FI research summary: Fathers, mothers, work and family

19 January 2011

This research summary covers:

  • Trends in father involvement in the UK
  • Aspirations
  • Satisfaction
  • Family and work stress: fathers’ experiences
  • Leave policies and father involvement
  • Father-care, gender equity and child wellbeing
  • Fathers’ employment and child wellbeing
  • Business/economic costs/benefits of father involvement
  • Low income fathers’ employment
  • References

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Trends in father involvement in the UK

Mothers in Britain increasingly engage in paid work (mainly part-time) from when their children are very young:

  • Today 50% of mothers of 9-month-olds are in paid employment (Dex & Ward, 2010) with 70% working earlier than planned because of money concerns (Pykett, 2009) and others motivated by a desire to escape full-time childcare (Miller, 2005).
  • Mothers who don’t work are mainly lone or otherwise disadvantaged mothers, for whom their own or a child’s illness/disability or the cost of childcare are major reasons for their non-employment (Hales et al, 2007).

Fathers’ involvement in family work (housework as well as childcare) is increasing; and the gap between mothers’ and fathers’ contributions has narrowed (O’Brien & Shemilt, 2003). This pattern is found throughout industrialised countries (Gauthier et al, 2004) and is particularly clear in the UK:

  • The time spent by British men on domestic work rose from 90 minutes per day in the 1960s to 148 minutes per day by 2004; while women’s dropped from 369 minutes to 280 minutes during the same period (Kan et al, 2009).
  • British fathers’ care of infants and young children rose 800% between 1975 and 1997, from 15 minutes to two hours on the average working day – at double the rate of mothers’ (Fisher et al., 1999) despite the fact that over this period fathers’ time spent at work was also increasing (Gray, 2006).
  • In the UK, as – incidentally – in the US (for review see Smith, 2009), fathers in two-parent families carry out an average of 25% of the family’s childcare related activities during the week, and one-third at weekends, with higher absolute and relative levels (one third) where both parents work full-time (EOC, 2003).[Footnote: ‘Full-time’ working mothers tend to work shorter hours than full-time working fathers; and also to work closer to home,  so commuting  times tend to be shorter]
  • British fathers of under fives spend about the same amount of time at weekends as mothers (1:10/day) on reading, playing and talking with their children (EOC, 2003).
  • And while fathers remain the sole or main earners in almost 3 out of 5 two-parent households containing a five year old (Dex & Ward, 2010) they do not work longer hours than non-fathers (as they were once thought to do), and during the first year after the birth work fewer hours than they worked before it (Dermott, 2006; Smith, 2006). A similar pattern has been documented in Norway (Dommermuth & Kitterød, 2009).

A substantial number of fathers are now full- or part-time ‘home dads’:

  • Among fathers of under-fives, 21% are solely responsible for childcare at some point during the working week (EHRC, 2009b).
  • 43% of fathers of school-aged children provide care before/after school (EHRC, 2009b).
  • In just over 4% of English two-parent families which contain a five-year-old, the mother is employed full-time and the father is not employed or is part-time employed. This pattern is most common in South Asian families (Dex & Ward, 2010).
  • Among two-parent families with babies a year old or younger, 1% of the biological fathers are on ‘sole charge’ for more than 30 hours per week). In families with 3-4 year olds, 4% of the fathers take on that role (Washbrook, 2007).
  • In another 6% of families with five-year-olds, fathers are likely to be ‘single dads’ living alone with their children on a full-time or half-time basis (Peacey & Hunt, 2008).
  • Giggle (1998) found some full-time working fathers who did not regard themselves as ‘home dads’ taking the major responsibility for childcare because, for example, their working hours were more flexible than their partner’s (they were often self-employed).
  • In the US, 1 in 3 working class couples ‘box and cox’ shift work to care for their children (Malin et al, 2004).

Employed British fathers’ use of flexible work (particularly flexitime and occasional working from home) has increased over the decade, although remaining at a low base in contrast to mothers:

  • Flexible working options are less available in male-dominated settings (Dex & Ward, 2010)
  • Fewer men than women make requests to work flexibly, have their requests granted or are successful when taking their cases to tribunals (Working Families, 2006)
  • The grounds on which fathers can take cases to tribunals are different from mothers’ – and less favourable.

