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

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


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 are 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. As we are only about half way through the project, it is too early to speak about impact but the progress is being made.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Other
Impact Types Policy & public services

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
- 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