Which fathers are involved in looking after their children? Identifying the conditions associated with paternal involvement

Project Details


Project team

• Dr Helen Norman, Principal Investigator
• Professor Mark Elliot, Co-Investigator
• Professor Colette Fagan, Co-Investigator
• Dr Laura Watt, Research Assistant
• Jonathan Swan, Working Families - Project Partner
• Professor Sue Himmelweit, Open University - Advisory Board
• Dr Andrew Stewart, The University of Manchester - Advisory Board


One of the gender inequalities in the home is that fathers are less involved than mothers in looking after their young children’s day-to-day lives. Sen’s (1992) ‘capability framework’ elaborates how state and organisational policies, social norms, and household economic and demographic circumstances shape men and women’s options, decisions and behaviours, creating pressures on the arrangement of the domestic division of labour in households. Yet the relative importance of these factors in shaping men’s involvement in childcare remains under-researched and largely based on small-scale qualitative studies or cross-sectional survey data (see Norman 2010 for a review).

Our previous research (Norman 2010; Norman et al 2014; Norman and Elliot 2015; Fagan and Norman 2016) used the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) to develop measures of paternal involvement in childcare when the child was aged nine months and three years old. We found the mothers’ employment hours had the strongest association with paternal involvement: if the mother worked full-time both nine months and three years after the child’s birth then the father was more likely to be an involved parent when the child was aged three. Fathers were also more likely to be involved when the child was aged three if (i) they worked shorter hours in employment and (ii) if they were involved in childcare nine months after the child’s birth; but the effect of both these variables was significantly weaker than that of the mothers’ employment hours.

This research project will build on this analysis, using the MCS, to establish which employment and socio-demographic characteristics shape paternal involvement as children age from nine months to eleven years old. Part of the analysis will focus on intact households to remove the confounding impact of relationship breakdown. We will also examine the longitudinal relationship between paternal involvement and the probability of households remaining intact (following recent research that found a correlation between paternal involvement and the quality of a couple relationship; e.g. Poole et al. 2014). The research questions to be addressed are:
• How can we develop measures of paternal involvement over time as the child develops?
• What are the key employment, socio-demographic, and attitudinal characteristics of fathers in the UK who report involved parenting behaviour when their child is aged 9 months, 3, 5, 7 and 11 years old?
• Do trajectories of paternal involvement over the child’s lifecourse vary between fathers and if so, what are the predictors?
• Does paternal involvement when the child is aged nine months predict whether a household is still intact when the child reaches age eleven?

In examining these questions, the project aims to contribute to scholarly and policy debates about what encourages or impedes fathers’ involvement in providing care for their children. It will make an original contribution to the literature on parental involvement by using a representative sample of fathers to develop measures of paternal involvement, identify differences among fathers and explore how their involvement develops as the child grows older. This is particularly relevant in light of the growing attention to fathers within policy debates about work-family issues across Europe (e.g. European Commission 2012; Eurofound 2015), including UK policy, where the introduction of shared parental leave is the most recent reform designed to provide better support for fathers and their involvement in childcare (BIS 2014; also see Working Families 2015).


• Eurofound (2015): Promoting uptake of parental and paternity leave among fathers in the European Union, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg
• European Commission (2012): The Role of Men in Gender Equality – European strategies & insights, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg
• Fagan, C., Norman, H. (2016): What makes fathers involved? An exploration of the longitudinal influence of fathers’ and mothers’ employment on father’s involvement in looking after their pre-school children in the UK in Crespi, I., Ruspini, E. (ed): Balancing work and family in a changing society: the father’s perspective, Palgrave MacMillan: Basingstoke
• Norman, H. (2010): Involved fatherhood: an analysis of the conditions associated with paternal involvement in childcare and housework, (unpublished doctoral thesis) The University of Manchester.
• Norman, H., Elliot, M. (2015) Measuring paternal involvement in childcare and housework, Sociological Research Online, Volume 20, no. 2(2015)
• 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 & Family, 17:2, 163-180
• Poole, E., Speight, S., O’Brien, M., Connelly, S., Aldrich, M. (2014) Father involvement with children and couple relationships. Briefing Paper – Modern Fatherhood: Fathers, Work and Families in the 21st Century
• Sen, A. (1992) Inequality Reexamined, Oxford University Press: Oxford
• Working Families (2015): Shared Parental Leave: The quiet revolution, how mothers and fathers share work and care


