Mothers, fathers, time & childcare

15 March 2005

The EOC has analysed the UK Time Use Survey carried out by the Office for National Statistics in 2000/01 in order to explore the relative use of time of mothers and fathers in relation to childcare. The UK Time Use Survey is highly authoritative, using collected information in diary form from 6,500 households. Respondents were asked to identify one or two activities for each ten minute period on two days: one a weekday and one a weekend day.

Key Findings

  • Mothers and fathers still play different roles in the family, but the division of time is no longer a simple one. Fathers are not solely engaged in paid employment, and mothers do not only do housework and childcare. Families adopt different ways of dividing up paid and unpaid work.
  • Total time spent on paid and unpaid work (defined as employment, household tasks, childcare and caring) differs little for mothers and fathers. During the week, fathers spend 50 minutes more on average than mothers, whilst this is reversed at weekends.
  • Mothers account for over three-quarters of time spent on childcare activities during the week and two-thirds at weekends
  • However fathers do play an important role. In 24% of two parent families the father did most of the childcare on at least one of the days covered by the survey. During the week, 22% of couples with a child aged under five shared childcare with each parent doing at least a third, and 37% did so at weekends. On average, fathers of under fives spend about the same time as mothers on reading, playing and talking with their children at weekends.
  • Household tasks are also divided between mothers and fathers, but with mothers on average spending more time than fathers on tasks that need to be done every day. At weekends, mothers spend around twice as much time on food management and household upkeep as fathers, and three times as much time on a weekday.
  • Other household tasks are mainly carried out by fathers. On average, fathers spend 1 hour a day at weekends on construction, repairs, gardening and pet care, compared with 30 minutes a day spent by mothers on these tasks.
  • Parents with young children spend far more time on childcare activities than those with older children. During the week, mothers with children under the age of five spend 4 hours and 50 minutes a day on childcare, compared with 1 hour a day by mothers whose youngest child is aged 12 – 14.
  • For mothers, not working or working part-time is associated with their spending more time caring for their children, especially when they are young, although the gap is smaller than might be expected. Non-working mothers with children aged under five spend 5 hours and 50 minutes a day on childcare activities during the week, compared with 3 hours a day by full-time working mothers.
  • Whatever their hours of work, fathers find some time for childcare. On average, fathers of under fives spend 1 hour and 20 minutes a day on childcare activities during the week and 2 hours and 30 minutes a day at weekends.

EOC Research: Time use and childcare