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U.Va. Sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox Studies the Impact of Religion on Fatherhood
His Research Shines A Light On ‘Soft Patriarchs’

June 8, 2004 -- Even though they favor a traditional, patriarchal family structure, Evangelical Protestant men make some of the best husbands and fathers, according to a recent study by W. Bradford Wilcox, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia.

“Theirs is a very soft patriarchy,” Wilcox writes in his new book, “Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands,” recently released in time for Father’s Day.

In his comparative study of American husbands and fathers — which focuses on mainline Protestants, Evangelical Protestants and religiously unaffiliated families — Wilcox asks the question: How does religion influence the family attitudes and practices of married men with children?

To seek the answer, he examines data gathered by two well-regarded, national social surveys, the General Social Survey (1990-98), and the National Survey of Families and Households (1987-88 and 1992-94). His book addresses a neglected field – that of religious influences on social life, according to the University of Chicago Press, which brought out the book as part of its Morality and Society Series, edited by Alan Wolfe.

Wilcox’s findings include:

  • Evangelical Protestant family men who frequently attend church have the highest rates of involvement in one-on-one activities and youth activities of any major religious group in the United States;
  • Churchgoing Evangelical Protestant family men are more likely than any other major religious or secular group to know where their children are at all times;
  • Evangelical Protestant wives whose husbands attend church regularly report the highest levels of happiness with their husbands’ love and affection of any major religious or secular group in the study;
  • Evangelical Protestant wives whose husbands attend church regularly reported the lowest levels of domestic violence of any major religious or secular group studied;
  • Mainline Protestant family men who attend church regularly are also more involved and affectionate with their children than religiously unaffiliated men.

Wilcox believes that, given the effect that organized religion — or its absence — has on family relationships, three models of American fatherhood will dominate the country’s social landscape in the future:

  • Men who don’t attend church regularly, don’t contribute much to the everyday care of their children, and don’t live with their children, whether because of divorce or non-marriage;
  • Men who are married and living with their wives and children who take on increasing levels of household duties. These so-called “new men” will be expressive fathers and help with household chores, but are less committed to their marriages than the third group of fathers. This second group includes men affiliated with the Reform Jewish, liberal Catholic and mainline Protestant traditions;
  • Men who are married and living with their children, but who are neotraditional in their outlook on the family. These men typically display a strong emotional commitment to their children and their wives, but perform little household labor. This group of “soft patriarchs” includes men affiliated with traditional Catholicism, the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons), Evangelical Protestantism and Orthodox Judaism.

“ These soft patriarchs … will abide by an absolutist vision of the family that they believe to be divinely ordained and that attempts to articulate universal moral principles that govern family life in all times and places,” Wilcox writes. “[They] will be ever in search of new strategies in their effort to defend traditional ends. Their continuing ‘battle against modernity’ in the service of ‘the truth and authority of an ancient faith’ will undoubtedly look increasingly quixotic to many as the twenty-first century proceeds, but as far as they are concerned, ‘the future is in God’s hands.’”

This scholarly book should be of interest to experts in the fields of marriage and family, gender, religion and culture, as well as to readers affiliated with mainline and Evangelical Protestant denominations. It was originally written as a doctoral dissertation in sociology at Princeton University.

Contacts: Charlotte Crystal, (434) 924-6858 or Harriett Green, (773) 702-4217

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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