Published: September 28, 2018

While most research on the association between parental time and children’s cognitive development has focused on the role of mothers, a new Australian study looks into the impact of the time fathers spend with their children.

The study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, finds that a father’s involvement in children’s upbringing, particularly relating to educational activities, can deliver significant gains for a child’s cognitive development.

This paper provides the first systematic account of how father-child time, in total and across activity types, relates to children’s cognitive development.

While the paper finds that the total amount of father-child time is associated with only small improvements in children’s cognitive functioning, the amount of father-child time devoted to educational activities is associated with moderate to large improvements. Importantly, these associations are similar for both highly and less‐highly educated fathers.

This study has been strongly supported by the Life Course Centre. The paper was authored by Tomás Cano, a PhD Candidate at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain, in conjunction with Life Course Centre Research Fellow Dr Francisco Perales and Life Course Centre Director Professor Janeen Baxter, both of The University of Queensland.

Tomás was an international visitor to the Life Course Centre and worked with Dr Perales and Professor Baxter on the paper as part of his PhD. He presented at the ISA (International Sociological Association) World Congress of Sociology in Toronto, Canada in July, after winning the ISA’s RC28 ‘Jaap Dronkers’ Travel Award to attend and present the paper.

Professor Baxter said the award-winning paper demonstrated the capacity building strengths of the Life Course Centre and its international reach.

She said the findings provided important evidence for investing in paternal involvement in caring for children in Australia, where current policies encouraged mothers dropping out of the labour market or moving into part-time work to undertake the lion’s share of child care.

Future studies in this area could address further important questions not covered in this study, including how father-child time affects other child outcomes such as children’s socio-emotional functioning.

You can read the full paper, ‘A Matter of Time: Father Involvement and Child Cognitive Outcomes’, here.