We also explored stereotypes about race and found evidence showing the strong role Black men play as fathers and caregivers, and how Black fathers face particularly difficult barriers to engaging in care.
There has long been a false cultural narrative about Black fathers, even though data suggest they are among the most active parents of any racial or ethnic group. What we found reinforces this fact pattern: there are no differences in the contributions of fathers or attitudes toward care based on race or ethnicity.
Similar to their counterparts, Black fathers and caregiving men valued care as much as paid work. They also thought men should share caregiving equally with women, and they said being engaged fathers and caregivers is important to their identity.
Our survey also found that more Black fathers than White fathers believe it’s important for them to feed, dress, and provide care to younger children. We also found that Black fathers and caregiving men often face higher barriers to giving care, due to structural racism, discrimination at work, and the mass incarceration system.
All men, across race and ethnicity, anticipated needing time off work to give care. Three in 10 anticipated needing time off to care for an infant and nearly half of all men expected they would need time to care for an adult—again, the same rate as women.
This is where structural racism is again relevant. As we mentioned before, the United States does not have a national public paid family and medical leave policy. Only a handful of states mandate this benefit and companies voluntarily only cover about 20 percent of the workforce, mostly in white collar and large companies. We found that a similar percentage of Black and White fathers used savings to cover the costs associated with their recent leaves—paid or unpaid. However, twice as many Black fathers (30 percent) as White fathers (15 percent) used savings they had specifically set aside for health needs to fund their time off from work. This reveals real barriers to care that disproportionately burden Black fathers.
Envisioning a New Way
This research was built on exploring the perspectives and experiences of a wide variety of caregivers. The research team was very much steeped in the issues of gender equity, roles, and balance. And yet, many of us were surprised by what we heard from the survey respondents. It just goes to show that this area of social science is a rich one, with lots of stones still left unturned.
The attitudes and norms of breadwinner-homemaker families that were mainstream a generation ago clearly do not apply today, and by extension, many of the assumptions and expectations leaders use to inform decisions and design policies are often built upon a faulty foundation of stereotypes—ones that never really rang true for many in the U.S. in the first place. Having an accurate picture of how gender shapes care and caregiving at home and in the care economy, and understanding the motivations, goals, and barriers experienced by those who are engaged in these roles, are essential building blocks to creating the necessary new policies, workplace practices and cultural norms that will lead to a stronger, healthier and more equitable future.
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