Parental Nonstandard Work Schedules in the UK: Implications for Children's and Parents' Health

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Epidemiology and Public Health

Abstract

Evening, night, and weekend work (hereafter referred to as nonstandard work) are common in the 24/7 economy, but does this create new opportunities or new pressures for combining work with family life? In the UK, nearly 25% of employed mothers and 35% of employed fathers have nonstandard schedules. A growing body of research has pointed to the adverse impact of these schedules on child and parental health. Given that work-related stress, depression and anxiety accounted for 11.7 million working days lost in the UK in 2015-16, we need to gather more evidence on the implications of parents' nonstandard work schedules on parents' health, family life, and children's health. This ground-breaking research is the first in the UK to make these significant contributions:
-An examination of the social and demographic profiles of mothers and fathers working nonstandard schedules
-Provide new evidence on the immediate and longitudinal consequences of parental nonstandard work schedules on children's health and development, family life, and parental mental and overall health
-An investigation of family characteristics that may explain the links between nonstandard work and children's and parents' health, thereby identifying potential policy levers
The vast majority of scholarship on nonstandard shifts has been done in the US context, arguably a country with the most limited family and childcare policies of any industrialized country. This proposed research program will fill the gaps by focusing on the UK context to investigate the implications of parental nonstandard employment on children's and parents' health. The project will profile the characteristics of mothers and fathers who work nonstandard work schedules, and examine different markers of health and development for children, and a range of markers of health and family life for parents. Factors in the family environment will be considered to investigate the channels through which nonstandard work schedules influence children and parents. Furthermore, the statistical techniques and data source will ascertain whether nonstandard work schedules actually cause differences in health between parents who work such schedules and parents who work 9-5 schedules. This type of research will be made possible by using rich, longitudinal data in the UK: the Millennium Cohort Study. This is an ideal dataset because it contains detailed information on family circumstances, parenting, and economic resources.
The applicant will disseminate findings to a wide range of beneficiaries. Dissemination of the research via peer-reviewed publications in high impact journals and international conferences will be key. Opportunities to disseminate work through seminars will be pursued. In addition to an academic audience, the research will benefit employers, family and employment policy makers, parents, teachers, social workers, child care providers and others who seek to contribute to the continuing policy debate on the effects of parental employment on children's and parents' health. The research will have impact via a number of mechanisms: Collaborating with policy makers, charities, and think tanks, such as National Children's Bureau, DWP, PHE, Working Families, Women's Business Council, and The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee; Disseminate research findings and promote impact related activities through online platforms, such as WorkFlex blog at Working Families, Mumsnet, ToUChstone blog (operated by TUC), and The Conversation; Deliver evidence through podcasts and audio slide shows to forums that increase awareness of policy issues, such as The Lancet UK Policy Matters, the National Child and Maternal Health Intelligence Network, and platforms, such as Workingmums and The Work Foundation blog; share findings with campaigners, policy experts, and lobbyists through submissions to Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, Parliamentary special advisors and research assistants.

Planned Impact

The proposed research program, "Parental Nonstandard Work Schedules in the UK: Implications for Children's and Parents' Health" will be of great interest to a wide range of users spanning many sectors. The goal of this study is to successfully exchange knowledge and evidence on the influence of nonstandard shifts on children's health and development and parents' health with a wide range of individuals and groups-employers, unions, parents, schools, and policy makers. The proposed impact and communication activities will equip individuals in the UK and globally with information they need to strengthen the case for improving work conditions and for family friendly workplace reform, alongside ensuring that children and parents have optimal physical and mental health to participate fully in the workplace and society.

This work will appeal to a wide audience in the UK and internationally. Academic researchers within the broad fields of social science and population health, alongside disciplines of economics, child development, and sociology will benefit greatly from the evidence and methodological insights of the findings. Open-access peer-reviewed journal articles, conference presentations, and invited seminars will expose the research to a multidisciplinary audience of researchers who use population-level survey data.

The project will engage voluntary, private, public and political stakeholders to increase and influence evidence based public policy making. Knowledge transfer and exchange with users will ensure co-production of research findings that are a benefit to organizations' impact on the health of the working age population, children and families, and wider society. These beneficiaries are:

