Annual Report 2007‚Äď2008

Long work hours and fathering

This section is an edited extract from a paper published in Family Matters no. 77, "When dad works long hours: How working hours are associated with fathering 4-5 year old children", by Jennifer Baxter.

This paper uses the Wave 1 (2004) data from Growing Up in Australia for the 4-5 year old children to examine whether fathers who work longer hours are less involved as parents, either when measured as a) being involved with their child's activities, or b) having a cooperative relationship with the child's mother. Couple families only are considered, where the mother and father (not necessarily biological) are the primary carers of the child.

To analyse the effects of working long hours, employed fathers' usual work hours were categorised as 1-34 hours, 35-44 hours, 45-54 hours and 55 hours or more. In the majority (87%) of couple families with a 4-5 year old, the father was employed full-time (35 hours per week or more). A considerable proportion of these fathers (24%) worked 55 hours or more per week. Just 7% of fathers were not employed and 6% were employed part-time.

The full paper considers other aspects of fathering, notably that of being a "breadwinner" and income earner.

Fathers' activities with children

Fathers' involvement in children's activities was analysed by looking at how often they reported doing the following activities with their child: reading to the child from a book, playing with toys or games indoors (like board or card games) and playing a game outdoors or exercising together (like walking, swimming or cycling). It also includes fathers' involvement with children in everyday activities at home (such as cooking or pet care). Fathers were asked on how many days, over the previous week, they had undertaken these activities with their child. Possible responses were none, 1-2 days, 3-5 days and 6-7 days, and averages were calculated using the mid-points of these response categories.

Figure 15 shows that the majority of fathers, at some time in the week, were involved in reading to their child, playing indoor or outdoor games with them and involving them in daily activities. However, they were most likely to do this on only one or two days a week, with a substantial minority (14-24%) not doing these activities with their child at all. Only 6-12% undertook these activities on 6 or 7 days a week.

Figure 15: Father's involvement - graph

Figure 15: Fathers' involvement with children's activities over a one-week period, couple families with 4-5 year old children

Averaging these data, fathers who worked 55 hours or more per week spent the least amount of time playing indoor games, playing outdoor games and involving children in everyday activities (Figure 16). They spent less time than other full-time employed fathers reading to their child. There was virtually no difference between fathers working 35-44 hours and those working 45-54 hours in the frequency of participation in any of the activities. On average, fathers who were not employed spent more time in all activities investigated except reading from a book.

Figure 16: Frequency of father-child activities - graph

Figure 16: Average frequency of father-child activities, by fathers' working hours, couple families with 4-5 year old children

While Figure 16 shows some lower involvement of fathers who work longer hours, the differences by hours were not considerable. For example, the average number of days that fathers were involved with their children in everyday activities varied from 2.5 days a week for those working 35-44 hours per week, to 2.3 days a week for those working 55 hours or more. There was a small difference in the distribution as well: among fathers working 35-44 hours per week, 20% reported no involvement with children in everyday activities at all (compared to 25% of fathers working 55 hours or more), and 12% were involved in activities with their child on 6 or 7 days per week (compared with 10% of those working 55 hours or more).

Thus, even among fathers working shorter full-time hours, some are not regularly involved with their child's activities; and among those working longer full-time hours, some fathers have relatively high levels of involvement. Other characteristics of fathers are likely to explain some of this variation.

Providing support to mothers

Relationships between fathers and their children do not exist in isolation from relationships with other family members, especially mothers. The extent to which mothers and fathers encourage and support each other as parents is an important aspect of parenting. The support that either parent gives to the other could include providing emotional support, having a greater involvement in or taking more responsibility for child care tasks, or providing financial support. What form this support takes within families may differ for mothers and fathers, and for families with different employment arrangements.

Two related questions were asked of mothers and fathers: "How often are you a resource or support to your partner in raising your children?" and "How often is your partner a resource or support to you in raising your children?" Responses to these questions are compared and shown in Table 7. First, looking at the extent to which fathers were a support to mothers in childrearing (the second and third columns), fathers were less positive about the support they provided than mothers were about the support they received. Just 35% of fathers thought they were always a support to the mother in childrearing, while 59% of mothers thought the father was always a support. Looking then at how mothers supported the fathers (the final two columns), mothers and fathers had similar perceptions of the degree to which mothers were a resource or support - some 78% of mothers and fathers said that the mother was always a support to the father in childrearing.

