UK media tell the story of fathers doing more hands-on childcare since pandemic
Britain’s dads grabbed the headlines over the festive season – thanks to new research by reporters from The Guardian, with support from the Fatherhood Institute.
Our commentary and analysis appeared on The Guardian’s front-page on Boxing Day, in this news story by senior reporter Lexy Topping and data journalist Carmen Aguilar Garcia.
The story presented newly analysed data from the Office for National Statistics, showing increases in the numbers of stay-at-home fathers, and the amount of time working fathers spend looking after their children.
The story was picked up by most of the mainstream UK press (including the Daily Telegraph, The Times, Daily Mail and Daily Express) – and our head of impact and communications Dr Jeremy Davies shared his own experience of part-time stay-at-home fatherhood, in a blog for The Guardian.
Has Covid-19 transformed fatherhood in the UK?
Our research, drawing on new official data, suggests that the Covid-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for changes in how parents share their earning and childcare responsibilities.
Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that the number of ‘stay-at-home dads’ was a third higher in July to September 2022, than in the same period in 2019.
Stay-at-home dads remain a tiny minority (just over 2%) of fathers, so in itself this expansion in numbers – while interesting – doesn’t tell us very much about fathers’ behaviour in general.
But a second set of ONS data – presented in more detail in our Closing the Gap report – does suggest significant progress towards gender equality since before the pandemic.
In Closing the Gap we present our analysis of recent ONS figures from working parents’ time-use diaries – comparing March 2022 with previous data from 2020 and 2014/15.
We found a narrowing of gendered gaps in time parents spend looking after children, doing housework and undertaking paid work – and dramatic increases in working-from-home, and reductions in work-related travel, especially for dads.
As always, there are limits to the data – which provide a ‘snapshot’ taken not long after Covid-19 restrictions were lifted – and we can’t be sure that these shifts will be sustained in the long-term.
But for anyone interested in how mothers and fathers might achieve greater balance in their participation in hands-on childcare and paid work in the longer term, we think they’re significant.
Our hypothesis – as set out in our 2021 Lockdown Fathers: the untold story report – is that a key way to support men to take on a greater share of the day-to-day domestic work, including childcare, is to reduce the amount of time we expect them to spend in, or travelling to, their workplace. These new data seem to support our hypothesis.
How could we embed and extend these changes?
In our briefings, and on our Time with Dad page, we’ve highlighted three key policy changes that we think would help narrow the gendered gaps in childcare and paid work further:
- A more gender-equitable parenting leave system, including well-paid paternity leave and a period of well-paid, use-it-or-lose-it parental leave – for all fathers, including those who are self-employed
- Flexible working by default as a Day 1 right for all employees, with the onus on employers to advertise flexible options and justify when these are not possible – to fathers as well as mothers
- Routine and systematic engagement with fathers in the perinatal period by NHS maternity and health visiting services to support their close attachment to, and involvement in caregiving for, their babies; and by other services (including Family Hubs) for families with older children.
Over the coming weeks we will be asking for your ideas and support, as we put together a policy briefing to send to MPs. So stay tuned for our newsletters and follow us on social media, via the links at the bottom of this email.