-Government: Department of Health; The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee; Public Health England; Department for Work and Pensions; Local government. The findings on the social and health consequences of nonstandard shifts could be used to promote and strengthen family policies.
-Charities and advocacy groups: National Children's Bureau; Child Poverty Action Group; The Work Foundation; Working Families; Workingmums.co.uk; Working with Men; Family and Parenting Institute; Fatherhood Institute. Project findings will benefit these groups in their engagement with employers and parents in discussions regarding the influence of nonstandard shifts on parents, children, and family life.
-Educators and health care professionals: Teachers; social workers; nurses; doctors; childcare providers. Individuals who are at the frontline of supporting parents, children, and families who may be affected by nonstandard hours will benefit from the project findings so that interventions and services can support working families.
-Businesses and unions: Findings on the positive or negative effects of nonstandard shifts will be of interest to employers and union members such that workplace reforms and supportive working environments are provided to ensure the care of all workers and their families.
-Public and media: Schools; parents; children; communities; journalists; broadcasters; editors; media outlets. High quality media coverage with trusted outlets will translate directly to bringing the findings to the attention of the general public and to individuals who want to and are engaged in the debate on supporting working families and supporting social inclusion.

Publications

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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
ES/R003114/1 01/01/2018 03/01/2021 £241,460
ES/R003114/2 Transfer ES/R003114/1 04/01/2021 30/07/2021 £22,607
 
Description Initial findings on the education gradient in maternal and paternal nonstandard work schedules have included the following:
- Employed mothers with less than NVQ2 (or less than high school) are most likely to be working nonstandard hours across childhood. Among employed fathers, there is little difference in the probability of working nonstandard schedules by education. The most common type of shift for mothers (30%) and fathers (nearly 40%) is evening work. Mothers and fathers with NVQ4 or more (college degree or higher) are most likely to be working evening schedules at all ages.
- This work documents the pervasiveness of parental nonstandard employment, which has received little attention in the UK, finds that the education gradient in nonstandard hours is contingent on type of work schedule, and critically incorporates information about fathers' nonstandard schedules.

Initial findings on maternal and paternal nonstandard work schedules and parental mental health has the following key findings:
- I found no associations between mothers' nonstandard work schedules and their mental health,
- We found regularly working night schedules was associated with lower relationship happiness among mothers, and particularly so during the school-age period.
- Fathers' evening and weekend work schedules were associated with worse mental health.
- The joint work schedule in which mothers worked a standard schedule and fathers worked nonstandard schedules was associated with lower relationship happiness for mothers and worse mental health for fathers.
- This study emphasizes the significance of incorporating fathers' work schedules and of investigating the family consequences of nonstandard work schedules in different country contexts.

Initial findings on paternal nonstandard work and parenting:
- Fathers who regularly worked night schedules engaged in more basic care in both infancy and middle childhood, compared to fathers who regularly worked standard schedules.
- Evening schedules were related to lower levels of basic care among infants and 7-year-olds.
- The combination of fathers' and mothers' work schedules were relatively more important than considering fathers' work schedules in isolation

Initial findings on maternal nonstandard work, economic wellbeing and child wellbeing:
- Mothers' nonstandard work schedules were associated with lower verbal scores and more internalizing behaviors. However, most of the outcomes and ages examined revealed null associations between work schedules and child outcomes.
- Mothers who worked nonstandard schedules had more economic hardship relative to mothers' working standard schedules, and the interaction of such employment with financial stress at age 5 was related to higher internalizing scores.
- This work is highlighting that findings in the US may not be universal and secondly, it is important to look at the nexus of economic wellbeing and work schedules to understand the impact on child wellbeing.
Exploitation Route These findings could have implications for policy and practice in the UK context. Parents who work nonstandard hours are subject to EU-required protections that regulate work schedules. The Working Time Directive restricts weekly work hours, excessive night work, and mandates weekly and daily rest periods. However, workers can opt-out of limits on weekly work hours. Aside from these EU protections, there are no regulations on types of nonstandard work schedules. Given the prevalence of nonstandard work in this sample of parents and the ill effects of such hours on health and family lives, policies need to address the unique challenges parents face when working nonstandard schedules. The UK, relative to other EU countries, faces a less supportive environment from the perspective of services for children, family-friendly policies, and work culture. In terms of legislation, this means suitable compensation or premium for hours worked on weekends and during nighttime alongside requiring predictable work schedules so families can plan and organize routines.

