention given to the well-being of first-time fathers.

Strongly agree Somewhat agree Neither agree nor disagree Somewhat disagree Strongly disagree Don't know / Refused
Don't know / Refused 3% Strongly disagree 8% Somewhat disagree 21% Neither agree nor disagree 30% Somewhat agree 27% Strongly agree 11%

(Source: Among 381 fathers in the U.S. surveyed between May 9 and 15, 2019 by Ipsos on behalf of the Movember Foundation.)

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, Editor, What the Future |

Matt Carmichael is the editor of What the Future and VP of Editorial Strategy for Ipsos North America.



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