Just in time for Fathers’ Day, when thousands of British men will receive cards addressed to ‘The World’s Best Dad!’, a new report from the Fatherhood Institute has come out demonstrating the statistical improbability of the claim.
The average father in the UK spends only 24 minutes looking after his children for every hour their mother spends, the lowest ratio in Europe. And given that these figures are based on self-reporting questionnaires, rather than a researcher with a stopwatch, this is almost certainly an overestimate.
The Fatherhood Institute concludes that government action is needed, in the first place by increasing the parental leave available to fathers. They argue, rightly, that the more fathers are involved in the first year of a child’s life, the more engaged they will be in the future. (If nothing else, it’s like training at altitude: after a year of coping with a crying baby, looking after toddlers is, quite literally, child’s play.)
But there is a limit to what government policy alone can achieve. Japan has the most generous leave for fathers in the developed world (a year for each child) and yet, given that only 2 per cent of Japanese fathers take any of this leave whatsoever, they are ranked lowest in the Fatherhood Institute’s survey for parenting equality overall.
A generation ago you might have assumed that British men shied away from childcare because it was considered effeminate and unmanly, but that doesn’t seem to be the case now. True, many parenting manuals aimed at a male readership generally have titles such as ‘Commando Dad’ or ‘Fathers Who Dare Win’, as if no real man ever read a book that wasn’t about the SAS. But, I don’t think this is evidence that British men think that childcare is beneath them; rather, that society tells them they’re useless at it.