Fathers want flexibility, not fewer hours

Aug 25 2006 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Fatherhood might be a life-changing experience, but it has little effect on men's working patterns. Indeed, despite all the talk of "new fathers", men continue to work the same hours after they become fathers and show no desire to spend more time at home.

But according to research carried out by University of Bristol sociologist Dr Esther Dermott, while fathers continue to work the same hours as non-fathers, they are keen to have greater flexibility in their working patterns to enable them to be part of their children's' lives.

"It seems that fathers don't want to work fewer hours," Esther Dermott said.

"What professional men value most about their jobs is their ability to control their working hours so that they can leave early to go to school functions or parents' meetings - and this flexibility was also what other men most wanted."

In other words, Dermott said, the focus on fatherhood as an influence of men's employment has been overplayed; fathers do not have shorter working hours than non-fathers, nor do they see this as a problem.

The findings also suggest that current policies to encourage work-life balance don't take account of how fathers want to adapt their routines to fit in with family life.

"Fatherhood is not a good predictor of the number of hours men work once other variables are taken into account," Dermott aadded.

"Hours of work are significantly related to age, form of economic activity, occupation, earnings and partner's working-time."

Data analysis showed that around a quarter of men wanted to work fewer hours: less than one per cent wanted to increase their hours and the remainder wished to maintain the status quo.

These preferences did not change when the men became fathers. They did not want to work either shorter or longer - hours.

The findings also reassert that the relationship between paid work and parenthood is very different for mothers and fathers in the UK.

Unlike fathers, mothers and non-mothers differ significantly in terms of their hours of work. While some women have become more like men in terms of labour market engagement, men are not altering their working patterns in order to become like 'traditional' women.

The implications of this is that recent policies may simply not be what fathers want. Promoting employee-controlled forms of flexibility and offering pay-related paternity leave may prove more popular, Dermott argues.

"There is no evidence that 'new,' involved fathers are adopting a 'female model' of parenthood, with part-time work and high levels of child care," said Dermott.

Fatherhood has changed, she said, but it has not become motherhood.