Nevertheless:

  • 26% of men in paid employment have at some point changed their hours or working arrangements to look after someone (mainly children), with 9% giving up work altogether for this purpose (British Social Attitudes Survey, 2002).
  • Some fathers make sacrifices in career advancement to spend more time with their children (Reynolds et al, 2003).
  • Between 2002-2005 the percentage of new fathers working flexitime to care for infants rose from 11% to 31%, with 29% occasionally working from home for this purpose (Smeaton & Marsh, 2006).
  • While some flexible working options are now used by almost all full time employees, fathers are slightly more likely than non-fathers to work flexitime (33% v. 28%) and from home (28% v. 21% (Biggart & O’Brien, 2009).
  • In 2006, 4% of fathers were working part-time and 8% temporarily reducing their working hours to care for children (Smeaton & Marsh, 2006). Between 2006 and 2009 the percentage of full-time employed fathers working a compressed working week more than doubled from 6% to 15%; as did the percentage using term-time flexible working which rose from 6% to 13% (Biggart & O’Brien, 2009).

The trend of fathers as co- or main carers is likely to continue to rise:

  • The gender pay-gap has all but disappeared in low income households (Gershuny, 2009) where automatically designating the father as breadwinner no longer makes obvious economic sense.
  • 44% of women now earn as much, or more than, their partners – a percentage that is climbing sharply (National Equality Panel, 2010) and is likely to continue to increase because …
  • Young girls/women now outstrip boys/men not only in school graduation participation and results, but also in further education/training .(ONS, 2007) .

While the picture is of a very definite increase in care-taking by fathers in two parent families, there is another group of fathers who do not live with their children through separation/divorce, or who have never lived with them, although many of these are co-resident with other men’s children (Radhakrishna et al, 2001). Although there is evidence that rates of involvement by non-resident fathers are increasing (Hunt & Roberts, 2004; for review see O’Brien, 2004a) and some non-resident fathers remain very involved with their children, non-residence is the key predictor of low levels of involvement by fathers (Carlson, 2006; Flouri, 2005a).

Aspirations

Fathers want to spend more time caring for children and encounter obstructions. Equality of opportunity for women depends on the expanding role of men in family work – and most women want their children’s fathers to play a greater part in childrearing (Watson, 2005).

  • More than 50% of fathers want to slow down their careers as family demands grow (Blades & Fondas, 2010)
  • Thirty-eight percent of working fathers would take a pay cut to spend more time with their children (Careerbuilder, 2009)

Among all age groups, 74% of men rate having a work schedule that allows them to spend time with their families as very important (Radcliffe Public Policy Centre, 2000)

  • The 2008 British Social attitudes survey reported that only 17% of men (an historical low) now believe that it is the man’s role to earn the money while the woman stays at home (Duncan & Phillips, 2007).
  • In the US, 82% of people born between 1965-81 believe that caregiving should be equally split (Bianchi et al, 2006)
  • In the US, in 1981, when researchers asked newly marrying couples to rank-order values they hoped to instil into their marriages, ‘sharing responsibilities, decision-making and physical and emotional care of infants and young children’ was rated 11th out of 15. In 1997, when the same question was asked, it was prioritized second (Pleck, 1997).
  • In a series of reports the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) documented shifts in both mothers’ and fathers’ aspirations towards increased levels of father-care – and among 16-year-olds, 90% of boys and girls wanted to balance career and family life in their future jobs (for summary, see EOC, 2006).
  • Balancing work and home life is a key concern of voters – women and men alike (Smeaton & Marsh, 2006; EOC, 2004).
  • Among AEEU members of different ages and life stages, having parents share work and childcare was rated, by women, as the most popular option. Even men, who have tended to be more conservative in this area, rated the ‘parents fair share’ option as positively as the traditional woman-part-time/man-full-time arrangement (Houston & Waumsley, 2003).

Satisfaction

Work and family/personal roles are both key components of a person’s identity. Facilitation by employers of men’s abilities to combine these roles leads to better individual health, lower absenteeism and higher job performance (Van Steenbergen, & Ellemers, 2009).

