Many children grow up seeing their fathers or other men dominate household decision-making
Many men and women in IMAGES locations grew up witnessing unequal power in decision-making between men and women. IMAGES surveys asked respondents to reflect on their childhood homes and to share who in their childhood had the final say on the following decisions: spending on food and clothing, large investments (house, car, and large appliances), children’s education, whether your partner/you may work outside the home, and how you spend your free time. Detailed information on all of the questions asked in each country can be found in country reports here. The present analysis explores decision-making on large investments and children’s education. The frequency with which respondents recall a highly unequal dynamic in their childhood homes is concerning worldwide, particularly in the Arab States, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa, where more than half of men in most countries recall male-only decision-making on large investments and education. Men’s reports of decision-making about education follow the same general pattern as for large investments, though the pattern is slightly less pronounced.
Men's Recollections of Decision-Making in Their Childhood Homes
Proportion of male respondents who say men were the sole decision-makers in their childhood home regarding large investments and children's education. The differences are statistically significant at the p < .05 level for every country shown.
The data from women on male-dominated decision-making in their childhood homes follow a pattern that is similar to men’s overall, with close to or more than half of all women reporting male domination in large investments in the Arab States, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. Clear regional patterns can be seen. The percentages are especially high (near or above 70 percent) in Morocco and Nigeria. Male domination in these decisions is somewhat lower in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and in Latin America and the Caribbean. Women report that in some settings (Morocco, Palestine, Lebanon, and Nigeria), decisions about education in their childhood homes were considerably less male-dominated than decisions about large investments. The global average shows that across all of the countries with significant results, decisions about children’s education were generally more likely to be made jointly by men and women than decisions about large investments.
The key finding is that much of the current generation of adults across the world is to their fathers – or other men in the household – dominating the important decisions of their lives. From a developmental perspective, memories of household domination by men can often normalize – for boys and girls, women and men, and all individuals – the idea that men’s dominance and prominence are normal, accepted, and the way “things should be.” Women’s economic empowerment, full labor force participation, and overall agency will continue to be constrained as long as this is the case.
Women's Recollections of Decision-Making in Their Childhood Homes
Proportion of female respondents who said men were the sole decision-makers in their childhood home regarding large investments and children's education.
Care leads to care: Men whose fathers were involved in caregiving are more involved themselves.
Recalling their childhood homes, many respondents tell of their fathers playing a limited or nonexistent role in the routine care work of cleaning the house, preparing food, and washing clothes. In nine available countries, a majority of male respondents recall their father never doing any of this work; in several others, the majority say their father did one or two at most. East Asia and the Pacific stands out for its higher involvement rates among fathers, as reported by their adult sons. Sixty-eight percent of men in China, 67 percent in Papua New Guinea, and 62 percent in Vietnam share that their fathers were regularly involved in all three of these tasks. At the other end of the spectrum, the Arab States is the region that most consistently features the lowest reported rates of participation in care work, though countries from other regions also have very low participation rates: 71 percent of men in Egypt, 64 percent in Pakistan, 63 percent in Rwanda and Morocco, and 58 percent in Bangladesh report their fathers participated in none of these tasks. South Asia shows tremendous variability, where deeply involved fathers were essentially nonexistent in the Afghanistan sample, yet nearly 80 percent of respondents in Sri Lanka witnessed their fathers perform two or more tasks.
Tracking High and Low Participation Among Fathers
Proportion of male respondents who recall their father doing the following tasks regularly in their childhood home: cleaning the house, preparing food, and washing clothes. The differences are statistically significant at the p < .05 level for every country shown.
These rates matter on their own and also because of how influential they can be for future generations of sons who witness these patterns. The slight generational trend in the figure affirms that even as women’s participation in the paid workforce has increased in recent decades, men’s increases in caregiving contributions remain limited. Men over the age of 50, recalling childhoods in the 1970s or earlier, report the lowest involvement by their fathers in care work. Respondents in the youngest age group, who were children in the 1990s and early 2000s in most cases, report their fathers were significantly more involved. Younger men (aged 18 to 34) report having witnessed their fathers performing an average of 1.56 tasks of the three listed (cleaning the house, preparing food, and washing clothes), while the oldest men (aged 50 to 59) report having witnessed their fathers engaged in an average of 1.14. Women paint a less rosy picture of their fathers’ involvement in these tasks, with women in all age groups from 25 up reporting their fathers performed an average lower than even one caregiving task. The slight increase in women’s estimations of their fathers’ participation over time shown in the figure, however, suggests that fathers may be playing a slightly larger role in the present day than decades ago, but the rates in most places remain very low.
Changes in Fathers' Participation Over Time
Average number of domestic tasks (zero to three) done by respondent's father, divided by age groups. The relationship between age group and number of tasks done by the father is statistically significant at the p < .05 level when, as presented in the figure.