EOC research reports and briefing papers

15 September 2007

Between 2002 and 2007 the Equal Opportunities Commission commissioned and published a number of research studies to examine the role, contribution and aspirations of modern fathers. These are now stored on our website. Brief summaries of each document are provided below; click on the relevant link at the bottom of this page to download the document in full.

Research reports

Supporting parents and carers by Susan Himmelweit and Hilary Land (Summer 2007). Working paper no 63

This study was commissioned by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) as part of an ongoing debate to explore the idea that support and services for parents and carers should be part of a coherent whole, coordinated across government. Currently support is fragmented and there is no overall strategy to inform the development of services. The aims of this study were to: identify the underlying philosophysupporting national strategies for parents and carers; explore models from both the UK and Europe; and consider how a strategy to support parents and carers that also worked to reduce gender inequalities might look in the UK.

Parental care and employment in early childhood by Shirley Dex and Kelly Ward (Spring 2007). Working paper no 57

This study is an analysis of the Millennium Cohort Study a large survey of families with children born in 2000/01. Parents have been interviewed twice, when the child was 9-10 months old and again when it was 3. The focus is on childbirth and the early years up to the child’s 3rd birthday. This analysis of the survey data found that mothers and fathers in poorer families were less likely to take time off around the birth of their children, very few used formal childcare and flexible working was more available to higher income families.

The analysis also found that the probability of a child aged 3 having developmental problems was independently associated with both the mothers’ and fathers’ characteristics. It was significantly increased: the lower the mother’s or father’s highest educational qualification; the lower their age at the birth of the child; by either parent having a higher depression score when the child was 9-10 months old; and by either parent having had very little employment. This is an important association, since the impact of fathers’ characteristics on early child development tends to be less understood than the effect of mothers. It has clear implications for public policy. A short policy leaflet highlighting the relevant MCS findings on fathers has also been published (see section on leaflets below)

Dads and their babies: leave arrangements in the first year by Michael Thompson, Louise Vinter, Viv Young (2005) Working paper no 37

This was a research study carried out by NOP on 1,200 working fathers of infants aged between 3 and 15 months early in 2005. The study looked at fathers’ involvement in the first year of their child’s life and focused on the leave they took and the attractiveness of different options for statutory leave provision.

The study concluded that new dads are more willing than ever to combine work with staying at home looking after the children. Almost 8 out of 10 working fathers revealed that they would be happy to stay at home and look after their baby, while 9 in 10 felt as confident as their partner when caring for their child. Overall the average amount of leave taken by fathers was slightly more than the statutory paternity leave entitlement – two thirds of fathers take paternity leave and more than half of these ‘top it up’ with some other type of leave e.g. annual leave. However a quarter of fathers did not take any paternity leave but instead took other forms of leave suggesting that in many cases fathers are balancing familial and financial considerations in order to optimise the amount of time they can take off. Financial considerations may push many fathers on low income to choose to take annual leave rather than paternity leave at the statutory rate.

A majority of fathers said that they would support the introduction of Transferable Maternity Leave i.e. the mother giving up part of her maternity leave and pay to the father, and would welcome the flexibility it would bring. (NB the Government’s proposal for Additional Paternity Leave is very similar to the earlier concept of Transferable Maternity Leave.) Fathers also thought that the current level of statutory paternity pay was too low – 28% of fathers said that they would take it at the current rate compared to 80% who would take it if it were £200 per week.

Dads and their babies: the mothers’ perspective by Darren Yaxley, Louise Vinter and Viv Young (Autumn 2005) Working paper no 41

This study explored mothers’ attitudes towards fathers’ involvement in the first year of a child’s life and followed on from the survey of fathers. All 920 respondents were mothers of babies aged between 4 months and 16 months and all were partners of fathers interviewed for the first survey. The interview covered mothers’ own employment situation and their views on their partner’s leave arrangements and his involvement in childcare. The research excluded the views of single mothers and those whose partners were not working or self-employed.

The research supported the positive picture of fathers’ involvement in the first year of their child’s life that emerged from the survey of fathers. The majority of new mothers surveyed no longer considered caring to be a ‘mums’ job and supported dads’ involvement in parenting. Over three quarters of the mums also felt that their partner was as confident as they were at caring. Three in five rejected the idea that a dad’s main role is being that of a breadwinner and three-quarters supported the idea of Transferable Maternity Leave; but only two in five said they would personally make use of it.

Dads and their babies: the household perspective by Deborah Smeaton (June 2006) Working paper no 44

This study brings together the findings from two surveys listed above so that responses from mothers and fathers could be matched. The study revealed a mixture of attitudes toward gender roles with 36% of parents both holding traditional views, 25% of parents both holding modern views and the remaining 39% holding conflicting views about mothers’ and fathers’ roles.

Both the characteristics and attitudes of parents were found to influence leave-taking behaviour by after the child’s birth. For example, fathers in families with ‘modern’ views took the longest periods of leave but were the least satisfied with the duration of their time off. Mothers who took longer than six months maternity leave tended to be in a dual income professional family and have higher levels of family income. Mothers were more likely to take longer periods of maternity leave if their partners had taken more than two weeks of paternity leave.