Fathers who work flexibly are more committed to their organisation (and feel it is more committed to them), show improved psychological wellbeing and significantly better levels of physical health, feel significantly more in control of their work and less stressed over lower pay, and enjoy significantly better work relationships (Lancaster University Management School/Working Families, 2010)

  • The 2007 the British Social Attitudes report (Park et al, 2007) found men working full time consistently less satisfied than full-time working women with work life balance:
    • 82% of full-time working men said they would like to spend more time with their family; in 1989 only 70% felt that way
    • 69% of men and 58% of women said that the demands of their job sometimes interfere with family life.
    • 29% of men and 19% of women said that the demands of family life sometimes interfere with work.
  • An ICM poll (EOC, 2007) found:
    • 74% of fathers (compared with 64% of mothers) reported that spending time with the family or finding time for key relationships is their biggest concern in daily life
    • 77% say that it should be as easy for men to take time off for caring responsibilities as it is for women – with 84% of those with children agreeing.
  • A survey carried out by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC, 2009b) found:
    • 55% of fathers of infants feeling they spend too little time with their children (this dropped to 32% among fathers of 6-16 year olds).
    • 47% of fathers (compared with 31% of mothers) agreeing that fathers are responsible for providing BUT
    • fewer fathers (23% ) than mothers (34%) believing mothers are primarily responsible for looking after children; AND
    • more fathers (55%) than mothers (41%) saying that the parent who is paid more should stay at work – regardless of whether they are male or female.

Recent research is finding both parents more satisfied when roles are more equally shared – and less satisfied when they are not:

  • Employed fathers whose partners also work have a significantly better sense of purpose and wellbeing (Lancaster University Management School/Working Families, 2010)
  • 55% of working fathers share equally or do most of the domestic chores – and those whose partner does the majority of the housework are significantly more troubled by their work-life balance (Lancaster University Management School/Working Families, 2010)
  • Craig & Sawriker (2006) found fathers more satisfied when they spent more time at home; and mothers more satisfied with housework share as they moved into doing more paid work.
  • Pocock & Clarke (2004) found younger fathers expressing less satisfaction with work-family balance when they do less housework and child care, and when they experience workplace disapproval of taking up family friendly measures.
  • Bolzan et al (2004) found the new fathers with the lowest workplace flexibility and autonomy reporting the most unhappiness, anxiety and general levels of stress.
  • Thompson et al (2005) found fathers and mothers in low-income families more likely to endorse traditional gender roles. However, they are also the couples who are the most dis-satisfied with the division of labour in their families.

Family and work stress: fathers’ experiences

Men’s reported level of work-life conflict has risen significantly over the past three decades, (from 34% in 1977 to 45% in 2008) while the level of conflict reported by women has not changed significantly (Galinsky et al, 2009)

  • In dual-earner couples, 59% of men report experiencing family/work conflict, compared to 45% of women (Galinsky et al, 2009).
  • Men incur wage and career penalties if they emphasize communal values and do not appear fully committed to work (Duckworth et al, 2007)
  • When caring for a child, 44% of fathers face work difficulties (Heyman, 2006)
  • When caring for a sick child, 27% have lost pay and 28% found job retention or promotion more difficult (Heyman, 2006)
  • 24% of working fathers feel work is negatively impacting their relationship with their children and 18% have missed four or more significant events in their child’s life due to work in the past year (Careerbuilder, 2009).
  • 48% have missed a significant event in their child’s life due to work at least once in the last year, and nearly one in five(18%) have missed four or more. (Careerbuilder, 2009)
  • Where mothers work, more than one father in four takes emergency time of to care for a sick child (Maume, 2008).
  • Mothers and fathers who operate ‘traditional’ family roles experience more stress than those who share earning and caring more equitably (Cowan & Cowan, 2000)

One third of fathers live apart from their children, experiencing a unique range of challenges which often impact negatively on work performance. These include stress about not seeing their children, worries about their wellbeing and functioning as a single parent for all or some of a working week (Gray, 2009)

Leave policies and father involvement

Paternity/parental leave, often with a specific ‘father quota’ (i.e. leave which, if not taken by the father is lost to the family) and the ability to work shorter hours and/or more flexibly when children are young have been available to fathers in Scandinavia for several decades. Leave uptake by fathers has increased dramatically in some countries; and benefits to the quality of family relationships, including couple-stability, have been found (O’Brien et al, 2007). For full detail on this see the Fatherhood Institute’s paper ‘Supporting families and relationships through parental leave’: http://www.fatherhoodinstitute.org/index.php?id=0&cID=960

In the UK:

  • 82% of male employees say paid paternity leave is an important feature of employee benefits to them (Personnel Today, 2009).
  • 91% of employed fathers take some form of leave after childbirth with 50% taking the statutory maximum of 10 working days, 31% taking less and 19% more (La Valle et al. 2008; see also Miller, 2010, forthcoming).
  • EHRC (2009a) found 55% take-up of formal paternity leave, with 88% of the non-takers wishing they had been able to take it (most of those who did not take leave could not afford to do so)
  • Use of unpaid parental leave by fathers is low: 8% of fathers (who described themselves as entitled) had taken some unpaid parental leave within 17 months of their child’s birth (La Valle et al. 2008).
  • controlling for the likelihood of leave-taking fathers being prone to high involvement with their infants, Nepomnyaschy and Waldfogel (2007) found a minimum of two-weeks’ leave associated with greater caretaking later.
  • UK fathers who take formal leave are 25% more likely to change nappies and 19% more likely to feed their 8-12 month old babies and to get up to them at night (Tanaka & Waldfogel, 2007).
  • 69% of fathers who took paternity leave said it improved the quality of family life and 56% that it led them to take a greater role in caring for their children (EHRC, 2009a).

