Changing patterns in parental time use and their implications for parental wellbeing

Lead Research Organisation: National Centre for Social Research
Department Name: Research Department

Abstract

Evolving social norms and preferences in recent years have placed competing pressures on how UK parents spend their time. A cultural shift towards time-intensive, child-centred parenting has increased expectations for how much time parents should spend with their children (Hays 1996; O'Brien et al 2015). This has coincided with increases in mothers' labour market hours and dual earning families (Connolly et al. 2016; ONS 2014) and substantial shifts towards more gender egalitarian views in how paid work and unpaid domestic work should be divided within the household (e.g. Scott and Clery 2013; Working Families 2017).

The policy landscape affecting parents' work-family reconciliation in the UK has changed dramatically over the past 20 years or so, with increasing levels of support for the dual earner/dual carer model. The UK has seen a large-scale expansion of early childhood education and care services, providing parents with more "time to work", at the same time as more generous parental leave and flexible working policies have enabled them to have more "time to care" (Lewis, 2012). Take-up of flexible working arrangements in particular has been substantial. In 2011 roughly a third of all employed workers in the UK had some flexibility over their working hours, and about one fifth worked from home on occasion (BIS 2013). Little is known, however, about how use of flexible working is related to patterns of parental time use.

Our research seeks to explore how patterns of time use have changed among UK mothers and fathers alongside these cultural and policy changes and increased time pressures, how trends have differed over time across household types and by socio-demographic, household and partner characteristics and what the implications have been for mothers' and fathers' wellbeing. Using time diary data from the UK Time Use Survey (2000/01 and 2014/15), National Statistics Omnibus Survey (1995, 1999 and 2005) and Understanding Society's innovation panel (2014/15) the proposed study aims to:
1) Analyse how patterns of mothers' and fathers' time use have changed over the past 20 years in terms of the amount and share of time parents spend on different activities as well as the incidence of multitasking and time fragmentation;
2) Analyse inequalities in patterns of parental time use and the role of different factors at the individual and household level. We will explore how trends in parental time use vary for different types of parents, such as single and coupled parents, and by socio-demographic characteristics such as gender;
3) Explore the relationship between time-use patterns and measures of parental wellbeing including enjoyment of activities, feeling rushed, life satisfaction, and feeling that life is worthwhile;
4) Analyse the links between flexible working and patterns of time use and wellbeing. We will explore how take-up of flexible working is associated with parents' time use and whether the use of flexible working can facilitate decreased feelings of stress and increased enjoyment of domestic activities among parents.

The study will be of benefit to both academic and non-academic audiences; early discussions with key stakeholders have shown that the study would be valuable in satisfying existing information gaps on parental time use and informing policy development and practice. To facilitate the impact of this study we propose a range of written outputs and dissemination events including: publications in academic journals; a website that will house the main research findings tailored around the needs of the diverse stakeholders; a launch event for the study's findings; targeted briefings aimed at specific types of stakeholders; and presentations at UK and international academic conferences.

Planned Impact

Literature review and scoping research shows a number of substantial gaps in the evidence on how UK parents use their time, time trends and heterogeneity in time use, the relationship between time use and parental wellbeing and the role of policies such as flexible working in helping parents reconcile the demands of work and family. Our research seeks to improve our understanding of how patterns of time use have changed among UK mothers and fathers over decades marked by social and economic change, and what the implications of these changes have been for parents' wellbeing.

The proposed research project will benefit policymakers, employers, HR professionals, charities and parents themselves by providing evidence that will:
- Enable policymakers to create better policies to help parents balance work and family (e.g. flexible working policies, childcare policies etc.);
- Help employers and HR professionals better understand the experiences of their employees with children and develop workplace policies and initiatives that support work/family balance;
- Support charities working with parents and families in better understanding the challenges parents face so that they can provide better service;
- Raise awareness among parents themselves of how time use is related to their wellbeing, and provide insights that may be helpful in improving their wellbeing.

We will be working with our impact partner, Working Families, and an Advisory Group comprised of key stakeholders and beneficiaries of the research who will help shape the research so that it is most useful to their remits/working agendas. Working Families will be involved in the co-production of knowledge throughout the project's life, helping improve its relevance to current issues affecting parents in the UK. Both Working Families and members of the Advisory Group will help disseminate research, making sure we reach the right audiences and produce useful outputs. We have had initial discussions with several government departments (DWP, DfE, BEIS) and several charities who support our application (see Letters of support).

