Fathers' Involvement with Their Children in the United Kingdom: Recent Trends and Class Differences

By Henz, Ursula | Demographic Research, January-June 2019 | Go to article overview

Fathers' Involvement with Their Children in the United Kingdom: Recent Trends and Class Differences


Henz, Ursula, Demographic Research


10.4054/DemRes.2019.40.30

1.Introduction

Fathers are no longer simply economic providers for their families. The role of provider through paid work is now, perhaps more than ever, but one component of modern fatherhood. This is partly because mothers are increasingly providing for their families through paid work. But, more than this, there is an expectation that fathers today be involved - emotionally and practically - in the lives and care of their children. In tandem with changing ideas around the role of fathers, time-use research charts strong increases in the time fathers spend with children over a period spanning several decades up to the turn of the millennium (Fisher, McCulloch, and Gershuny 1999; Gauthier, Smeeding, and Furstenberg Jr. 2004; Sayer, Bianchi, and Robinson 2004). These changes likely reflect the influence of two dominant discourses around father involvement that point to the importance of parental time inputs for children's development and wellbeing and the benefits of father involvement in promoting gender equality. A significant gender gap remains, however.

In addition, research has identified differences between fathers in different socioeconomic groups, which have widened (Sullivan 2010). These differences arguably form part of a more general pattern of divergence between the living conditions of children born into high-status groups and low-status groups (Putnam 2015; Richards, Garratt, and Heath 2016), and unequal levels of father involvement are interpreted as a further dimension of the disadvantage of children from low-status groups.

This paper examines trends in father involvement in the United Kingdom in the new millennium. Based on the strength of past increases one might expect the positive trend to have continued, especially since new policies should have encouraged father involvement in the United Kingdom. However, any trends in father involvement are also affected by the labour market conditions of fathers and their partners. The complexity of these factors makes it hard to predict particular trends in father involvement. In addition, these factors might play out differently for different socioeconomic groups, possibly sustaining past, divergent trends.

This analysis is based on the most recent time-use data for the United Kingdom from 2000-2001 (UKTUS 2000) and 2014-2015 (UKTUS 2014). Time-use data is regarded as a high-quality source of information on father involvement since it is less affected than other data by recall error or social desirability bias. Many studies have used the UKTUS 2000 data for analyses of fathers' involvement in childcare (Gracia and Esping-Andersen 2015; Gray 2006; Hook 2012; Hook and Wolfe 2012; Sullivan 2010; Sullivan et al. 2009), but so far only two studies have analysed father involvement with the UKTUS 2014. Altintaş (2016) examines the childcare time of fathers with a child under the age of five. She reports an increase of nearly 20 minutes per day between 2000 and 2014. Henz (2017) analyses the surveys as part of a crossnational study of fathers with at least one child aged 14 or younger. She finds that between 2000 and 2014, fathers' childcare time has increased significantly both on weekdays and weekend days. By contrast, the time that fathers spent with both their partner and a child (but not doing childcare) decreased.

This paper presents a more comprehensive analysis of father involvement than these two earlier studies. It considers the time that fathers spend with children doing specific childcare activities as well as the time when fathers are with children either as the only parent or together with the mother. Since childcare is often provided in parallel with other activities, the measures capture all reported childcare activities irrespective of whether they were reported as primary or as secondary/other activities. Separate models are presented for participation in childcare and its duration.

The next section presents a review of research on trends and social inequalities in father involvement. …

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