Fathers seek more home and flexible working to maintain COVID transformation in childcare

4 May 2021


FI Lockdown Fathers report image

Study reveals demand to preserve large lockdown increases in fathers’ caring, schoolwork support and housework. ‘We’re better fathers since lockdown,’ say dads.

Most UK dads want more home-based and flexible working to maintain unprecedented increases in their childcare time during the pandemic, which they believe has made them better fathers, according to a BritainThinks survey for the Fatherhood Institute.

Lockdown Fathers: The untold story, a new study based on a nationally representative survey-sample of more than 2,000 fathers, found that most spent more time with their children, built stronger relationships with them, and improved their parenting skills during the first Covid-19 lockdown. They grew in confidence as parents, gained greater insights into their partners’ caring roles, and did more housework. The Fatherhood Institute survey was conducted by BritainThinks, and funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

Key findings

More time together: Four out of five (78%) of fathers in two-parent households (‘partnered fathers’) spent more time[1] with their children; 68% spent more time on home schooling/ helping with homework; and 59% spent more time on cleaning, laundry and cooking. The figures were even higher among those partnered fathers who were at home full-time during lockdown[2]. These findings are consistent with several time-use studies, including one from the Institute for Fiscal Studies which found that, during the Spring 2020 lockdown, fathers almost doubled the number of hours in which they did some childcare from just over four to eight hours per day. Meanwhile, mothers’ equivalent input increased from almost seven to 10.3 hours[3].

Better parenting: Almost two-thirds (65%) of partnered fathers reported a better father-child relationship following lockdown (rising to 73% among those who were full-time at home). Almost half (48%) left lockdown feeling more competent as a parent, and 42% were better able to keep calm and manage their tempers with their children. A small but significant minority (14%) felt less able to manage their tempers with their children.

Closer relationships: More than three-fifths (61%) of partnered fathers reported understanding their children better and feeling closer to them (64%) after lockdown. Almost all the rest (likely including some who had felt very close beforehand) reported no change. Only 2-3% reported closeness and understanding deteriorating.

Educational support: More than half the partnered fathers (57%) said that, following lockdown, they feel better equipped to support their children’s learning and education. The same was even said by 50% of the most disadvantaged – who were more likely to be working outside home during lockdown. Those fathers who had spent more time with their children during the lockdown were more likely to report improvements in their own mental wellbeing.

Black, Asian & Mixed Heritage fathers in two-parent households had even better experiences: they were more likely (29%) than white fathers (19%) to report a positive impact of lockdown on their mental wellbeing, to report increased closeness with their children (79% v. 61%) and to report improvement in their couple relationship from before to after lockdown. 

The experiences of separated fathers (called ‘involved Own Household Fathers’ – iOHFs – in this report) were more mixed and depended largely on how much they were able to see of their children: during the Spring 2020 lockdown, 40% saw more of their children than before lockdown, and 46% less.iOHFs who saw less of their children were more likely to report worse mental wellbeing. Half of the iOHFs reported a co-operative relationship with their child’s other parent, and one-in-four said that relationship ‘makes me happy’.

The future: launch of our ‘Time with Dad’ campaign

Most fathers said that they wanted more flexible (76%) and home-based (63%) working options post-pandemic, in order to continue being better fathers[4]. As a result, the Fatherhood Institute is launching its ‘Time with Dad’ campaign to maintain the ‘lockdown positives’ of fathers spending more time with their children and supporting their learning.

Adrienne Burgess, Co-Chief Executive of the Fatherhood Institute said: “During lockdowns, fathers grew in confidence and competence, providing much more childcare and educational support. Post-pandemic, government, employers and trades unions should help them retain gains in home and flexible working, and schools should enlist dads to help in the huge educational ‘catch-up’ programme. Through our ‘Time with Dad’ campaign, we are building a space to develop new and innovative solutions.”

Ruth Maisey, Education Programme Head at the Nuffield Foundation said: “As lockdown ends, and businesses and offices reopen, employers will be making arrangements for their staff to return to work. We urge employers to consider policies which will improve the work-life balance for their employees, including fathers. We also hope that fathers will grasp this opportunity and negotiate the terms on which they return, for instance submitting flexible working requests, so they retain some of the positive changes brought about by lockdown.”

Quotes from fathers who took part in the survey:

A father said: “When we go back into offices, 9 to 5 or whatever, I think the time constraints and structure will come back. But I’d like to have more family time with kids as a unit.”

A second father said: “I’ll miss having so much time at home. It will feel strange to have so much time apart when it goes back (to normal).”

A third said: “I want this to continue. It feels like business is picking back up for us, but I’m also thinking I like this flexibility… I’ve been doing some thinking about that with my wife.

Key recommendations from the report:


  • Employers’ HR policies should support fathers’ desire to work more flexibly and/or work from home. They should take account of men’s caregiving commitments (including sharing care of children with former partners) and men’s longer average commuting times, when designing and communicating about work and shift schedules.
  • The forthcoming Employment Bill should create a duty on employers to advertise vacancies flexibly wherever possible and to detail flexibility options.
  • Trades unions and professional bodies should help fathers negotiate reasonable, family-friendly work patterns.


  • Schools and early years education providers should work to communicate with and mobilise dads to help with post-pandemic ‘catch-up’ learning, building on what fathers did during the lockdowns.

Time with Dad #timewithdad aims to connect employers, schools, parents and others who want to ‘build back’ from the pandemic in ways that take account of fathers’ caring responsibilities.

Notes for editors

The Fatherhood Institute: The Fatherhood Institute (founded 1999, charity number 1075104) promotes caring fatherhood, underpinned by commitment to child wellbeing and gender equality.  The Institute promotes policies that will enable fathers to spend more time with their children; undertakes research to inform this; trains health, education and family professionals to engage productively with fathers; and supports employers to recognise and support fathers caring responsibilities. LOCKDOWN FATHERS is the fourth report in ourContemporary Fathers in the UK series, funded by the Nuffield Foundation.  LOCKDOWN FATHERS is written by Adrienne Burgess, Co-Chief Executive & Head of Research at the Institute, and Research Associate Rebecca Goldman.
Visit: www.fatherhoodinstitute.org

BritainThinks: BritainThinks is an insight and strategy consultancy that uses qualitative and quantitative research methodologies to help clients across the public, third and corporate sectors communicate well.
Visit: https://britainthinks.com/

The Nuffield Foundation: The Nuffield Foundation is an independent charitable trust with a mission to advance social well-being. It funds research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare, and Justice. It also funds student programmes that provide opportunities for young people to develop skills in quantitative and scientific methods. The Nuffield Foundation is the founder and co-funder of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the Ada Lovelace Institute. The Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation.
Visit: www.nuffieldfoundation.org

Footnotes to this press release

[1] Fathers were asked to compare typical pre-lockdown time with time during lockdown or ‘how it is now’, depending on the question.

[2] Among partnered fathers who were at home full-time during lockdown (working or not), 85% spent more time with their children, 73% more time on home-schooling/ homework help, and 72% on housework.

[3]‘Family time use and home learning during the COVID-19 lockdown’, p34 Figure 4.2 (Andrew et al., 2020a). See also ‘Mothers and balancing work and life under lockdown’ p13 Figure 4 (Andrew et al., 2020b).

[4] In the Lockdown Fathers sample, among partnered fathers who had been at home full-time (working or not working) during the Spring 2020 lockdown, 76% wanted to work more flexibly and 63% more from home in the future.  Among the wider sample of partnered fathers, which included 27% working exclusively out-of-home during the lockdown, the figures were 64% and 50%.  Many more of these fathers did not regard such flexibility as being possible for them.