We propose a range of activities to ensure wide dissemination and benefits from the research:
1. High Profile Impact Event: The study findings will be launched at a half-day seminar aimed at a wide audience of policy makers, NGOs, practitioners and researchers.
2. Targeted presentations and reports to key audiences: We will hold four briefing sessions tailored to different groups to ensure that those most likely to benefit from the research have access to the findings most relevant to them: two briefings for government (BEIS in particular) and policy advisory groups; one at the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Parents and Families; and one specifically aimed at employers, HR professionals and trade unions. Each briefing will provide information from the research and a discussion about the implications of the findings for the stakeholders. We will also produce a number of short briefing papers covering the key findings from the research, which will be written in a non-specialist language and will be easily downloadable from the study website.
3. Website, social media and media campaign: A project website will host our academic (journal articles, conference presentations) as well as non-academic (e.g. policy briefing papers) outputs. We will use specially produced shareable infographics, which will help us promote our research on Facebook and Twitter. We will have a media campaign targeting national print, online and broadcast news outlets around each publication from the project, with a focus on relevant audiences.
4. Academic conferences and journal articles: We will present research findings at a range of high-profile international and domestic conferences (see section Academic beneficiaries).
 
Description We have analysed and documented patterns of differences in how parents in the UK spend their time and time trends over 2000-2015. The data we used comes from the highly regarded UK Time Use Study, the 2000-2001 wave and the 2014-2015 wave.

The main trends for the period from 2000-2015 were that fathers in the UK reduced the amount of time spent in paid work, both mothers and fathers reduced time spent doing
housework (although the reduction in housework time for mothers was much greater than for fathers), and both mothers and fathers increased time spent performing
physical childcare tasks. There are still significant gender gaps in these types of tasks but the gaps in paid work and housework time (but not childcare time) are decreasing, which is consistent with evidence for other countries as well.

Not all subgroups of parents experienced the general trends in the same way: mothers and fathers, mothers working full-time, part-time or not working, parents of younger and
older children, and parents from different social classes experienced somewhat different trends. However, the differences in how these subgroups of parents spend their time have largely stayed the same. One notable exception is childcare and social class where there was evidence of a shift towards more time-intensive parenting driven mostly by parents from professional and managerial occupations.

We have also analysed parental experiences of time pressure. We found that mothers were more likely to feel rushed, they multitasked more and had more fragmented time compared with fathers. One-third of mothers (33%) reported always feeling rushed, compared with just under one-quarter of fathers (24%). Mothers multitasked slightly more than fathers, multitasking 29% of their non-sleep, non-paid work time while fathers multitasked 27% of their day. This equated to three hours and 48 minutes per day for mothers, and two hours and 59 minutes for fathers. Mothers' time was also more fragmented than fathers'. Mothers switched from one activity to another every 38 minutes throughout the day, excluding time spent sleeping or in paid work, while fathers switched activities every 43 minutes.

Somewhat surprisingly, our analysis showed that parental time pressure descreased over 2000-2015 on all three measures analysed.

There was substantial variation in time pressure by individual and household characteristics:
• Mothers and fathers in dual full-time earner households experienced the highest time pressures.
• Single mothers spent less time multitasking and their time was less fragmented compared with mothers in dual full-time earner households; however, they did not feel any less rushed.
• Parents with children under five multitasked more and had more fragmented time compared with parents without young children.
• Multitasking and fragmentation were greater among parents with an undergraduate degree or higher compared with parents without a degree.
• Parents' work schedule flexibility was not associated with time pressure on any measures assessed among working parents.
Exploitation Route Our project website hosts policy briefing papers and blogs, which provide comprehensive statistics on how parents spend their time as well as a discussion of implications of our research for policy making in the UK. Policy makers, politicians, charities, practitioners working with parents and others can use our freely available data and analysis to support their work. We have also been delivering targeted briefings to government and charities and will continue to engage the stakeholders in that way in the future.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL http://www.natcen.ac.uk/our-research/research/changing-patterns-in-parental-time-use-and-their-implications-for-parental-wellbeing/
 
