Fathering in Australia Among Couple Families with Young Children

Australian Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Occasional Paper No. 37

208 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2011

See all articles by Jennifer Baxter

Jennifer Baxter

Government of the Commonwealth of Australia - Australian Institute of Family Studies

Diana Smart

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: March 3, 2011


There has been growing recognition of the importance of fathers to families in recent years. Societal trends, such as rising levels of employment among mothers of young children and recognition of the importance of the father-child relationship, have given more prominence to the contribution that fathers make to family life. Governments are increasingly interested in creating conditions that can foster fathers’ involvement in families; for example, through promoting more flexible working arrangements or by ensuring that children maintain contact with fathers following family breakdown. This growing interest in the role of fathers has been mirrored in the scientific community. However, there has been a limited amount of research on fathers in Australia, with the result that there remains much to be learnt about the ways that Australian fathers contribute to families and how they feel about themselves as fathers.

This report aims to increase understanding of the many ways in which fathers in couple families with young children contribute to family life, through the study of their time investment with children, their supportiveness as partners, their financial contribution, their parenting behaviours and styles, and their perceptions of their own adequacy as fathers. The impact of fathers on children’s well-being is also examined.

The report makes use of data from Growing Up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC), a large-scale, nationally representative study of children and families that is following the experiences and wellbeing of two cohorts of children and their families, from infancy to the threshold of adulthood. The children in the LSAC were, at the first wave of the study in 2004, aged 0 to 1 years (the B cohort) and 4 to 5 years (the K cohort). The data from Wave 1 are used along with those at Wave 2, when these same children were aged 2 to 3 years and 6 to 7 years respectively, and at Wave 3, when they were aged 4 to 5 years and 8 to 9 years. The report therefore focuses on fathering in families with quite young children. The availability of data at these different ages of the children allows analyses of how fathering may change as children grow through these early years.

LSAC is unusual in that it also obtains the perspectives of mothers and fathers, and collects information on a very broad range of influences on child and family well-being. It is thus particularly appropriate for the investigation of fathering in the Australian context.

This report first reviews the existing literature on fathering – considering how fathering can be conceptualised and how fathering varies across families. Fathering is clearly a multidimensional concept, and we have adhered to that notion throughout this report by examining the different ways in which fathers can contribute to families.

The report confirms that Australian fathers play a vital role in their families. This role is sometimes different, but complementary, to the role of mothers. The analyses showed that fathers made a major contribution to the family income, they were supportive of their partners, they participated in unpaid work within the home (albeit at lower levels than mothers), they spent time with children (although again, at lower levels than mothers), and they were generally parenting well and felt they were doing a good job in their fathering role. Many of these qualities were linked. We also sought to explore the characteristics or circumstances that facilitated or hindered fathers’ involvement. Fathers’ working arrangements, their mental health and the quality of relationships between partners appeared to be particularly salient influences. Finally, clear-cut effects of fathering on children’s socio-emotional and learning outcomes were found, even after taking into account the contribution of mothers. We conclude that fathering ‘matters’ for children and families and there are tangible benefits to be gained from fostering fathers’ involvement in their families.

Suggested Citation

Baxter, Jennifer and Smart, Diana, Fathering in Australia Among Couple Families with Young Children (March 3, 2011). Australian Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Occasional Paper No. 37, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1776522

Jennifer Baxter (Contact Author)

Government of the Commonwealth of Australia - Australian Institute of Family Studies ( email )

Level 20 South Tower
485 La Trobe Street
Melbourne, Vic 3000

Diana Smart

affiliation not provided to SSRN

No Address Available

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