Father-care, gender equity and child wellbeing

Mothers are overwhelming disadvantaged in the workplace – and the relatively low level of father-care provided to date has been an important driver of that disadvantage. For example:

  • Unequal sharing of caring work between the sexes is the largest single driver of the gender pay gap (Olsen & Walby, 2004).
  • This is underpinned by the strong association between femininity and child care/domestic work, which contributes to the low pay and poor conditions in these sectors (Olsen & Walby, 2004).
  • In Britain, four out of five part-time workers (almost all of them women, who have taken such work because of caring responsibilities) are employed below qualification level with substantial negative impact on their families and society (EOC, 2005).

Fathers are important care-giving partners where mothers are employed – and when they are unable to play that role, mothers’ employment suffers:

  • Fathers in two parent families are the individuals most likely to care for children while their mothers work (Washbrook, 2007; Ferri & Smith, 1995) and are particularly important when providing ‘wrap around care’ – i.e. when mothers work weekends or evenings/nights..
  • Lone mothers’ workforce participation is inhibited by lack of an at-home partner (EOC, 2004).
  • Research in Australia (Hand, 2005) and the UK (Houston & Marks, 2005) found ‘lack of opportunity to share work and care with partner’ a major issue for mothers returning to work, with many unwilling to do so if their children could not be mainly in the care of the other parent during that time.

Mothers’ employment has raised concerns about child wellbeing which professional childcare only partially meets. Doubts remain about the wisdom of long hours in institutional care for some infants (Leach et al, 2007). These issues most be seriously addressed – and substantial care by fathers can meet some of the concerns:

  • Where mothers of very young children are employed full-time, high levels of care by fathers remove any negative effects (Gregg & Washbrook, 2003).
  • Substantial use by men of leave entitlements is associated with many benefits to children and families both in terms of gender equity and child and family wellbeing (Kamerman, 2006; Haas & Hwang, 2007).
  • Children whose fathers were highly involved with them at ages 3-5 and 7-9 hold less traditional views as adolescents about both parents working and sharing childcare (Williams et al, 1992).

However, while early full-time paternal care is generally found to be no better or worse than other types of care in terms of infants’ cognitive/social-emotional development, one US study found that 2-to-3 year olds in exclusively paternal care had slightly worse cognitive outcomes than those in other forms of care (Averett et al, 2005); and a UK study (Washbrook 2007) found slightly reduced school-readiness among some boys (but not girls) who had been looked after exclusively by their fathers as toddlers, although these effects had disappeared by age 7. Small boys seemed to benefit in other ways from substantial paternal care, however – in gross and fine motor skills, and in behaviour.

Increasing father involvement at home may gradually stimulate a revolution in thinking at work to the benefit of employed women and mothers, as well as fathers:

  • While women tend to compromise their own employment success to care for children, men are more likely to challenge and change the workplace culture to match their priorities (Haas & Hwang, 1995).
  • In Sweden men’s growing interest in fatherhood has been an important force in changing company culture (Russell & Hwang, 2004).

There is a growing realization that it is not only women who lose from gendered role-division: while masculinity is primarily defined through paid work, men suffer too, in terms of the quality of their relationships with their children and their marginalisation from the daily activities of family life (Connell, 2003) which can translate into marginalisation from society.

Fathers’ employment and child wellbeing

In two-parent families fathers’ earnings have been linked to many positive outcomes for children including educational attainment and psychological wellbeing (Ermish & Francensoni, 2002). However, the few studies that have controlled for mothers’ income have found a less consistent positive relationship between fathers’ earnings and positive outcomes for children: in one study, once mothers’ earnings were controlled for, the impact of fathers’ earnings became non-significant (for review, see Yeung, 2004).

