Stay-at-home fathers may harm boys’ education

[The Times, November 23, 2007]

Rosemary Bennett

Fathers who give up their jobs to care for young sons could be damaging their education, research suggests.

Boys who have been looked after by their fathers for 15 hours a week or more are less prepared for school than those brought up by their mothers. They also struggle to keep up once they get there, it concluded.

The study, which drew on data from 6,000 families in Bristol, found that daughters were unaffected when mothers and fathers swapped traditional roles. The results were the same regardless of how wealthy the family was.

The findings come as the Government is encouraging fathers to take more time off work to help to care for their children. They are entitled to two weeks’ paternity leave, three months’ parental leave and can work part-time.

Elizabeth Washbrook, research associate at Bristol University and author of the report, said: “When in charge, fathers may be more inclined to see their task as fulfilled by monitoring the child and seeing to their physical needs, and so less inclined to devise creative activities that develop the child’s intellectual skills.”
She said that when it came to daughters, it was possible that fathers were making more of an effort or that daughters needed less external stimulation. The report discovered that the problems with paternal care only began when the child turned one.

But Adrienne Burgess, research manager for Fathers Direct, said that choice was a crucial factor. She said that problems occurred when fathers had to look after their children because they had lost their jobs and the mother might not be happy about the situation. “It does not appear this research has factored that in,” she said.

She said that there were other concerns about the lack of a support network for fathers, which often led to loneliness and isolation. Mothers tend to form strong local networks, socialise together with their children and swap tips about child rearing.