Nineties fathers grow more caring

Children and fathers watched TV together as well as indulging in play and sports
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The Independent Online
The popular image of absent fathers abandoning their children is contradicted by a new report which says nearly three-quarters remain in contact, and half see their offspring at least once a week.

The report, from the Family Policy Studies Centre, notes that modern fathers are increasingly taking the emotional side of child-rearing as seriously as the economic responsibility.

It found that a typical father in the 1990s tended to be in his 30s before he had children, lived with his biological children and was married. He was still more likely to be the main breadwinner but was spending more time on caring for his children.

In fact, both fathers and mothers spend more time caring for their children than 30 years ago. While mothers still spent more time with their children, the time spent by fathers increased fourfold between 1961-1995.

According to the National Childhood Development Survey, 45 per cent of mothers and 50 per cent of fathers said childcare was shared equally. When both partners worked full time, nearly seven out of 10 mothers and fathers said care was shared equally.

Children and fathers watched TV together, talked as well as indulging in play and sports, as well as just "doing nothing".

Despite that, fathers remained the sole or main breadwinner in the vast majority of families, and the 45-hour average full-time week worked by British men is the longest in Europe.

Indeed, fathers of children under 11 spend even longer at work - an average of 48 hours a week, and working unsocial hours - evenings, nights and weekends - has become commonplace for many dads.

In line with changing patterns of fertility amongst women, men are also waiting longer before they become fathers. Nearly six out of 10 men in their late 20s are still childless, and nearly one in three men in their late 30s have never fathered a child. More than 80 per cent of fathers live with their biological children and seven out of 10 are doing so within their first family.

And while it has been feared that family breakdown leads to many children losing contact with the absent parent - usually the father - the report says that while one in six fathers lived apart from some or all of their children, seven in 10 had contact and about half saw their children every week.

Some fathers said that they spent more time with their children after the break-up, said Ceridwen Roberts, director of the Family Policy Studies Centre: "Fathers put in more time at considerable expense to themselves, both emotional and financial. Sometimes there was more fathering after divorce, because after divorce they spent more time with the child on their own."

The report's author, Louie Burghes, said: "This report starts to fill some glaring gaps in knowledge and understanding - for example, we did not know until now just how many men were fathers and at what ages they had children.

"Even so, there is more to be learned to remedy the marginalisation of fatherhood in policy making and bring greater coherence to policies affecting families."

Ms Roberts added: "The debate about fatherhood and fathering must not be confined to politicians, journalists and women. It is time for more men to speak up about the sort of fathers they would like to be and what needs to be changed."

t Fathers and Fatherhood in Britain is published by the Family Policy Studies Centre, 231 Baker Street, London NW1 6XE, pounds 11.45 (inc P&P).