• Community, Work and Family – 8th International Conference 2019
23 May 2019 – Centre for Labour Studies – University of Malta.
Norman, H., Fagan, C. “Flexibility and fatherhood in Europe: What influences fathers to get involved in care?”

• How does gender shape our lives?

8 November 2017 –  ESRC Festival of Social Science public event, The Pankhurst Centre, 60-62 Nelson Street, Manchester.
Norman, H: “How does gender shape our lives? …What influences dads to be more involved in their children’s care?”

• Fathers, family and gender in the workplace: pursuing pathways to research impact and engagement.

1 November 2017 – Lancaster University Conference Centre, Lancaster.
Norman, H: “What makes fathers involved in their children’s care? Analysing paternal involvement from nine months to seven years post birth”.

• Transition to parenthood in a cross-cultural context (TRIAD) Researcher workshop: Pathways to Impact.

9 October 2017 – University of Manchester, Manchester
Norman, H, Fagan, C: “The example of our research partnership with Working Families”

• Instituto Superior de Ciências Sociais e Políticas – special seminar
18 September 2017 – Instituto Superior de Ciências Sociais e Políticas, University of Lisbon, Portugal
Norman, H: “What influences paternal involvement in childcare over the child’s lifecourse?”
• ESPAnet 2017 – 15th Annual ESPAnet Conference
14 – 15 September 2017 – Universidade de Lisboa, Lisbon.
Fagan, C., Norman, H: “Flexibility and fatherhood in Europe”.
• European Sociological Association – 13th Conference 2017
29 August – 1 September 2017 – Athens, Greece
Norman, H., Elliot, M: “Developing a measure of paternal involvement in childcare”
• The Equality and Human Rights Commission – (internal seminar)
29 June 2017 – Equality and Human Rights Commission, Arndale House, Arndale Centre, Manchester.
Norman, H: “What makes fathers involved in their children’s care?”
• Fathers Network Scotland – How Employers Can #DadUp
21 June 2017 – Lloyds Banking Group Head Office, The Mound, Edinburgh, EH1 1YZ
Norman, H: “How do workplaces and work-family policy influence dads’ involvement at home?”
• The 7th International Community, Work and Family conference.
25 – 27 May 2017 – Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano, Milan, Italy.
Norman, H, Elliot, M., Fagan, C: “How does paternal involvement in childcare and housework affect relationship stability?”
• TRIAD Researcher workshop: Transition to parenthood – conceptual and methodological issues
24 – 27 April 2017 – The University of Jyväskylä, Finland.
Norman, H: “Exploring ways of measuring paternal involvement through qualitative experiments with fathers.”
• British Sociological Association Annual Conference
4 – 6 April 2017 – The University of Manchester, UK.
Norman, H: “Does paternal involvement in childcare prevent relationship breakdown in married and cohabiting heterosexual couples?”
• Working Families Policy Seminar: ‘The Future of Work for Modern Families’
18 January 2017 – Portcullis House, London. SW1A 2LW.
Norman, H - Panel discussion

• Working Families Manchester Breakfast Briefing ‘Fathers and Care: are the odds stacked against them?’
6 December 2016 – RBS, 1 Spinningfields Square, Manchester, M3 3AP.
Norman, H, Fagan, C. “What influences father involvement?”
• Working Families Researcher Network Conference
23 - 25 June 2016 – Capitol Hilton, Washington, D.C.
Norman, H., Fagan, C: “What influences fathers to be involved in childcare at age 3?”

Short titleR:HSS Which fathers
Effective start/end date1/02/1631/07/17

Collaborative partners

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities


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