Table 7: Frequency of being a resource or support to partner in childrearing, couple families with 4-5 year old children


Father is a resource to mother

Mother is a resource to father

Father's response (%)

Mother's response (%)

Mother's response (%)

Father's response (%)


























No. of observations





Note: Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

Time use studies consistently show that mothers do more household and childrearing work than do fathers, regardless of either parent's employment status. While this dataset did not collect information on the actual amount of childrearing done by either parent, it did ask both parents whether they believed that they did more or less than their fair share - "Do you think that you do your fair share of the childrearing tasks (both physical and emotional care)?". This measure alone is not likely to reflect the relative amounts of actual time spent doing childrearing tasks, as men's and women's responses to questions of fairness tend to be answered in contexts of different gender role attitudes.

Mothers were more likely than fathers to say they did at least their fair share of childrearing, with 60% of mothers and 12% of fathers saying they did more or much more than their fair share (Table 8). Fathers, on the other hand, were more likely than mothers to say they did less or much less than their fair share (20% compared to 1%), although two-thirds of fathers thought they did their fair share.

Table 8: Perceived fairness of share of childrearing tasks, couple families with 4-5 year old children


Father's response (%)

Mother's response (%)

I do much less than my fair share



I do less than my fair share



I do my fair share



I do more than my fair share



I do much more than my fair share



No. of observations



Note: Percentages may not total 100% due to rounding.

To look at relationships between fathers' working hours and co-parenting, responses to four questions were analysed: perceived level of support they give to their partner and the perceived fairness of childrearing tasks, as reported by fathers and mothers. For perceived support, a rating of 1 indicated low support and a rating of 5 high support, and for fairness of child-rearing tasks, 1 indicated much less than fair share and 5 indicated much more. The average rating was then calculated for each working hours category.

The more hours fathers worked, the less childrearing support they gave to their partner (Figure 17), according to both fathers' and mothers' reports. Also, fathers who worked longer hours were more likely to report doing less than their fair share of childrearing tasks. Conversely, mothers reported doing more than their fair share of childrearing when fathers worked longer hours. Again, though, the differences were not large, with a difference of less than half a point between the average score of those working standard (35-44) hours and those working longer hours (55 hours or more).

Figure 17: Average co-parenting scores - graph

Figure 17: Average co-parenting scores, couple families with 4-5 year old children, by father hours

While there were some differences in these co-parenting measures according to fathers' work hours, as with the fathers' involvement in activities, there was also considerable variation within each of the groups. Even among those working the longest hours, there were fathers who rated themselves (and were rated by the mother) highly on the support given to the mother. According to the fathers, of those working 55 hours or more, 27% were always a support to the mother, and according to the mothers, 51% were always a support. About two-thirds of these men also thought that they did at least their share of the childrearing. The mothers were somewhat less likely to agree, with 70% saying they did more than their fair share of the childrearing, but this left 30% who thought the sharing of childrearing tasks was fair.


In summary, small but significant associations were found between fathers working longer hours and both their involvement with children and co-parenting. Working longer hours reduced fathers' involvement with their children, and reduced the provision of support to their partner and the sharing of childrearing responsibilities.

Despite the significant effects, the differences among full-time employed fathers were quite small. Even among those working fairly standard hours, there were some fathers who were less involved in their children's activities and less supportive as a co-parent. Further, among those who had more employment-related constraints on their time, there were fathers who were heavily involved in their children's activities and supportive as a co-parent. It appears that some fathers ensured their family time was not compromised by their work demands, even if those work demands were significant.

There are clearly other factors that differentiate fathers according to the amount of time they spend with their children, what they do with that time, and to what extent they share in the parenting tasks and responsibilities. In addition to those differences relating to skills, motivations and supports, differences are also likely to exist within different cultural and social groups. Other aspects of employment, in addition to hours worked, might also have an association with father involvement. For example, fathers in jobs that are more stressful might have reduced father involvement. Fathering is, however, complex and multifaceted and there may be aspects of fathering other than those covered here that are more affected by working longer hours.

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