ITHACA, N.Y. -- Almost globally, men are thought to be stumbling blocks to planned parenthood efforts. A Cornell University researcher, however, has found that men around the world want to be involved but are given little chance to participate in family planning issues.
"In my research in Latin America, I found an extraordinarily sharp division of gender roles, sharp enough so that husbands and wives failed to communicate on mundane matters, but especially on matters of sex and reproduction," said J. Mayone Stycos, Cornell professor of rural sociology. "This often resulted in a failure to pool commonly held aspirations and information that could have expedited small-family goals."
Stycos did a literature search of the past 40 years of research on population and attitudinal studies on family planning. He presented his findings in, "Men, Couples, and Family Planning: A Retrospective Look," at the annual convention of the American Public Health Association in New York City on Nov. 19. Among the research Stycos examined were the World Fertility Study (WFS) and the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS).
Efforts at global family planning -- with the aim to curb the world's growing population -- have almost exclusively targeted women and have virtually cut men out of the process, Stycos found. Efforts should be made to emphasize men's shared responsibility in bringing children into the world and those responsibilities for family must be instilled in the males at young ages, he said.
Stycos cited "A Critique of the Traditional Planned Parenthood Approach in Developing Areas," a paper he published in 1962. "I argued that family planning ideology was guilty of several biases that were impeding the movement's progress," Stycos said. He explained researchers and educators should take advantage of the fact that men and women's reproductive goals are very similar and include males in clinics and educational programs.
In the United States, 78 percent of men sampled in a national survey said that contraception was a joint decision, and 87 percent of men strongly agreed that men have the same responsibility as women for the children they father. [Grady, W.R., et al., "Men's Perceptions of Their Roles and Responsibilities Regarding Sex, Contraception and Child Rearing," Family Planning Perspectives, 28(5): 221 (1996).]
But on a global scale, little has changed. In the early 1970s, there were three times as many research reports dealing with women as there were dealing with men. Today, the discrepancy is roughly the same, Stycos found.
While family planning is a controversial topic in many countries, Stycos believes that there needs to be attitudinal changes about men -- starting at the top -- in order to get the governments of developing countries to broaden the gender focus of family planning programs.