Research Abstract: Patterns and Determinants of Paternal Child Care During a Child’s First Three Years of Life

In Research by Engagement


This is an abstract of Patterns and Determinants of Paternal Child Care During a Child’s First Three Years of Life by Susan L. Averett, Kisa A, Gennetian and H. Elizabeth Peters. The paper was published in 2000 in Marriage & Family Review and FATHERHOOD: Research, Interventions and Policies (The Haworth Press, Inc.).

Averett is affiliated with the Department of Economics and Business in Lafayette College, Easton; Gennetian with Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, New York; and Peters with Department of Policy Analysis and Management in Cornell University, Ithaca.


tree11This paper studies the patterns and determinants of paternal child care in the child’s first three years when the mother is working.

It contributes to the relatively understudied topic of fathers as an important source of child care, which is timely in the light of the marked increase of mothers with young children entering the workforce over the last few decades. In 1993, for example, more than 1.5 million pre-school children in the United States were cared for by their fathers while their mothers were at work.

Furthermore, the paper adds to the emerging literature on how the increased involvement of the father affects the child.

Results of the study will help in the understanding of how to support fathers so that they can better provide child care.

Literature Review & Methodology

The paper explores the possible determinants of paternal child care based on several relevant streams of research on child care choice, for example how price and quality of various non-maternal arrangements affect the choice of arrangement and father’s availability for child care.

The possible determinants that surface include the father’s market wages, the cost and availability of alternative child care modes, age of the child and parental work schedules.

The researchers use the retrospective child care data from the female respondents of the 1979 cohort of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79) (Center for Human Resource Research, 1997), which is a nationally representative sample of about 12,000 individuals who were born between 1957 and 1964.

The sample for the study is restricted to children born between 1978 and 1987 without disabilities, to intact families and where the mother worked at least one week between the child’s birth date and third birthday. The final sample comprises 863 mothers and 1,188 children.

Descriptive statistics is used to understand the patterns of paternal child care. While multinomial logit analysis is employed to extract the determinants of paternal child care, the dependent variable for the first year of a child’s life comprises two mutually exclusive categories, “only father care” and “father care with other care”; and in the second and third year together, just “father care with other care” (because there is none in the only-father-care-category).

The independent or explanatory variables are child care costs (proxy of child care worker wages), number of siblings under six years old, father’s wage and non-earned income (total family income minus father’s wage), race, ethnicity, father’s education, mother’s identification with traditional gender roles, mother and father’s work schedules, and unemployment rate in respondent’s local labour market.


The key findings are as follows:

  1.  Paternal care is often used in conjunction with other types of child care categorised in this study as (a) relative care (b) day center care, pre-school, or nursery school and (c) non relative care and other care.
  2. The average number of months that father care is used during a year is similar to the duration of other forms of child care (about nine months).
  3. Father care can be a stable form of care or more ad hoc. In the first year, it is more likely than other modes of care to be classified as concurrent (35% compared to 16% and less for other modes), which means it is stable and used over many months as a part-day arrangement together with other types of care.
  4. However in the third year, the higher probability of sequential care (34% compared to 30% and less for other modes) implies that father care is on the whole more ad hoc and somewhat less stable than other forms of care.
  5. Mothers who work a non-day shift are more likely to use father care than mothers who work full-time or work day shift. Also, fathers in occupations with a greater percentage working a non-day shift are more likely to provide child care.
  6. Interestingly, the results do not support the proposition that a father may be more likely to provide care if he is unemployed because the employment rates for fathers who provide care are no lower than for fathers who do not provide care.
  7. Different characteristics predict paternal child care according to the timing and extent of care –
  • For those fathers who are the exclusive providers of child care during the first year of a child’s life, higher incidence is associated with higher child care costs; and negatively correlated with the Hispanics and where mothers identify with traditional gender roles.
  • For those fathers who provide some of total child care during the first three years of a child’s life, the incidence of paternal child care is more highly associated with higher child care costs as well as flexibility of a mother’s and father’s work schedule.
Applications and Implications

The study has some limitations, such as not being able to know if a father who was employed at some time during the year provided child care only during weeks in which he was unemployed. Nonethless, it has managed to provide a history of the care used during the first three years of the child’s life rather than a snapshot of one point in time like the previous studies on national trends in child care.

It has traced the patterns and found key determinants of paternal child care in the first three years of the child’s life; and results suggest supporting flexible work schedules such as alternative work shifts or flexible time is one way to increase father involvement in child care.


1. Averett, S.L., Gennetian A.A. & Peters H.E. (2000), Patterns and Determinants of Paternal Child Care Durin a Child’s First Three Years of Life, The Haworth Press, Inc.

About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.

First published on 23-05-2011.