A study in Uganda has compared the impact of mother-only and father-only infant health education on family health behaviors. The classes involving just mothers had more impact than those involving just fathers.
The research took place in 314 villages in the southwest of Uganda – 105 with women-only classes, 105 with men-only classes and 104 with no classes. A full course consisted of 19 classes over 10 months. The women’s classes were taught by women and the men’s classes were taught by men, but other than that, they covered the same issues. All participants selected had to be married or cohabiting and residing full-time in their village.
Women’s attendance at classes was 76%, higher than that of men at 58%. It was not clear why this was so – less interest on the part of men, or less availability from work, or the fact that men attending classes is less in compliance with social norms than women doing so. The data showed that mothers had more time and more flexibility during the day.
The increase in knowledge on the part of mothers and fathers was the same (e.g. the role of colostrum for a newborn, nutritional needs of pregnant women, and general knowledge such as the importance of boiling water). The classes for mothers, however, led to a greater increase in actual health-promoting behaviors – prenatal care visits, exclusive breastfeeding and the feeding of colostrum to a newborn. This was not because women attended classes more – per session attended, women’s participation had a larger effect on behavior than men’s participation did. The difference appears to be that mothers put their knowledge more into practice than fathers did.
It is not clear why this might be so. It could be that social norms dictate that women should be more active. It could be that they simply do more of the childcare.
The researchers found that both mothers and fathers agreed that fathers overall have more decision-making in families, but this does not seem to lead to them having more influence over child health when provided with the same information as mothers. The researchers did not, however, divide decision-making into different domains so it was not clear if overall higher decision-making in the household for men was associated with higher decision-making for them around child health. (The researchers are currently analysing this issue.)
The researchers discuss the possibility of engaging both mothers and fathers in a family and what the impact of this might be. US research on parenting support by Phil and Carolyn Cowan has shown that couple approaches have more impact than either mother-only and father-only approaches, particularly when coparenting is included in the intervention – a focus on how parents can work together as a caring team and support each other in decision-making. We refer to this research in an earlier article on Family Included considering the relative impacts of mother-only and both-parent breastfeeding support. A couple approach also has the effect of each parent seeing the other being informed, so that one parent educating the other is taken out of the domestic equation.
Nyqvist MB & Jayachandran S (2017), Mothers Care More, But Fathers Decide: Educating Parents, American Economic Review: Papers & Proceedings 2017, 10
Photo: Trust for Africas Orphans. Creative Commons.