In separated families fathers’ participation in paid work and the amounts they earn are significant to children – perhaps more so. They are correlated with likelihood of child support being paid and with the amounts paid (for discussion, see Graham & Beller, 2002). Child support payment by fathers is strongly associated with children’s wellbeing, suggesting an indirect but important association between fathers’ earnings and child wellbeing in separated families.

However, Ermisch and Francesconi (2002) find a small negative association between fathers’ employment and children’s educational attainment when heterogeneity between fathers is taken into account. Their conclusions are in accord with findings by Ruhm (2004) that higher paternal work hours have a negative effect on children’s development because of the accompanying reduction in fathers’ child-related time inputs.

Fathers’ perceived conflict between work/caring already causes them substantial stress (Hill et al, 2003; Levine & Pittinsky, 1997) – a stress which is likely to grow as societal expectations of increased paternal involvement are internalized. A recent analysis of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) found that, in fathers, a higher parenting self-efficacy score was related to lower work-family strain; and a key mechanism by which fathers’ work/family strain was decreased was by their doing more than they regarded as their ‘fair share’ of child rearing tasks. It seemed that fathers who were able to rearrange work and family time so they contributed more to child rearing were rewarded by less work-family strain, even though they might at times feel aggrieved (Alexander & Baxter, 2006)!

A body of research has shown the negative impact on children of fathers’ employment stress (Galinsky,1999):

  • Hart & Kelley (2006) found fathers’ parenting stress (in relation to their work), the number of hours they worked and mothers’ beliefs about father involvement predicting externalizing symptoms in pre-schoolers’ attending day-care.
  • Among fathers of young adolescents, negative work-to-family spillover has been found to predict (low) paternal knowledge of their children’s daily activities – indirectly, via father-child acceptance and fathers’ involvement in joint activities with them (Bumpus et al, 2006).
  • In British Columbia, in a longitudinal study which partly controlled for fathers’ mental health outcomes, multivariate analysis found adverse employment experiences among fathers strongly associated with their sons’ attempted/completed suicide later, and with elevated odds for daughters’ attempted suicide (Ostry et al, 2006).

In low income families, the stresses can be especially marked:

  • A study of low-income, urban US fathers, which controlled for age, ethnicity, education, cohabitation and quality of relationship with the child’s mother, found that the hours fathers spent ‘hustling’ for work were correlated with low involvement with their children (Cina, 2005).
  • Kalil & DeLeire (2002) found negative effects of fathers’ job loss more severe in more disadvantaged families.
  • Yeung & Glauber (2007) found that the children of the working poor have less time with both parents and less father-time than children in non-poor working two-parent families, partly due to their fathers’ difficulties managing insecure and inflexible low paid jobs with irregular hours. This is important, since in these families, access to higher levels of parental time is found to be important in protecting academic outcomes.

Researchers are now identifying risks to children where fathers (and in some cases also mothers) work unsocial hours (e.g. Strazdins et al, 2006).

  • Barnes et al (2006) found 8 out of 10 working fathers working unsocial hours that resulted in their ‘losing’ more than 15 hours per week with their children – hours that are never made up.
  • Davis et al (2006) found fathers working non-standard shifts knowing significantly less about their teens’ daily activities than fathers with daytime shifts; and fathers’ non-standard shift working, when combined with high parental conflict, correlated with less father-teen intimacy. Both these findings are important because poor parent-teen communication and low parental monitoring are associated with risk behaviours in adolescence (for review, see Williams, 2002).
  • Strazdins et al (2006) found the negative associations between fathers’ non-standard working and poor child outcomes partially mediated through family relationships and parent well-being, suggesting these as important issues for parents and policy makers to consider.

Such findings do not imply that fathers should never work unsocial hours, but that special strategies, support and awareness are needed to ameliorate negative effects.

Business/economic costs/benefits of father involvement

Currently fathers’ involvement at home does not appear to exact a wider economic cost. Fathers mainly use flexible working or adjust leisure time to achieve higher levels of involvement with their children (Dermott, 2006) and flexible working is seen by some employers as a tool to boost productivity and improve staff recruitment and retention (Jones, 2003; Reeves. 2002). Strategies that enable fathers to increase their involvement at home within the current paradigm of mainly full-time working include:

  • Fathers being encouraged to use existing family-friendly provisions in their workplaces.
  • Fathers who work beyond the standard working hours for their occupation reducing their work hours, yet still working full-time.
  • Fathers reducing their leisure time further to care for their children, while still working full-time.
  • Support and strategies to help fathers optimise the quality of the time spent with their children, including developing appropriate parenting skills
  • Contract, self-employed, under-employed or casually employed fathers being encouraged to take greater opportunities to design their work hours around child care.
  • Unemployed/low paid fathers being encouraged to focus time and attention on their children, both for its own sake, and so that mothers are free-er to take up employment.
  • Separated parents being encouraged to provide childcare for each other, so that both can work.

