like father, like son

Study Finds That Dads “Pass On” Ideas Of Masculinity To Their Sons

Researchers say sons mirror their dad’s thoughts on winning, dominance over others, and men's power over women.

Originally Published: 
A father and a son cuddle together. A new study has found that sons often copy their father's approa...
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When it comes to masculinity, there is no question that different men express their “maleness” in different ways. A large percentage of men tend to lean more towards “traditional” masculine behavior and ideology, such as male superiority or exhibiting “toughness” while deeming sensitivity and expression of feelings as weak.

Other men take a more progressive and healthier stances to masculinity that can make room for things like empathy, not being frightened of adopting “feminine” traits, or just not feeding to that “typical man’s man” mentality.

A new study looked into the hows and whys of men’s masculinity — and some new information may give insight into why men exhibit their masculinity in certain ways. Specifically, it all has to do with dad.

Lead author of the study, Francisco Perales, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, said, “We found that young men whose fathers support more traditional forms of masculinity are more likely to do so themselves. This highlights the critical role fathers play in steering boys towards healthier ideas about masculinity.”

Researchers gathered and analyzed data from 839 pairs of Australian men 15 to 20 years old and their fathers. The men were asked a set of 22 scientifically validated questions about how they felt and behaved in relation to several issues around masculinity.

The men were asked to answer statements using a a 4-point multistep response format — strongly disagree (0) to strongly agree (3) — about issues surrounding masculinity such as significance of work and social status for their sense of identity, their take on showing emotions and being self-reliant, how they felt about risk-taking and violent behaviors, as well as how important they thought it was to “appearing heterosexual.”

Lastly, the men were questioned about their beliefs about winning, dominance over others, and men's power over women.

When father and son took the test together, the answers to the questions gave researchers insight into whether the men participating in the survey adopted more of a traditional or progressive type of masculinity.

After studying the data, on average, young men turned out to be slightly more traditional in how they express their masculinity than their fathers.

On a scale from 0 to 100, with 100 indicating high conformity to “traditional” masculinity and 0 indicating low conformity, the average masculinity score for young men was 44.1, and for their fathers, it was 41.

Young men who scored on the higher side on the traditional masculinity measures tended to have fathers who also scored highly. The strongest father-son associations were found in questions related to the endorsement of violence, importance of appearing heterosexual, and desirability of having multiple sexual partners.

“This indicates these aspects of masculinity are comparatively more likely to be ‘passed on’ from fathers to sons,” researchers wrote.

Turns out there’s more to that phrase, “Like father, like son” than one would think! Though researchers did take other aspects of the young men participants’ life into consideration — such as age, education, sexual orientation, religion, household income and place of residence — the study indicates that a father’s influence on his son can truly form how they identify as men and how they think as they get older.

This new information may also help explain why “traditional” ideals of what masculinity is (aka toxic masculinity) remains so ingrained in today's society. The study could also be a great jumping off point for today’s dads to reexamine their views and help the world’s view of men progress towards a more openminded, less black-and-white thinking about gender roles.

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