NZ research shows fathers really matter when it comes to childhood success
The Sector > Research > NZ research shows fathers really matter when it comes to childhood success

NZ research shows fathers really matter when it comes to childhood success

by Freya Lucas

November 21, 2022

New research from the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) has given surprising insight into how fathers are involved in early childhood, and why their involvement matters. 


Commissioned by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), AUT’s NZ Work Research Institute (NZWRI) examined how, how much, and how well fathers were engaged in their young children’s lives, and the impact of that engagement on the children’s outcomes.


The just-released report, Fathers’ household and childcare involvement in New Zealand, used data from the Growing Up in New Zealand (GUiNZ) birth cohort.


GUiNZ provides information across a range of measures including the amount of parental leave fathers take, their direct involvement in day-to-day childcare, and the frequency of quality activities.


The detailed snapshot that emerged allowed researchers to also explore the association between paternal involvement in the child’s early years and children’s cognitive, physical, and psychological development later in life.


Key findings include:


  • Most New Zealand fathers take two weeks or less of parental leave.
  • Most fathers take less parental leave than they would like to.
  • Fathers are less involved in their child’s care than mothers. However, a greater share of fathers (71 per cent) than mothers (56 per cent) think this distribution of childcare responsibilities is fair.
  • Fathers who take more leave are not more involved in childcare, nor do they provide a higher quality of care.
  • There are clear ethnic differences in the quantity and quality of fathers’ involvement, although these should be interpreted with caution due to the small sample size for non-European fathers. 


Relative to NZ European fathers, Māori and Pasifika fathers are more involved in their child’s care and Pasifika fathers are more likely to undertake high-quality care activities, such as playing games and reading books with their kids.


  • While there isn’t a clear relationship between fathers’ parental leave and a child’s development outcomes, there is a positive relationship between fathers’ involvement in day-to-day care and their child’s outcomes. This includes development of language and motor skills, as well as lower levels of behavioural problems.


The report, NZWRI Director and AUT Professor of Economics Gail Pacheco said, sheds new light on how fathers approach childcare and why their involvement is meaningful.


“Until now, paternity leave has been largely used as a measure of fathers’ involvement in childcare. But because most fathers take less than two weeks’ paternity leave, this measure belies the reality of involvement by fathers and, significantly, the impact of that involvement on their children’s life outcomes,” Professor Pacheco added.


Read the report here

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