Description We have been working closely with Working Families as our impact partner, as well as with members of the Advisory Group, to increase the reach of our research findings to non-academic audiences. Our Advisory Group includes representatives of government departments and leading charities in the field (such as the Fatherhood Institute), as well as prominent academic researchers. They have been guiding us in our research and helping disseminate its findings. On 2nd December 2019, we organised a whole-day stakeholder dissemination event. It covered patterns and trends in how UK parents use their time, time pressure on parents and whether it changed over the past 15 years, and links with parental wellbeing. The participants in the event (about 50 people attending on the day) included representatives of government departments, charities and research organisations, whose feedback suggests that they found the presentations and discussion interesting and engaging. The event included an expert panel session, which included experts from the leading UK charities Working Families, the Fatherhood Institute and Fawcett Society and from the What Works Centre for Wellbeing. NatCen live-tweeted from the event, and the tweets from the event were seen 37,348 times on the day. Those who were not able to attend the event asked to be sent a copy of the slides. Many participants commented that the findings from our research were useful in their work. We have also delivered two targeted briefings. One was to the Families and Work Policy Group, which spans different charities and government departments, and one to the Department for Education. Both sessions generated a lot of discussion, and the feedback was that our results would inform the participants' future work. Findings from our study featured in newspapers and on specialised websites: - The Sunday Times, 31st March 2019 - The Daily Mail, 1st April 2019 - Grazia, 23rd April 2019 - The Nursery World, 1st December 2019 - Family Friendly Working website (https://www.familyfriendlyworking.co.uk/2019/12/02/mums-feel-more-rushed-than-dads-new-survey-reveals/), 2nd December 2019 Our project website has been visited over 1,100 times and we continue to add content to it, with at least one more briefing paper and one more blog coming out in spring 2020.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Other
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Blog on NatCen website - Gender gaps in how parents spend their time: do we see a trend towards more equality? 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The blog discussed in an accessible form implications of our research findings on parental time use for other current issues such as the gender pay gap. The blog was published on NatCen website, which is visited a lot by researchers, policy makers, charities and general public. The blog itself received over 150 views and the project website received over 1,100 views (excluding any views from the research team or from NatCen staff).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://www.natcen.ac.uk/blog/gender-gaps-in-how-parents-spend-their-time-do-we-see-a-trend-towards-m...
 
Description End-of-project dissemination event for stakeholders on 2nd Dec 2019, Parental Time Use and Wellbeing 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact On 2nd December 2019, we held a whole day stakeholder event in central London to disseminate study findings. The participants (about 50 people attending on the day) included representatives of government departments, charities and research organisations, whose feedback suggests that they found the presentations and discussion interesting and engaging. The event included an expert panel session, which included experts from the leading UK charities Working Families, the Fatherhood Institute and Fawcett Society and from the What Works Centre for Wellbeing. There were three presentations from the research project, followed by Q&A. There was live tweeting from the event from NatCen twitter account, and the tweets from the event were seen 37,348 times on the day. The slides from the project presentations and from the presentation by Professor Oriel Sullivan (an academic consultant on the project) are available from the project website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Interview for the Times article, March 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Principal Investigator Svetlana Speight was interviewed by the Times for the article "Sorry, Mum, men are getting even lazier", which was published on 31st March 2019. The total reach of the printed and online issue was over 800,000.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/d5550cfe-532c-11e9-a8d3-bb3494653df5
 
Description Presentation to the Department for Education, May 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Svetlana Speight and Robert Wishart presented research findings about parental time spent on childcare activities to a group of policy makers and research analysts at the Department for Education. The meeting was attended by nine staff members at DfE and the slides were made available to a wider groups of policy makers working in the policy area of home learning environment. The presentation stimulated a good discussion. The presentation was an invited talk organised by a Senior Research Officer at DfE who is a member of the Advisory Group on our research project on parental time use.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Presentation to the Families and Work Policy Group, March 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Svetlana Speight and Robert Wishart presented research findings to the Families and Work Policy Group on 11th March 2019. The meeting was organised by the charity Working Families and the Trade Union Congress and was attended by representatives of the following organisations:
- Working Families
- TUC
- BEIS (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)
- Fawcett Society
- Maternity Action
- National Childbirth Trust
- Coram Family and Childcare
- Women's Budget Group
- Bliss
- Fatherhood Institute
After the meeting, the slides from the presentation were circulated to a wider group. The presentation stimulated a good discussion.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Project website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The project webpage, which is hosted on NatCen website, contains a range of resources to download and use. These include summaries of research findings, links to briefing papers and blogs and infographics illustrating research findings. The webpage has had over 1,100 views as of 11 March 2020.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.natcen.ac.uk/our-research/research/changing-patterns-in-parental-time-use-and-their-impli...
 
Description Tweets of infographics and key research findings from NatCen twitter account 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact There have been two briefing papers and one blog published from the project so far. Each time, NatCen twitter account tweeted specially designed infographics illustrating research findings and summary findings to its followers. NatCen has about 18,400 followers, and tweets about the project were viewed by many people. For example, tweets from the end-of-project event on 2nd December 2019 were seen 37,348 times on the day. When the first briefing paper was published in March 2019, just one tweet received a high 88 retweets, 73 likes and 24,525 impressions, and there were other tweets on the day as well.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://twitter.com/NatCen