This article illustrates that the roles of fathers are highly variable and context-dependent. Research data from five diverse societies (Brazil, Bangladesh, Russia, Japan, and Australia) show that fathers, fathering, and fatherhood differ within societies according to eight types of contextual influence. Examples are provided of each contextual factor: (1) geographical location (e.g., dispersion of fathers across huge land masses in Russia and Australia; impact of dense populations in Japan and Bangladesh); (2) long-term historical legacies (centuries of patriarchy in Brazil) and short-term historical events (fall of communism in Russia); (3) family characteristics (joint, extended families of Bangladesh; small Japanese families); (4) economic factors (high standards of living in Australia and Japan); (5) work-related conditions (long work hours in Australia; level of encouragement for paternal work leave); (6) societal norms and values (social expectations for Russian fathers to be disengaged and uninvolved); (7) ethnic groupings (homogeneity of Japanese; impact of Islam on Bengali fathers); and (8) patterns of immigration and emigration (emigration from Bangladesh; immigration to Brazil).
It is possible to identify general differences in fathers between the five societies, but fathering diversity within societies make it clear that over-generalizations about fathering anywhere are dangerous. Although the quantity and quality of fathering research is improving in all five of the societies, we still need to know more about how fathering behavior varies within and between societies, and the mechanisms (e.g., through socialization, economic contexts, etc.) by which cultures influence fathers and vice versa. Opportunities abound for future psychological research on fathers and families in cultural context.
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