June 19, 2015

Fathers’ time spent caring for children increased dramatically over the 46-year period between 1965-2011, jumping from an average of 2.5 hours/week in 1965 to 7.3 hours per week in 2011, according to a Pew Research Center study.  A new study by time use scholar Dr. Sandra Hofferth, professor in the University of Maryland School of Public Health’s Department of Family Science, shows that fathers’ time spent with children has continued to climb over the past decade from 2003 to 2013.

“The good news is that fathers overall continue to spend more time with their children, which is great for kids,” Dr. Hofferth says. “And the increased time was not just spent engaged in play, but also notably on routine care and family management.”

By analyzing American Time Use Survey data collected from a national sample of more than 20,000 men ages 18 to 64 who were living with children under age 18 between 2003-2013, Hofferth’s research team found that unemployed married fathers  and men who were sole caregivers were more likely to spend time caring for children than married employed fathers. Fathers in dual-earner couples were more likely to engage in child care than those in sole male-earner couples, who were the least likely to report any child care time.

They also looked at changes in fathers’ chance of spending any time in child care related to the economic recession of December 2007 to June 2009. Not surprisingly, fathers’ care of children increased as their employment declined, with single fathers increasing their child care the most. The proportion of fathers reporting primary child care rose during the recession, but by 2013 had returned to pre-recessionary levels.

The study additionally examined the amount of child care time spent by those engaged in child care.  Fathers overall significantly increased time spent caring for children over the entire period from 2003 to 2013, spending on average an additional 1.1 hours per week in child care time in the recovery (post-recession period) compared with the pre-recession period. The amount of child care time contributed by unemployed fathers was 40 to 55 minutes per day greater than that of employed fathers with employed wives.

To ensure that more men are able to spend time with their children, Dr. Hofferth suggests that employer policies that provide parental leave expressly for fathers would help. Women are the primary users of parental leave after childbirth, where available, she notes, but a study from Canada showed that when parental leave for fathers is provided on a “use it or lose it” basis, men were 250% more likely to use it and to spend time at home with children and on household tasks.

These data were first presented by Dr. Hofferth and doctoral candidate Yoonjoo Lee at the Annual Meeting of the International Association of Time Use Research in Turku, Finland and are being presented at the 20th Anniversary Celebration of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, Capitol Hill, on June 24 and at the National Institutes of Health on June 25, 2015. Support for this research was provided by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (Grant number R01-HD053654, S. Hofferth, PI, and R24-HD041041, the Maryland Population Research Center).


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