Ideals and norms related to fatherhood in Europe: A comparative perspective from the European Social Survey


  • Teresa Martín-García Institute of Economics, Geography and Demography, Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), Madrid, Spain
  • Marta Seiz Department of Sociology II (Social Structure), UNED, Madrid, Spain.
  • Teresa Castro-Martín Institute of Economics, Geography and Demography, Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), Madrid, Spain, and Fellow 2021-2022 at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.



fatherhood, ideal ages, social norms, family transitions


Objective: This study explores cross-country similarities and differences in individuals' perceptions of the ideal age and pathways to become a father, focusing on five European countries: Germany, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the UK.

Background: Empirical research analyzing family-related social norms and individuals' preferences is still scarce when compared to the abundant literature on family behavior, and especially so when focusing on men rather than women. This study attempts to mitigate this gap in the literature by focusing on ideals and norms related to fatherhood.

Method: Using European Social Survey data from the most recent available round (2018/2019), descriptive and multivariate regression analyses are performed to examine: (a) the ideal age to become a father; and (b) approval of men's decision to never have children, to have a child outside marriage, and to keep working full-time when having small children.

Results: Findings confirm signs of convergence across countries regarding the “normalization” of postponed fatherhood, as well as increased detachment from traditional attitudes. Differences between "forerunner" and "laggard" countries with regard to family-related norms and family change are visibly narrowing. However, the ideal age for fatherhood and the approval of non-traditional life course trajectories also reflect different incentives and possibilities for the establishment of new family models provided by the gender culture and the welfare regime in each country.

Conclusion: Examining social norms regarding male reproductive decisions and the exercise of fatherhood from a comparative perspective is important for understanding men’s choices and the normative social framework potentially constraining them.


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Martín-García, T., Seiz, M., & Castro-Martín, T. (2023). Ideals and norms related to fatherhood in Europe: A comparative perspective from the European Social Survey. Journal of Family Research, 35, 17–36.