Monday, October 20, 2008

Father Time

A new unpublished study was reported in the Australian news today, which found that Australian fathers spend on average six minutes alone with their children from Monday to Friday. Yes, this means that the average Aussie father spends about a minute a day alone with his children. He may spend more time with them on weekends, but the author of the study, Dr. Lyn Craig, states that a father is more likely to spend time with his children only as a family unit. Compared to the U.S. and many European countries, the gender disparity of alone-time with children is the greatest here in Australia. You see, Australian mums "spend almost three hours a week purely looking after children (without counting child-related housework such as making their beds, cleaning away toys or doing their washing)," according to the article.  
Dr. Craig says, "it's a reflection of the fact that childcare is a family and leisure activity for men."

First, let me state right away that I am certain that Dr. Craig is correct in asserting that there is a great disparity in Australia between men and women in their childcare responsibilities--much like there is in most countries in the world. One of the only countries I have visited where I didn't see such a disparity was Denmark, where I regularly saw mothers and fathers sharing all aspects of child-rearing. Dr. Craig even mentions Denmark in her article.  

However, I have a few methodological questions about Dr. Craig's study.  How were the data gathered?  Did both men and women contribute to the data?  Did participants keep daily diaries?  Did the number and age of children have no bearing on the results?  How was divorce and subsequent custody arrangements taken into consideration? 

I tend to dislike reading generalisations about men and women (e.g., "it's a woman's job and a man's hobby"). Social scientists who study gender rarely seem to have problems making such statements, even though stating the same sorts of things in terms of  religion or ethnicity, for example, would be completely unacceptable (e.g., "childcare is a family and leisure activity for Blacks"). Such simplifications are usually part of an agenda where the researcher is striving for social change. I am all for the social change, but I worry about the effects of sending a perception that one gender is more at fault than the other.  

In my specific case, I easily spend at least 14 hours alone with Will on weekdays, which includes "feeding, bathing, and ferrying him to and from childcare." And I work full-time. V. is able to spend more time with him, but she also works half-time.  But, according to Dr. Craig's study (if the data are as solid as one would hope), the typical Australian child only gets a total of 3 hours (mum) and 6 minutes (dad) alone with their parents. The fact that it's just 186 minutes should be getting as much attention as the disparity between the genders.

3 comments:

diowa said...

Obviously stay at home parents are never part of the equation in these somewhat dubious studies. Three hours a week?! It is to laugh!

Mooselet said...

I read this at the CM site yesterday and thought it was BS. One thing I noticed since moving over here is the amount of time father's spend with their children. When I used to take Clive to his swim lesson on a Sunday, there were some lessons where it was all Dads and their kids. Or the number of Dads I see doing the shopping with their kids in tow? Do these things not count or is it bundled in with "other stuff"?

In our own house, the Hermit reads the bedtime stories as well as all duties on Saturday evening as I work. Yes I do do most of it, but we both spend more time than this study suggests is "average".

Svenorama said...

I'm sorry...but I can't accept your report of fourteen hours of alone time with Will unless you post the journal entries to back it up.