Focussing on Fathers: How supporting fathers’ caretaking benefits families and businesses alike

Tue 13 Oct 2020

Focussing on Fathers: How supporting fathers’ caretaking benefits families and businesses alike

When we founded the Fatherhood Institute (initially called ‘Fathers Direct’) 20 years ago, we were clear that for women to achieve their potential in the paid work force and the public sphere, and for gender-based poverty to be eliminated, men and fathers had to take on substantial (ideally equal) responsibility for unpaid care at home. Childcare was pivotal – because it was at the point in their careers when women became mothers that gender inequality soared.

Since that time, we have pursued the goal of increasing fathers’ caretaking and have supported strong, positive relationships between men and their children. The benefits of this are widespread. Research shows that men who have played a serious role in caretaking live longer than their peers who did not (Bartlett, 2004). Children benefit cognitively, educationally, behaviourally and emotionally from their father’s early involvement (Rollè et al., 2019; Sarkadi et al., 2008). By contrast, children whose fathers worked long hours when they were very young are more likely to demonstrate behavioural issues at age 9-11 (Opondo et al., 2016)

Women, of course, also benefit when their partner is highly involved. In the UK, when a father works flexibly and shares childcare, the child’s mother is almost twice as likely to progress in her career as when he works inflexibly and does little childcare (Frith, 2016). In Sweden it has been found that for every month of leave a father takes, his partner’s earnings increase by almost 7% (Johannson, 2010). When dads ‘do more’, both partners feel more satisfied with their relationship and are less likely to separate (Petts & Knoester, 2018). Businesses should take note: parental separation poses substantial risks to productivity. During the wind-down to separation, most employees’ work performance suffers significantly – particularly fathers’, whose mental health often plummets (Brewer & Nandi, 2014).

The question remains; what to do? We at the Fatherhood Institute take a multi-faceted approach. Firstly, we compile evidence: ‘Cash or Carry: fathers, work and care in the UK’ -- our research review and recommendation offering funded by the Nuffield Foundation -- underpins our work in this topic area. Secondly, our evidence-base enables us to engage effectively with both employers and government, including as Special Advisors to the Women and Equalities Select Committee. We aim to bring the UK’s parental leave policy in line with some Scandinavian countries’ -- most notably Iceland’s. Iceland’s parenting leave design has eliminated pregnancy discrimination, reduced the gender pay gap and increased child wellbeing through bringing fathers into childcare from the outset. Whilst UK government legislation lags behind, encouragingly, some leading UK employers have designed and implemented leave policies that are delivering significant progress.

Over the last twenty years we have provided consultancy and support to many large employers seeking to develop ‘family friendly’ working practices that truly include men. Their wish to do this is partly driven by the ‘bottom line’: supporting fathers’ caretaking increases diversity throughout the organisation, not least because, as an ‘employer of choice’, the company finds it easier to attract and retain both male and female talent.

Supporting fathers’ caretaking also improves productivity: fathers experience more work/family stress than working mothers (Working Families, 2017), and 38% report that family responsibilities ‘often or always disrupt my concentration at work’ (Speight et al., 2014).

Enabling and encouraging uptake by men of ‘family friendly’ working practices is not simply a matter of showcasing a few senior male staff who work flexibly or shorter hours to be more involved at home. Cultural and organisational shifts are required, generally with approval and support at Board level. Nevertheless, numerous small (yet often surprisingly consequential) changes can be introduced relatively easily, particularly in times of upheaval in working practices, such as now. The Covid-19 lockdown has provided a real window of opportunity, with two-thirds of working fathers ‘coming home’ to their children. It is vital that we do not let this opportunity pass.


Adrienne Burgess, Joint CEO and Head of Research at the Fatherhood Institute, will be speaking at our upcoming event, 'Developing a Family-Friendly Workplace', taking place online on Thursday, 15th October.

To book your place, please click here.

You can reach out to Adrienne directly at:



Bartlett, E. (2004). The Effects of Fatherhood on the Health of Men; A Review of the Literature. Journal of Men’s Health and Gender, 1(2-3), 159-169. doi:

Brewer, M., & Nandi, A. (2014). Partnership dissolution: how does it affect income, employment and well-being? ISER Working Paper Series 2014-30 Colchester: Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex

Frith, B. (2016, 5 December). Women progress when childcare duties are shared more equally. HR (Magazine).

Johannson, E.-A. (2010). The Effect of Own and Spousal Parental Leave on Earnings. Working Paper Uppsala, Sweden: Institute of Labour Market Policy Evaluation

Opondo, C., Savage-McGlynn, E., Redshaw, M., Savage-McGlynn, E., & Quigley, M. A. (2016). Father involvement in early child-rearing and behavioural outcomes in their pre-adolescent children: evidence from the ALSPAC UK birth cohort. British Medical Journal Open, 6(11), 1-9.

Petts, R. J., & Knoester, C. (2018). Paternity leave‐taking and father engagement. Journal of Marriage and Family, 80, 1144-1162.

Rollè, L., Gullotta, G., Trombetta, T., Curti, L., Gerino, E., Brustia, P., & Caldarera, A. M. (2019). Father Involvement and Cognitive Development in Early and Middle Childhood: A Systematic Review. Frontiers in Psychology, 10(2405).

Sarkadi, A., Kristiansson, R., Oberklaid, F., & Bremberg, S. (2008). Fathers’ involvement and children’s developmental outcomes: A systematic review of longitudinal studies. Acta Paediatrica, 97(2), 153-158. doi:10.1111/j.1651-2227.2007.00572.x

Speight, S., O'Brien, M., Connolly, S., Poole, E., & Aldrich, M. (2014). Work‐family conflict:: how do UK fathers compare to other European fathers? Paper presented at the Modern Fatherhood Seminar, London.

Working Families. (2017). Modern Families Index 2017 London: Working Families

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