Lived experiences of unmarried young fathers in rural Zambia

Mvula, Aaron Faro (2023). Lived experiences of unmarried young fathers in rural Zambia. PhD thesis The Open University.



Entry of young people into early parenthood is a global phenomenon and continues to be considered an issue for social policy and professional practice internationally. For many young fathers, this transition is rarely planned, and they are often negatively stereotyped as irresponsible, ‘feckless’, uninvolved or ‘deadbeats’, and uncaring fathers. However, a growing body of international qualitative studies has contested such assumptions and found that many young fathers are, in fact, actively involved with their children but face myriad barriers and a raft of challenges in sustaining a parenting role. In Zambia, there is a dearth of critical studies that explore young fathers’ experiences. To address this knowledge gap, this study draws on overlapping bodies of theory: ecological systems theory, transition theory, theories of masculinity and gender roles to explore unmarried young fathers’ lived experiences.
The study employs a hermeneutic phenomenological approach. The empirical data is based on 24 in-depth interviews with young fathers and two focus groups: one with young fathers and the other with older fathers. Participant-driven photo-elicitation methods were used as prompts in in-depth interviews and data were analysed using phenomenological hermeneutic methods and constant comparison analysis.
Findings revealed that young men’s transition to fatherhood was unintentional, and it had both negative and positive consequences for some of them. Young fathers, construed fatherhood primarily in economic provider terms but many of them experienced economic difficulties, albeit these improved as they grew older, and their income improved. In their construction of fatherhood and fathering, they drew on cultural discourses and ideologies of gender, masculinity, and good fatherhood. In addition, the family played an influential role in shaping their fatherhood and paternal behaviour. The findings further revealed that many young fathers were involved with their children but for some, their involvement was interfered with by relational and contextual factors.

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