Working Fathers Introduction

Welcome to Working Fathers, a podcast about dads, families and work. We look at the many different roles fathers play in contemporary Australian families and society and how policy can better recognise, value and support. Listen to the podcast via the links to each episode found below, or on your preferred podcast provider.

The creators of the podcast

Professor Cordelia Fine – Project lead and Creator
University of Melbourne

Cordelia Fine works in the area of scientific and popular biological explanations of behavioural sex differences, the effects of gender-related attitudes and biases on judgements and decision-making, and debates about workplace gender equality.

Associate Professor Dan Halliday Host and Creator
University of Melbourne

Daniel works mainly on topics in political philosophy, particularly on markets and other aspects of economic justice.


Dr Melissa Wheeler Creator
Swinburne University of Technology

Melissa has a PhD in social psychology which explored how people persuade others to agree with their moral beliefs. She has an ongoing interest in the field of moral psychology and applied ethics, including workplace flexibility, gender roles in work and care, ethical climates, and responsible leadership.

Dr Annabelle Baldwin Creator

Dr Annabelle Baldwin is a specialist in twentieth-century European and global history, with a particular interest in Holocaust studies, focusing on Jewish women’s and girls’ experience of sexual violence during the Holocaust.


The podcast was funded by the Faculty of Arts and the School of Historical & Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. We are also very grateful for the support of our external partners, the Women’s Leadership Institute of Australia and the Trawalla Foundation.


Episode 1: Where’s Dad?

Our starting point is the large gender gap in time spent directly caring for children in economically developed and relatively gender egalitarian societies like Australia. Things aren’t what they were 50 years ago. Mothers, particularly of younger children, are more likely to do paid work than they were in the past. But it’s still quite rare for men to be the primary carer of their children. Mothers, on average, still do the bulk of the childcare and the domestic labour, while fathers still tend towards the breadwinner role. In this episode, we go beyond this familiar fact to look at how this still traditional division of labour shakes out in terms of rewards, responsibilities and risks: from the mental load of keeping a family running, unappealing household chores and the more joyful moments of parenting, to the economic impacts for mothers.

Our guests in this episode are Dr Carla Pascoe Leahy, University of Melbourne; Professor Leah Ruppanner, University of Melbourne; and Professor Miranda Stewart, Melbourne Law School.


Episode 2: What Gave Rise to the Breadwinner?

The family as an institution has changed significantly across time and place. How people divide labour and caregiving within and beyond the family unit has been in flux throughout human history. The current model of fatherhood in many Western nations, including Australia, is a modified version of what we usually call the breadwinner model, where one parent is designated the primary earner and the other the primary carer. But where did this model of the family come from? And why is it so entrenched? Despite rapid gains in social and gender equality throughout the 20th, and into the 21st centuries, this family model has stuck around. In this episode, we discover what we can learn from the history of fatherhood. How did we get to where we are today? And where exactly is that? We’ll dive into the recipe of complex sociological, cultural, political, and economic forces shaping fatherhood, and the historical notion of the male breadwinner and consider where policy might fit in.

Our guests in this episode are: Dr Kate Murphy, Monash University; Dr Carla Pascoe Leahy, University of Melbourne; and Associate Professor Lee Gettler, University of Notre Dame.


Episode 3: Are Fathers Free?

How much freedom do fathers have? Do fathers have real choices when it comes to decisions about how to divide their time between paid work and caring for the kids at home? And where do government and organisational policy fit in? One of the major societal changes of the past century has been the rise of female employment, particularly in the peak child rearing years. But over the same period, there has been much less change in men’s employment rates. Why hasn’t the rise in women’s employment been accompanied by a drop in men’s employment? And why is part time work still so much less common among men than it is among women? One answer is that the patterns we’re seeing here are just the product of free choices. But choices are never made in a vacuum, and freedom of choice comes in degrees. In this episode, we look at the laws, policies, and organisational practices that constrain dads’ choices.

Our guests in this episode are: Professor Miranda Stewart, University of Melbourne; and Professor Heejung Chung, University of Kent.


Episode 4: Give Dads a Break.

In this episode, we look at more of the pressures that prevent fathers from being active and equal caregivers in their children’s lives. In particular, we look at the gender norms that dictate what it means to be a good man, and the social norms that dictate what it means to be a good worker – and ask what this means for fathers’ capacity to be more active caregivers in their children’s lives. We also look at the experiences of men who defy these norms, the policies that can help shift them, as well as some of the potential benefits of change for dads, partners and families.

Our guests in this episode are Dr Ashlee Borgkvist, University of South Australia; Matt Tyler, The Men’s Project, Jesuit Social Services; and Associate Professor Linda Barclay, Monash University.


Episode 5: What’s Next?

What’s next for Australian fathers? In this episode, we look at the future of fatherhood. So far, one thing all of our guests seem to agree on is that, for many families, current arrangements aren’t working as well as they could. Expectations on men as fathers are expanding, but without much of a lessening of demands from employers. External factors, like climate change, will see an escalation of disasters that will put additional pressures on families. As people have children later, these demographic shifts mean that families will be less likely to be able to depend on grandparents to help out. In short, policies, practices and norms need to continue to evolve to meet the needs of working dads and their families, and move us towards more equal opportunities to share care, access more flexible work, and achieve greater family wellbeing.

Our guests in this episode are: Professor Leah Ruppanner, University of Melbourne; Dr Carla Pascoe Leahy, University of Melbourne; and Associate Professor Lee Gettler, University of Notre Dame.