Last week was crazy because we moved from the Netherlands to San Francisco, and jetlag and babies don’t go well together. When your child wakes up at 11:30pm and doesn’t fall back asleep until 2am is exactly when you realize how difficult it must be to be a single parent.


Father involvement

And of course, it’s not only single parents who have full responsibility of staying up with the baby when she’s not sleeping. In some families, fathers just don’t do that sort of childcare. Or, as is more often the case, fathers do but they do it to a lesser extent than mothers.

In my research on father involvement, I have examined dynamics that explain why some fathers are more involved than others across a number of countries. Today I present some descriptive statistics from Bulgaria, looking at how men share childcare with mothers across 19 different activities.


The data

The data I’m working with today is from the first nationally representative survey on father involvement in Bulgaria. It consists of 500 fathers and 500 mothers living with children plus an additional 100 men who are fathers not living with their children for a total of 1100 respondents. However, I’ve made a selection of only fathers living with children ages 3-14 to narrow the focus a bit. This leaves us with 332 total respondents. The survey was collected as part of the global fatherhood campaign MenCare. In order to protect the respondents’ privacy, the data is not publically available. If you’re interested in obtaining the data you can do so by contacting the organization directly.

There are lots of really cool features of the dataset where they try to get at the norms and cultural factors that prevent fathers from being more involved with their children. One particularly interesting aspect of the survey is that men were asked about their absolute (abbreviated as freq) and relative frequency (abbreviated as shar) of involvement in the 19 following childcare activities. Absolute father involvement refers to how frequently men performed specific childcare tasks, with answers ranging from never to daily. Relative father involvement refers to how men share childcare with their partners, ranging from 0 = the mother always does it to 2 = the father always does it.

library(knitr)

Varname <- names(mencare[,c(11:48)])
Description <- rep(c("feed","bathe","put to bed","play","go to movies","go into nature","help with school",
                 "take to school","school activities","talk about career","go online together","take to doctor",
                 "take to therapy","stay home when sick","praise","schold","talk","cuddle","protect"),2)

#  values are string, should be numeric
for (i in 11:29){
  mencare[,c(i)] <- as.numeric(with(mencare, ifelse((mencare[,c(i)]=="never"),"0",
                         ifelse((mencare[,c(i)]=="once or twice per year"),"1",
                                ifelse((mencare[,c(i)]=="several times a year"),"2",
                                ifelse((mencare[,c(i)]=="once every 2 to 3 months"),"3",
                                       ifelse((mencare[,c(i)]=="at least once a month"),"4",
                                              ifelse((mencare[,c(i)]=="at least once a week"),"5",
                                                     ifelse((mencare[,c(i)]=="daily"),"6",NA)))))))))
}
for (i in 30:48){
  mencare[,c(i)] <- as.numeric(with(mencare, ifelse((mencare[,c(i)]=="mostly mother"),"0",
                         ifelse((mencare[,c(i)]=="shared equally"),"1",
                                ifelse((mencare[,c(i)]=="mostly father"),"2",NA)))))
}

# means, std. dev, and range
Mean <- round(apply(cbind(mencare[,c(11:48)]), 2, mean, na.rm=T),2)
StdDev <- round(apply(cbind(mencare[,c(11:48)]), 2, sd, na.rm=T),2)
Range1 <- as.data.frame(rep("0-6",19))
names(Range1) <- c("range")
Range2 <- as.data.frame(rep("0-2",19))
names(Range2) <- c("range")
Range <- rbind(Range1,Range2)


table <- as.data.frame(cbind(Varname, Description, Mean, StdDev, Range))

kable(table[1:38,], row.names = FALSE)
Varname Description Mean StdDev range
feedfreq feed 2.35 2.45 0-6
hygienefreq bathe 1.89 2.39 0-6
bedfreq put to bed 1.55 2.28 0-6
playfreq play 4.39 2.08 0-6
cinemafreq go to movies 2.44 2.04 0-6
naturefreq go into nature 3.33 1.88 0-6
schoolfreq help with school 1.57 2.25 0-6
goschoolfreq take to school 1.91 2.25 0-6
schoolactivitiesfreq school activities 1.29 1.82 0-6
proffreq talk about career 1.83 2.36 0-6
onlinefreq go online together 1.67 2.30 0-6
doctorfreq take to doctor 1.79 1.66 0-6
therapyfreq take to therapy 0.72 1.46 0-6
sickfreq stay home when sick 0.92 1.54 0-6
praisefreq praise 4.16 2.31 0-6
scoldfreq schold 1.99 1.97 0-6
talkfreq talk 5.26 1.67 0-6
hugfreq cuddle 4.62 2.08 0-6
protectfreq protect 3.73 2.41 0-6
feedshar feed 0.66 0.51 0-2
hygieneshar bathe 0.47 0.57 0-2
bedshar put to bed 0.68 0.50 0-2
playshar play 0.97 0.49 0-2
cinemashar go to movies 0.85 0.50 0-2
natureshar go into nature 0.95 0.58 0-2
schoolshar help with school 0.75 0.55 0-2
goschoolshar take to school 0.76 0.60 0-2
schoolactivitiesshar school activities 1.09 0.28 0-2
profshar talk about career 1.02 0.39 0-2
onlineshar go online together 1.05 0.49 0-2
doctorshar take to doctor 0.63 0.59 0-2
therapyshar take to therapy 0.71 0.52 0-2
sickshar stay home when sick 0.31 0.57 0-2
praiseshar praise 0.99 0.46 0-2
scoldshar schold 1.00 0.59 0-2
talkshar talk 0.96 0.41 0-2
hugshar cuddle 0.85 0.49 0-2
protectshar protect 1.14 0.46 0-2

