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Kate and William: Poised to Influence Parents Worldwide

New study of fame says the royal couple will influence parenting for decades.

Great Britain's royal baby has a title but no birthday yet. Due any moment, the third-in-line to the throne already has thrust Prince William and Kate Middleton's marriage philosophy and parenting practices into the limelight, where they will remain for nearly two decades.

William and Kate promise a more modern style of marriage and family than their royal predecessors. Though the Prince is professionally employed 600 miles away in Wales as a search-and-rescue pilot in the Royal Air Force, he vowed to "move heaven and earth" to be at Kate's side when she gives birth at St. Mary's Hospital in London--the same place Princess Diana gave birth to him in 1982. A high-speed helicopter awaits in a nearby field to swoop William to England, and a colleague stands ready to fill his work shifts. William will receive two weeks paid paternity leave, as do all new British dads (moms are guaranteed 52 weeks of maternity leave, 39 of them paid). Like most soon-to-be fathers, the prince worked extra long hours ahead of the baby's arrival and fatherhood's onset.

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Prince William seems prepared to "dive in" to fatherhood, offering that he expects to be very hands on from day one, including losing sleep and changing diapers in the middle of the night. "William regards Kate as his equal partner," and aspires to a warm, relaxed parenting style he inherited from Diana. The new parents may in fact succeed in role-modeling a royal version of equally-shared parenting. Since they have control of their calendars and as much household help as they need, neither will be burdened with a second shift of cooking and cleaning after work, whether that work consists of royal public appearances or a job like piloting.

But there will be no anonymity as they begin their run of parenting. Even before the baby's birth, Kate and William's caregiving choices have been scrutinized. A kerfuffle arose last week about whether Kate would breastfeed the baby, particularly in public. British television host, Beverley Turner, made a vivid call for women in positions of high power to breastfeed, asking the Duchess of Cambridge "to get her Royal orbs out to feed our future monarch. And to be applauded--not seethed at--for doing so." Turner's opinion met both applause and criticism, with proponents arguing that millions of mothers world-wide would be empowered to breastfeed (and Britain's falling rate would be reversed), perhaps even on-demand and in-public, by Kate's example and that infants benefit tremendously. Opponents reminded that a family's baby-feeding choices are private and too much scrutiny creates unfair pressure.

Breastfeeding opinions are only the beginning, however. Soon enough William and Kate's parenting of their toddler (and any other children born next), pre-teen, teenager, and young adult will be followed and critiqued. This is not only because the Royals are popular and famous, but also because they are "truly famous." According to a new article published in American Sociological Review, scholars had thought fame was ephemeral, but new research finds that truly famous people stay famous for decades, whether they are in sports, entertainment, journalism, or other fields--even if they don't continue producing fame-worthy accomplishments.

The research, conducted by Arnout van de Rijt, Eran Shor, Charles Ward, and Steven Skiena, studies names mentioned in 2,200 English-language media sources, such as newspapers, journals, and websites, from 1988 to 2009. It shows that temporary celebrity--the "fifteen minutes of fame" type--is highly unusual and exists primarily in the bottom tiers of the fame hierarchy, such as when a whistle blower makes news or a pilot successfully lands a plane on a river. The scholars argue hat events, organizational processes, and career structures perpetuate a "famous get more famous" reality. The fame of people like William and Kate, in other words, grows with events like their baby's birth, the media coverage surrounding it, and commemorative practices already arising. Van de Rijt and his colleagues' theory predicts that the attention on the Duke, Duchess, and Prince/ss of Cambridge will be sustained for decades.

Of course, part of the reason Kate, William, and their baby's fame will continue to grow is the unique character of their fame, as royals. They will serve in their roles for the rest of their lives, compounding the "truly famous people stay famous" effect. That intensifies the already bright spotlight on them and their decisions about family and childrearing. This modern royal couple is poised to influence parenting like none before it.

Nanette Fondas. D.B.A., M.Phil, is co-author of The Custom-Fit Workplace: Choose When, Where, and How to Work and Boost Your Bottom Line. more...

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