Dads Want Flexibility, Not Shorter Working Hours

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Work and Fatherhood

Being a father has little effect on men's working patterns, in spite of the fact that they cut back their working hours for a short time after a new child is born, according to Economic and Social Research Council funded research at the University of Bristol. "There is no evidence that 'new,' involved fathers are adopting a 'female model' of parenthood, with part-time work and high levels of child care," says sociologist Dr Esther Dermott, who conducted the research.

The findings suggest that current policies to encourage work-life balance don't take account of how fathers want to adapt their routines to fit in with family life. "It seems that fathers don't want to work fewer hours," says Esther Dermott. "What professional men value most about their jobs is their ability to control their working hours so that they can leave early to go to school functions or parents' meetings - and this flexibility was also what other men most wanted."

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The Bristol research was based on statistical analysis of two existing quantitative datasets. Further findings suggest that the focus on fatherhood as an influence of men's employment has been overplayed; fathers do not have shorter working hours than non-fathers, nor do they see this as a problem.

"Fatherhood is not a good predictor of the number of hours men work once other variables are taken into account," says Esther Dermott. "Hours of work are significantly related to age, form of economic activity, occupation, earnings and partner's working-time."

Data analysis showed that around a quarter of men wanted to work fewer hours: less than one per cent wanted to increase their hours and the remainder wished to maintain the status quo. These preferences did not change when the men became fathers. They did not want to work shorter - or longer - hours.

The research has implications for future measures to support better work-life balance among parents. It suggests that recent policies may simply not be what fathers want. Promoting employee-controlled forms of flexibility and offering pay-related paternity leave may prove more popular, the report says.

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