Although government level policy implementation is salient for working families, there is also reason to support employee and employer led initiatives. Negotiating working time regulation at the sector and employer level can account for differences in policy practices which are difficult to monitor by central policymakers. For example, collective bargaining can improve working conditions because employers and employees are engaged in policy implementation, and overall, negotiating can reduce social inequalities between low- and high-skilled workers. As working during nonstandard times is unlikely to dissipate, employers can address work-family integration of their employees with solutions such as flexible access to childcare and transparent occupational mobility that allows workers to move from nonstandard to standard work hours to reduce strains between work and family life.
Sectors Education,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description My involvement with Working Families, a UK based charity, has resulted in membership of their academic advisory board. This has meant I am part of a group that highlights empirical evidence to infuse the briefing notes and policy statements that relate to supporting parents in the workforce. These documents are distributed widely among Working Families' network and may have direct influence on policy making.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Joined academic advisory board at Working Families
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Institute of Education International Fund
Amount £3,000 (GBP)
Organisation University College London 
Department Institute of Education (IOE)
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2020 
End 07/2020
 
Description Collaboration with Fatherhood Institute 
Organisation Fatherhood Institute
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Exchange of research and policy context around flexible working and nonstandard schedules in the UK and EU.
Collaborator Contribution Informing the policy discussion of a paper on fathers' work schedules and parenting and particularly the policy narrative around flexible working.
Impact A podcast recording was done in December 2020 and was posted in the podcast produced by a consultant funded by the grant.
Start Year 2020
 
Description Ongoing collaboration with Fragile Families Researchers 
Organisation Columbia University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I have contributed statistical analysis, participating in scientific presentations, and advising on methodology and framing of research questions. Ongoing discussion of ways to use MCS and FF and ECLS B (collectively, US and UK cohort data) on questions to do with fathers' employment and child wellbeing. Preparing for the upcoming 2020 summer data workshop whereby I provide some informal discussion of using FF comparatively, including using the MCS.
Collaborator Contribution Research design, scientific presentations, framing of research questions, and discussion of future collaborations.
Impact One scientific paper. One working paper. Several scientific presentations.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Ongoing collaboration with colleage at LifBi 
Organisation Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories
Country Germany 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution This partnership is the catalyst for several papers in progress. We have just submitted a paper on parental work schedules and economic wellbeing among mothers in the Millennium Cohort Study. I have presented my findings at LifBi and have engaged with my colleague on our next collaboration using US government data. We presented our scientific paper at the annual meeting for the Association for Public Policy and Management in November 2020.
Collaborator Contribution Advising on policy framework, methodological approaches, analytic techniques. Partner contributed scientific input to our presentations.
Impact One working paper and three scientific presentations. Most recently at Association for Public Policy and Management in November 2020.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Ongoing collaboration with colleague at UCL 
Organisation Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories
Country Germany 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We are working on parenting, time use, and food insecurity. My contribution is focused on the policy context and knowledge of the type of data used as well as framing and motivating the question. I have also contributed to scientific presentations.
Collaborator Contribution My two partners are also contributing to the statistical analysis, policy discussion, and framing of our paper.
Impact One scientific presentation. One unsuccessful grant application. One abstract submitted to a time use conference. Presentation at Association for Public Policy and Management Annual Conference (virtual) in November 2020.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Ongoing collaboration with colleague at UCL 
Organisation University College London
Department Institute of Education (IOE)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We are working on parenting, time use, and food insecurity. My contribution is focused on the policy context and knowledge of the type of data used as well as framing and motivating the question. I have also contributed to scientific presentations.
Collaborator Contribution My two partners are also contributing to the statistical analysis, policy discussion, and framing of our paper.
Impact One scientific presentation. One unsuccessful grant application. One abstract submitted to a time use conference. Presentation at Association for Public Policy and Management Annual Conference (virtual) in November 2020.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Ongoing collaboration with colleague at UCL 
Organisation University College London
Department Research Department of Epidemiology and Public Health
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Generating research ideas for academic publications
Collaborator Contribution Review of research findings, incorporating policy frameworks to discussion, advising on framing and pitch of academic publication.
Impact Published papers in 2019 have been documented elsewhere. The projects were multi-displinary and include: demography, epidemiology, public health, and psychology.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Working relationship with Working Families 
Organisation Working Families
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Exchange of research and policy context around flexible working and nonstandard schedules in the UK and EU.
Collaborator Contribution Informing the policy discussion of a paper on mental health and parents working at nonstandard times.
Impact I have invited WF to record an episode on my podcast series. This podcast was recorded in November 2020.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Created Podcast and twitter page for project 
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 A Life's Work is a podcast seeking to answer that question by exploring the latest evidence around shift work and how it affects family life.

In our first series funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, Afshin Zilanawala, a researcher at the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at UCL explores what we know about shift work and how it impacts on mums, dads and their children, especially their health and happiness.

In a series of interviews designed for anyone with an interest in shift work and family life, Afshin talks to researchers, businesses, workers' rights organisations, family focused charities and policy makers about the latest robust and meaningful evidence on the opportunities and pressures that shift work brings to the challenges of combining work and family life.

Across each episode and the podcast as a whole, we share new insights that will help us better understand the consequences of shift work on families (positive and negative) and suggest areas for focus for all those keen to provide an environment in which working families can thrive.