But attitudes were not clear-cut. Dual income low-skilled fathers had the highest incidence of traditional attitudes and the lowest take up of paternity leave, but the highest levels of dissatisfaction with the amount of time they were able to take. Both traditional and modern fathers indicated that they would use the option for additional paternity leave to look after their baby if it was available, but willingness to do so was influenced both by the level of statutory pay and fathers’ income. Fathers who earn high salaries and strong career investments are less likely to forfeit their income to assume full-time caring responsibilities so that a lower earning mother can return to work.

Shared Caring: bringing fathers into the frame by Margaret O’Brien (2005). Working paper no 18

This study is an independent review of current and academic developments of shared caring with a specific focus of fathers in employment. The research concluded that the idea of the ‘involved caring father’ is now culturally embedded into British life. It showed that where mothers work full-time in the first year of a child’s life, fathers’ increased involvement can protect child welfare and that by engaging fathers in their children’s lives from an early age should guarantee that they remain involved throughout their children’s childhood.

It also reported that British men work over 46 hours a week on average – the longest in Europe. But their involvement with children is increasing. From the mid-1970s when fathers’ involvement with their children under five was just fifteen minutes a day, they now spend two hours.

The research also highlighted evidence from Norway and Sweden which shows how schemes such as paying parental leave at a rate close to fathers’ income levels, leads to more fathers taking up parental leave than in other European countries.

Working Fathers: Earning and Caring by Margaret O’Brien and Ian Shemilt. University of East Anglia for EOC (January 2003)

This study reviewed literature on fathers in employment, focusing on their ability to balance work with family life and the role they play within the family. It also reported on a secondary analysis of the DfEE 2000 Work-Life Balance 2000 datasets exploring the provision, demand and uptake of family-friendly employment practices among fathers.

The Literature Review found that aspirations for more involved active fatherhood were high, time spent by fathers in childcare had increased, and fathers were more economically active than non-fathers with UK fathers working the longest hours in Europe. The Secondary analysis found that there was a high level of support for work-life balance from both mothers and fathers but fathers’ actual use of flexible working was generally low.

The research concluded that there was a need for a national debate on the role of the father in family life and this needed to consider the impact of fathers’ long hours on family life and to look at fathers’ preferred flexible working arrangements i.e. more flexibility in the way they work rather than a reduction in the number of hours they worked.

Dads on Dads: Needs and expectations at home and at work by Warren Hatter, Louise Vinter and Rachel Williams MORI Social Research Institute for EOC (October 2002)

This research was a qualitative study that interviewed fathers, their partners and human resources staff to explore fathers’ attitudes towards, and experiences of, being a working father.

The research looked at fathers’ role at home and found that they were not a homogenous group and that they adopt a wide variety of roles. Four typologies were identified: ‘enforcer dad’, ‘entertainer dad’, ‘useful dad’ and ‘fully involved’ dad. Many fathers cited the breadwinner role as their main family commitment but many also emphasised the importance of ‘being there’ for their children, and spending time with the family. Fathers had changed their attitudes towards work and it made them feel more responsible, but there was limited evidence of any practical change. Almost all fathers expected flexibility from their employers but workplace culture had a great effect on fathers’ ability to meet both their home and work commitments. Most fathers were unaware of the types of family friendly policies available to them.

The research concluded that in order to give fathers more choice to manage their work-life balance, there needed to be a change in workplace culture. The long hours culture was found to prohibit fathers who wish to succeed in their job or career and also have childcare responsibilities.

EOC Briefing papers and policy leaflets

Fathers and the modern family (June 2007)

This 10 page policy leaflet based on the Parental care and employment in early childhood analysis of the Millennium Cohort Survey (MCS) by Dex and Ward (2007), highlights findings from the full report about the links between a father’s role and the well being of children. It points out that fathers’ personal characteristics, such as having a high depression score when the child was aged 9-10 months old; having low educational qualifications and being very young at the child’s birth all increase the likelihood of a three year-old child having developmental problems. The leaflet recommends that (1) policy makers and service providers need to become more responsive to fathers’ parenting role and (2) the workplace needs to adjust to meet fathers’ aspirations to enable them to share caring roles with mothers.

The State of the Modern Family (March 2007)

This four-sided leaflet combines findings from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) by Dex and Ward (EOC, 2007), with other research to identify key trends in the shape and behaviour of new families in the 21st Century. The leaflet highlights the demise of the ‘breadwinner dad’ and ‘homemaker mum’ and the aspirations of today’s parents to both contribute to family income and be closely involved in the care of their children. The MCS study found that there is no link between a mother working and developmental problems for their children. The MCS, along with EOC research on shared caring, has found that high family income and the educational attainment of both parents, formal childcare while the mother is working and the positive involvement of the father deliver better outcomes for children.

21st Century Dads (June 2006)

This is a short policy leaflet summarising key research findings on fathers. It highlights the benefits of father-involvement in childcare for parents, children and businesses. Research has shown that fathers’ closer involvement can improve children’s well being and adjustment, educational achievement and behaviour. Being able to take time out of the workforce to look after children also helps families to balance the twin needs of full-time parenting and earning. Many businesses are using family-friendly policies to improve staff recruitment and retention.

Fathers: balancing work and family 2003.

This is a four-sided research findings based on two early EOC research studies listed above i.e. Dads on Dads and Working Fathers. The paper explores how fathers fulfil their roles within the family and at work and what support could be of most benefit to them in combining these roles.

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