Working mums fail to help with homework

Mothers who stay at home spend four times longer helping children, study finds

Mothers who work full-time spend just three minutes a day alone with their sons helping them with homework, researchers have found.

The figure is less than a quarter of the time devoted to children's homework by mothers who work part-time or who stay at home. Their absence prompts children to spend more time watching television, according to the study, published in the British Journal of Sociology.

Fathers, who manage only three minutes on average each day, increase by a minute a day the amount of time they help with homework when their partner works full-time. But that is insufficient to compensate for the loss of attention caused by the mother going out to work.

Daughters fare slightly better than sons in households where both parents work, getting seven minutes of concentrated attention from their mothers, but that still falls far short of the average of 14 minutes that each child gets in a traditional one-income household.

It was found that a child aged between eight and 13 would on average spend 40 minutes a day on "achievement-related" activities, including homework reading, artistic and creative activities. By contrast, they would spend 136 minutes watching television. For the rest of the time spent neither sleeping nor at school, 47 minutes were devoted to household chores, 174 minutes to leisure activities such as sport or cinema, 112 to meals, hygiene and dressing, and 72 minutes to travelling.

Children in this age group spend a further 15 minutes each day working on homework or other educational activities in the presence of both parents. But it is the time spent with just one that is considered the most valuable because they are more likely to be getting help and attention.

Dr Killian Mullan, of the University of New South Wales, concluded that having a mother working full-time reduces the help a child gets at home. He said: "Overall, children are getting less intensive one-to-one engagement with a parent on attainment-related activities when their mother works full-time because the father is just not making up the difference of the time lost." Children of full-time working mothers, he found, will spend an extra 27 minutes a day watching television compared with those from a household where just the father works. "Young people with mothers employed full-time spend significantly more time watching TV than those whose mothers are not employed," Dr Mullan added. "Maternal employment shapes or gives a particular structure to a young person's day that is significantly distinct from young people whose mothers do not work, and there are clear differences between mothers in full-time and mothers in part-time employment."

According to the Office for National Statistics, the average number of hours worked by married mothers has more than doubled since 1974 whilst the figure for married men has remained static. By 2009, over 70 per cent of married mothers were working, as were 88 per cent of fathers. Adrienne Burgess, of the Fatherhood Institute, said it was important that teachers and other professionals should encourage more fathers to get involved with their children's education and better understand what is needed. "Then they may be more willing to play their part in doing homework with the children," she said.

Katrina Allen, of Children in Scotland, a project aimed at getting public services to engage with fathers, said: "Overall we have found a low level of awareness and understanding within local authorities and health boards in understanding gender-equality issues."

Commenting on the report, Professor Iram Siraj-Blatchford, of the University of London's Institute of Education, said: "Too much rests on the shoulder of mothers. Fathers should take more interest."

The study assessed the use of time by 1,269 eight to 13-year olds and 835 14 to 18-year-olds in the United Kingdom. Having both or just one parent working made little difference to the time mothers and fathers spent helping with homework among young people in the 14 to 18 age group, the researchers found.

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