- Start date: 1 April 2021
- End date: 30 June 2023
- Funder: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
- Principal investigator: Dr Helen Norman
- Co-investigators: Professor Colette Fagan, School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester; Professor Mark Elliot, School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester; Dr Jeremy Davies, The Fatherhood Institute.
Does fathers’ childcare involvement increase children's educational attainment at primary school?
Fathers spend more time on childcare than ever before but the implications of this on children are unclear. Fathers' childcare involvement should have a positive effect on children's cognitive and educational outcomes but there is little direct evidence to support this. Primary education is a pivotal stage of child development because it is the point at which children first make the transition from the home environment to school. Achievements at this early stage can shape educational pathways and therefore future employment prospects and opportunities.
Previous research with mothers or 'parents' more generally (e.g. Hsin and Felfe 2014) suggests that early parental involvement is critical for child development but we do not know whether fathers impact their children's education differently to mothers, or whether paternal care is particularly important for boys, girls or at certain stages in the child's life regardless of gender. There is an urgent need to explore the potential effect of paternal childcare involvement given the Department for Education (2018) report that over a quarter of children in England are not primary 'school-ready' because they fall below the expected level for communication and literacy, and UNICEF (2018) ranks the UK in the bottom third of 41 of the world's richest countries for inequalities in primary school education. We propose that paternal pre- or school age care could help to support progression in particular academic subjects, close gender gaps in attainment and even moderate the detrimental effects of poverty.
This project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
Our study proposes to conduct the first longitudinal analysis in England that explores the relationship between fathers' childcare involvement and their children's attainment at primary school. Using household data from the Millennium Cohort Survey (MCS) linked with official educational records of children from the National Pupil Database (NPD) in England, we will explore whether, how and at what stage fathers' childcare involvement affects children's attainment at primary school. The MCS collects data at four relevant life stages: pre-school (9 months and 3 years), school entry (age 5), in the middle (age 7) and at the end (age 11) of school. Our analysis will track longer, more comprehensive primary school educational trajectories than has been previously possible (e.g. Cano et al. 2019), focussing on how pre-school and school-age paternal childcare involvement affects children's attainment in core (e.g. Maths, English, Science) and non-core (e.g. Art, ICT) subjects at the three key stages of primary school (ages 5, 7 and 11).
The research questions are:
1. Does paternal involvement increase primary school attainment for children? And specifically:
(a) How important is fathers' pre-school involvement?
b) Does the sex of the child moderate the effect of paternal involvement on educational attainment?
(c) Does father involvement moderate the known negative effects of poverty?
2. Which kinds of paternal-childcare activities have the strongest effect on a child's primary school attainment, and at what stage of the child's life is this most important?
The findings will be relevant to a range of stakeholders including policymakers, practitioners, teachers and families. Our impact strategy has been developed with Dr Jeremy Davies - Head of Communications at the Fatherhood Institute and project Co-I - who will draw on existing contacts within the school, early years and health sectors to involve them in a method of coproduction that steers the analysis and turns the results into relevant and impactful resources that are tailored to their specific needs.
Publications and outputs
- Analysis: Why do we assume women care?, BBC Radio 4, November 2022
- Young children do better at school if their dads draw, play and paint with them regularly, study finds, The I, April 2022. (Also featured in the Daily Mirror, Daily Star, and various radio outlets.)
What a difference a dad makes: engaging with fathers as well as mothers, Parentkind, September 2022
What difference does ‘time with dad’ make to children’s learning?, PIECE website, April 2022
Revealing fathers’ impact on their children’s learning and development: our new study, Fatherhood Institute, June 2021
This project has developed from a 2016-17 ESRC Secondary Data Analysis Initiative funded project exploring what influences paternal childcare involvement as children grow older, in partnership with Working Families.
The following are some of the selected outputs related to that research:
Selected journal articles
Norman, H. (2020) Does paternal involvement in childcare influence mothers’ employment trajectories during the early stages of parenthood in the UK? Sociology Vol 54(2): 329-345
Norman H. 2017. Paternal involvement in childcare: how can it be classified and what are the key influences?. Families, Relationships and Societies. 6(1), pp. 89-105
Norman, H., Elliot, M., Fagan, C. (2018) Does fathers’ involvement in childcare and housework affect couples’ relationship stability? Social Science Quarterly, Vol 99(5): 1599-1613 (open access)
Norman, H., Elliot, M., Fagan, C. (2014) Which fathers are the most involved in taking care of their toddlers in the UK? An investigation of the predictors of paternal involvement, Community Work and Family, 17:2, 163-180
Selected blog posts
Norman, H., Fagan, C (2017) What make fathers involved in their children’s upbringing?, Working Families WorkFlex blog, 20 January
Norman, H., Fagan, C. (2017) Shared Parental Leave in the UK: is it working? Lessons from other countries, Working Families WorkFlex blog, 5 April
Norman, H., Watt, L. (2017) Why aren’t men doing the housework? Working Families WorkFlex blog, 29 August