The table is interesting. We can see for example that fathers are most frequently involved in play, and that the task for which men most often take primary responsibility is protecting their children. Yet, with so many types of childcare it’s difficult to see what fathers are actually doing and how that compares to mothers. Based on categories commonly used in the literature (see for example this article by Kalil, Ryan, and Corey), I have grouped these into five different types of activites:

  1. Basic care: feeding, bathing, and putting the child to bed
  2. Leisure: playing, going to the movies, and going out in nature
  3. Teaching: helping with schoolwork, taking to school, facilitating child’s participation in school activities, and talking about careers
  4. Managing: monitoring the child’s internet, taking to doctor, taking to therapy, staying home when sick
  5. Emotional support and control: praising, scolding, talking, cuddling, and protecting the child

First we make the categories

# frequency of involvement
mencare$bcfreq <- apply(mencare[,c("feedfreq","hygienefreq","bedfreq")],1,mean,na.rm=T)
mencare$lfreq <- apply(mencare[,c("playfreq","cinemafreq","naturefreq")],1,mean,na.rm=T)
mencare$tfreq <- apply(mencare[,c("schoolfreq","goschoolfreq","schoolactivitiesfreq","proffreq")],1,mean,na.rm=T)
mencare$mfreq <- apply(mencare[,c("onlinefreq","doctorfreq","therapyfreq","sickfreq")],1,mean,na.rm=T)
mencare$ecfreq <- apply(mencare[,c("praisefreq","scoldfreq","talkfreq","hugfreq","protectfreq")],1,mean,na.rm=T)

# share of involvement
mencare$bcshar <- apply(mencare[,c("feedshar","hygieneshar","bedshar")],1,mean,na.rm=T)
mencare$lshar <- apply(mencare[,c("playshar","cinemashar","natureshar")],1,mean,na.rm=T)
mencare$tshar <- apply(mencare[,c("schoolshar","goschoolshar","schoolactivitiesshar","profshar")],1,mean,na.rm=T)
mencare$mshar <- apply(mencare[,c("onlineshar","doctorshar","therapyshar","sickshar")],1,mean,na.rm=T)
mencare$ecshar <- apply(mencare[,c("praiseshar","scoldshar","talkshar","hugshar","protectshar")],1,mean,na.rm=T)

# table frequency
Father_involvement <- c("Basic care","Leisure","Teach","Manage","Emotion")
Mean <- round(apply(cbind(mencare[,c("bcfreq","lfreq","tfreq","mfreq","ecfreq")]), 2, mean, na.rm=T),2)
SD <- round(apply(cbind(mencare[,c("bcfreq","lfreq","tfreq","mfreq","ecfreq")]), 2, sd, na.rm=T),2)
tablefreq <- as.data.frame(cbind(Father_involvement, Mean, SD))
kable(tablefreq[1:5,], row.names = FALSE)
Father_involvement Mean SD
Basic care 1.92 2.03
Leisure 3.38 1.58
Teach 1.66 1.68
Manage 1.27 1.17
Emotion 3.96 1.3
# table share
rm(Mean, SD)
Mean <- round(apply(cbind(mencare[,c("bcshar","lshar","tshar","mshar","ecshar")]), 2, mean, na.rm=T),2)
SD <- round(apply(cbind(mencare[,c("bcshar","lshar","tshar","mshar","ecshar")]), 2, sd, na.rm=T),2)
tableshar <- as.data.frame(cbind(Father_involvement, Mean, SD))
kable(tableshar[1:5,], row.names = FALSE)
Father_involvement Mean SD
Basic care 0.6 0.44
Leisure 0.93 0.4
Teach 0.87 0.37
Manage 0.67 0.37
Emotion 0.99 0.31

Now we make some figures. First, a bar plot of men’s frequency of participation and their share of participation

# table freq
p <- ggplot(tablefreq, aes(x = Father_involvement, y = Mean, fill = Father_involvement)) + 
  geom_bar(stat = "identity") + 
  ggtitle("Men's frequency of involvement") + labs(x = "Type of childcare activity", 
                                                   y = "Frequency of involvement 0 = never, 6 = daily\n") +
  guides(fill=FALSE) + theme(legend.position='none', axis.title.y = element_text(margin = margin(t = 0, r = 5, b = 0, l = 0)), plot.title = element_text(hjust = 0.5))
p

# table shar
p <- ggplot(tableshar, aes(x = Father_involvement, y = Mean, fill = Father_involvement)) + 
  geom_bar(stat = "identity") + 
  ggtitle("Men's share of childcare") + labs(x = "Type of childcare activity", 
                                                   y = "Share of childcare 0 = always the mother, 2 = always the father\n") +
  guides(fill=FALSE) + theme(legend.position='none', axis.title.y = element_text(margin = margin(t = 0, r = 5, b = 0, l = 0)), plot.title = element_text(hjust = 0.5))
p

A couple of points are immediately obvious when we compare men’s absolute and relative participation in childcare. First, although men feed, bathe, and put their children to bed (basic care) frequently compared to their participation in scheduling doctor’s appointments (managing) or helping their children with homework (teaching), men are relatively uninvolved in basic care of children when compared to what women do. Second, almost all fathers are highly emotionally invovled with their children, and in this regard they are as involved as mothers. Finally, the bargraph of men’s share of childcare tells us that in all types of childcare, men do less than their partners.