Stay-at-home fathering and the promotion of active fathering in Singapore

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Research report: Arivalagan, Yvonne (2020). “Stay-at-home” fathers and their families: What lessons for policymakers? Institute of Policy Studies, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

Following a study of stay-at-home fathers in Singapore by the Institute of Policy Studies – focusing on their roles and responsibilities as well as their perceptions of fatherhood, parenthood, and household work – the proposals for more paternity leave and additional measures to reduce the stigma of stay-at-home fathering appear anchored by a broader desire to get more Singaporean fathers more actively involved in the home. And while these exceptional cases of 21 fathers and nine of their spouses are a good starting point, future research should include more diverse family types and demographics and the perspectives of different family members.

The three main thematic insights of the study include:

  1. Parenting (fathering) roles are more likely to be determined by economic factors and parenting ideologies than gender ideologies. Most significantly, these stay-at-home fathers stayed at home because of necessity, such as the difficulty of finding employment or the spouse having a higher income. Respondents also believe that parents should be the main caregiver of children.
  2. Over time, stay-at-home fathers develop skills and strategies as parents. Arivalagan further explored the ideals of masculinity and the stigma experienced by these fathers, and when taken together these findings speak to the need for familial, cultural, and societal norms to shift. The notion that parenting can be learnt and is not necessarily tied to one’s gender deserves more attention too.
  3. The previous observation therefore links to the final theme about the “powerful cultural scripts” which prevent stay-at-home fathers and their breadwinning partners from embracing their respective roles.

An obvious limitation of the report, for a start, is the lack of a methodology section detailing important information such as the sampling and coding methods (or data collection and analysis), the design and examples of the (semi-structured) interview questions, and socio-economic or demographic data of the respondents. In fact, such information was only provided, in brief, in the ST news report:

“These fathers, interviewed in 2018, were mostly from the middle- to upper-middle classes, and were mainly Chinese and Caucasians, aged between 29 and 67. They had spent an average of six years as a stay-at-home father.”

Consequently, there are important questions about dissimilar family types and demographics. For instance: What are the experiences of stay-at-home fathers in lower-income families or in families of other races or ethnicities (or was it a sampling or selection issue, in terms of not being able to recruit these families)? In addition, what are the experiences of the partners and the children in these households where the father stays at home? Do the “powerful cultural scripts” feature in the lives of their children, especially when they interact with their peers in school? And what are the familial interactions within the family, even when other family or non-family individuals are involved?

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