Old Fashioned Dads Spend Less Time With Their Kids, Study Suggests

Dads who are the sole breadwinners have closely-spaced children, but spend less time with them

flickr / Tony Alter
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Dads who split household chores and professional responsibilities with their wives are more likely to wait before having a second child, and spend more time with that child overall, a new study suggests. On the other hand, old-fashioned dads who hold single-earner roles tend to have smaller age gaps between children, and spend less time with their kids.

“Families with two working parents might find it easier to manage child-rearing if their children are spaced farther apart,” study coauthor Brenda Volling of the University of Michigan told Fatherly. And since those “dual earners” dads are used to sharing responsibilities with their spouses, they’re also more likely to spend time with their kids.

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Studies suggest there are now more dual-earner families—in which both spouses financially support the family—than single-earner ones, but that’s only before children enter the picture. The research suggests that, within a year of giving birth, 39 percent of dual-earner families become single-earners as women leave the workforce to care for their children full-time. This could mean that less traditional families may take on a more traditional arrangements after having their first children, so Volling and her team chose to focus specifically on couples welcoming a second child.

The recent study, published in Psychology of Men & Masculinity, assessed the involvement of 222 dads with data obtained from the Family Transitions Study—a longitudinal study that looks at how family relationships adjust to the birth of second children. All participating families had two kids and fathers who worked full time. Dual-earners were defined as families in which mothers worked at least 20 hours per week, which accounted for 112 families, making the sample nearly half and half. Father involvement was scored on a five-point, 11-item scale, and their attitudes towards gender roles as well as work-family conflict were similarly measured through questionnaires.

“As time progressed, the single-earner fathers became less involved, and dual-earner fathers became more involved with their children,” Volling says, likely because single-earner father had some time off and then got right back to work. Less surprisingly, more egalitarian gender beliefs predicted greater involvement across groups of earners. “When dual-earner families did space their children farther apart, then fathers were able to also have more time to spend caring for the infants.” Volling suspects this is because the first borns were more self-sufficient at age 4 and 5 years old, versus 2 or 3. “To me this suggested that parents, both men and women, organize their family and work roles in ways that make sense for their circumstances.”

Overall, men’s involvement with their kids had less to do with the number of hours they worked and more to do with the level of conflict they experienced trying find a work-life balance, Volling says. Regardless of the arrangement, or the gap between first and second children, the data shows that the deck is still very much stacked against fathers who want to spend less time at the office and more time with their kids. “Longer parental leave or paid leave would allow men, and we would argue women too, the time needed to care for their children,” Volling recommends.

“Supportive workplace policies helps parents, families, and children.”

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