We provide show notes for each episode with useful links and resources and invite you to join in the discussion on Twitter where you can comment on the podcast, individual episodes or ask us a question! We would love to hear from you.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://a-lifes-work.org/about
 
Description Episode 1 of podcast with Gill Weston 
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 In Episode One of Series One, UCL researcher and consultant in wellbeing at work Gill Weston discusses her research looking at the links between working long hours and weekend work and signs of depression in both men and women. Her research has further been published and has yielded news attention nationally and internationally.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://a-lifes-work.org/working-24-7-and-depression-a-sign-of-the-times
 
Description Podcast interview with Fatherhood Institute 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Podcast interview with co-CEO of FI. Wide ranging interview covering topics such as paternity and maternity leave, working flexibly in both time and place, best practices in other countries and employers, the role of fathers in families and the evolution of fathers over time. Key policy suggestions were made which were incorporated in a manuscript under review with a journal.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Podcast interview with National Childbirth Trust practice manager 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Val Willcox, Practice Manager at the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) joins Afshin for a discussion about going back to work after having a baby and breastfeeding. We also hear from 1 year-old Alfie's mum, Hollie, who has recently gone back to her job in retail working weekends. And we discuss Afshin's research looking at the links between shift work and breastfeeding. Here is the link to the episode: http://a-lifes-work.org/back-to-work-and-breastfeeding-does-shift-work-have-a-role

National Childbirth Trust is now aware of the research findings pertaining to mothers breastfeeding in the first year of a child's life and working nonstandard work schedules.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://a-lifes-work.org/back-to-work-and-breastfeeding-does-shift-work-have-a-role
 
Description Podcast interview with Trades Union Congress with Matt Creagh 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Matt Creagh, Employment Rights Policy Officer at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) talks to Afshin about policies to support the integration of work and family life, changing working patterns and how employers can help parents who work non standard shifts. Listeners have access to show notes and deliverables from TUC around issues pertaining to work/family issues.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://a-lifes-work.org/juggling-work-home-and-being-a-parent-a-unions-perspective
 
Description Podcast interview with Working Families 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview with head of policy research at Working Families. Discussion was wide ranging, including impact of irregular work, gig economy, and nonstandard working hours on families, as well as role of employers to support employees. This discussion led to the invitation to join the academic board at WF.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Population Association of America 2021 Conference presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Presented research on one of the key research objectives of the grant. Results on work schedules, economic hardship, and child outcomes. Interacted with potential collaborators.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Presentation at APPAM 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presented findings on nonstandard work schedules and economic wellbeing using MCS. This session was excellent because all the papers were examining different types of work schedules (irregular, rotating, nonstandard) and impact on family wellbeing, but also each contribution used different data from the US and UK. Discussion focused on the outdated nature of most data because of the new nomenclature on work, e.g. gig economy, portfolio career.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Presentation at APPAM 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We presented findings on a Food assistance program for low income families in the US and how this policy influences parenting time. Excellent session organized around this particular policy but also all the papers focused on data using time. Generated a good discussion on the impact of policies during the recession.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Presentation at APPAM 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation, which was subsequently uploaded to the conference website for all attendees, on work schedules in the UK and economic wellbeing. Sparked discussion on policy differences between the UK and US and data resources.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Presentation at LifBi 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presented findings on the impact of work schedules on child wellbeing in MCS and the moderating effect of economic wellbeing. Sparked questions on long working hours and the influence of fathers. This presentation helped refine our focus of the paper.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Presentation at Oregon State University Research Seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I presented findings using the MCS on the prevalence of nonstandard work schedules, the education gradient, and the impact on parental mental health. Stimulating discussion on the measurement for work schedules, the use of cohort data, and the potential policy impact.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Presentation at Population Association of America 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presented findings on education gradient of parents' nonstandard work schedules. the conference was an opportunity to meet with a potential future collaborator.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Presentation at UKHLS conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presented findings on paternal nonstandard work schedules and parenting. Sparked interest and questions on measurement of nonstandard work schedules across different surveys and the potential, or rather lack of potential, of using UKHLS to answer similar questions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Presentation in US at Fragile Families Data Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I spoke to data users of an American birth cohort study about preliminary findings from my research on nonstandard work and the Millennium Cohort Study. This was an opportunity to discuss possible collaborations and generate comparative research with UK and US studies. I showed results from my findings from the MCS and discussed ways to harmonize data.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Press release for paper 
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 Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Press release for this paper yielded interest globally from 41 news outlets across North America, South America, Africa, and in Europe. We received interview requests from major newspapers in London.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2019/feb/working-long-hours-linked-depression-women