If substantial paternity/parental leave were made available to UK fathers and were paid at reasonable rates and if this were taken up by substantial numbers of fathers this would require a revolution in thinking by government, employers, trades unions and others about the work/care nexus which could benefit not only fathers but mothers and children too (Green & Parker, 2006; Lewis & Cooper, 2005) – and, ultimately, employers too.

In Sweden, where fathers’ uptake of paternity and parental leave is relatively high, there has been no systematic cost-benefit analyses of the financial impact of take up on organizations. However:

  • some firms have begun providing financial rewards to men who take such leave, claiming that this helps in recruiting and retaining the brightest and the best;
  • the Swedish government has linked the taking of such leave as improving skills and capacities that can then be transferred into the workplace: better interpersonal and communication skills and multi-tasking capacities, as well as their becoming ‘whole human beings’;
  • taking of paternity/parental leave does not seem, in Sweden, to impact negatively on fathers’ work prospects in the longer term (O’Brien, 2004).

Any cost to employers or government would likely be offset by reduced costs through better retention of working mothers and the greater likelihood of their working to their education/skills levels: Goldman Sachs have estimated an economic boost of 13% in Europe were gender equity achieved within the workplace.

Low income fathers’ employment

While for some fathers, over-employment is the problem, others must face no- or under- employment. In almost 5% of couple-families containing a 5 year old, neither parent is employed (Dex & Ward, 2010). In many other poor families in particular, fathers are under-employed.

The importance of seeking to improve the quality, availability and stability of employment for low income non-resident fathers is widely recognized. When these fathers are in employment they are more likely to see their children and to pay child support; and the quality of their relationships with them is often better, too. Individual fathers’ programmes and social care workers have been trying to help vulnerable fathers into education, training and employment for some time (Fathers Direct, 2002-2006; Mincy & Pouncy, 2002).

However, while policies encouraging lone mothers into employment are well established in the UK, no such government policy has addressed men as fathers. Recognising this, Harker (2006) has recommended a ‘New Deal for Parents’ package which would reflect fathers’ increasing involvement in children’s lives and make available to them the package of employment support currently provided only to (lone) mothers.

The finding that fathers’ education levels are actually more predictive than their income of their children’s education success has led to suggestions in the US that developing low income fathers’ educational attainment should be a serious goal – perhaps in preference to their employment (Yeung, 2004). Of course education and employability are strongly linked.

Involved fatherhood can be a portal into employment/training for low income men in a number of ways:

  • As a motivator (the wish to ‘do the best by my child’).
  • When childcare responsibilities bring a father into touch with services which can then refer him to employment/education related support.
  • Through employment opportunities in family services. The US Head Start parent involvement initiative consciously recruits fathers as programme volunteers to develop their potential for employment within the programme (Fagan & Palm, 2004). In the UK, this happens from time to time, informally, although in Scotland a ‘Men into Childcare’ programme is training men and fathers for employment in the childcare workforce; and currently CWDC are exploring this issue.

Low income fathers’ caring responsibilities for their children are more substantial than is generally known, and can prove a barrier to employment if they go unrecognized:

  • Speak (1997) found young disadvantaged fathers resisting employment (but without explaining this to employment services) because they did not want to travel too far for work; or because they were already committed to childcare while mothers worked.
  • Noonan et al (2005), examining the lives of families at high risk of living in poverty, found that having a young child in poor health reduced the father’s probability of being employed by four percentage points.

In the US, a first generation of fatherhood programmes, notably Parents’ Fair Share (PFS) recorded the difficulty and complexity of improving labour market outcomes for low income men. But even though PSF drew its clients in at quite late and negative stages in the fathering cycle (for example, when men had become detached from their children or were facing incarceration) it was able to increase earnings for the fathers with the greatest barriers to employment, such as low education and limited previous work experience (Carlson & McLanahan, 2002).

Evaluations of the new generation of US fatherhood programmes, which are targeting fathers at very early stages in their children’s lives, are beginning to surface. The Texas Fragile Families demonstration project, for example, has succeeded in improving workforce participation and employment prospects for young fathers despite substantial barriers – not only in the young men themselves, but in local employment and training programmes which were found to be ill-set-up to support them (Romo et al, 2004).

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