When Dads work long hours: Fathers too juggle demands of work and family

When Dads work long hours: Fathers too juggle demands of work and family

Media release — 31 January 2008

In the latest issue of Family Matters the Australian Institute of Family Studies' premier journal, researcher Jennifer Baxter examines relationships between work hours and specific aspects of parenting for fathers of 4-5 year old children. The study was based on data from Growing Up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, which is being managed by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

'The balance between work and family is a subject more often discussed in relation to women's employment than it is to men's,' writes Baxter. 'But fathers too suffer from trying to juggle the demands that work and family place on their time. When children are young fathers' work demands are often particularly great, given that, on average, work hours are at their longest at this life cycle stage.'

The study found that one-quarter of fathers of 4-5 year old children worked 55 hours or more per week. These fathers spent, on an average weekday, 2.2 hours with their child, compared to 2.9 hours for fathers working 35 to 44 hours per week.

For fathers, working longer hours was associated with:

  • reduced involvement with their children on a range of activities, but not for reading with their children
  • reduced levels of assistance and support to their partner in childrearing.

Fathers who worked longer hours, however, contributed a larger amount financially to the parental income, in total and as a proportion of parental income. The average gross weekly income for fathers working 35 to 44 hours per week was $908, compared to $1,300 for those working 55 hours or more. In many families, especially when children are young, the expectation remains that the father will be the main breadwinner for the family.

The paper examines differences according to fathers' work hours and other personal and family characteristics, such as:

  • the breadwinner role,
  • undertaking very specific activities with children, and
  • having a co-operative relationship with the child's mother.

Each of these aspects of fathering is addressed in turn and relationships between these different measures discussed.

The paper also found that other factors were associated with these aspects of fathering, such as:

  • When mothers worked full-time hours, fathers spent more time with their children in everyday activities.
  • More highly educated fathers, and those with fewer children, spent more time reading and playing indoor games with their child.
  • Fathers who were happier in their relationship with their partner spent more time with their child in playing indoor or outdoor games and involving children in everyday activities.

The paper concludes that:

  • Despite the significant effects of long hours on reduced father involvement and co-parenting, the differences amongst full-time employed fathers were quite small. For example, considering how often, in a week, fathers involved their children in everyday activities, on average fathers working 35 to 44 hours involved their children in everyday activities 2.5 days a week, while amongst fathers working 55 hours or more the average was 2.3 days a week.
  • Even among those working fairly standard hours, some fathers were less involved in their children's activities and less supportive as a co-parent, and conversely, among those working long hours, there were fathers who were heavily involved in their children's activities and supportive as a co-parent.

Some fathers ensured their family time was not compromised by their work demands, even if those work demands were significant. This is consistent with international research, which suggests that when higher levels of motivation, skills and supports are in place, institutional factors need not always make a large difference to fathering.

Family Matters, no. 77, 2007 - table of contents and abstracts

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