Formation of Children’s Cognitive and Socio- Emotional Skills: Is All Parental Time Equal?

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Series: Issue: 12 2021
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This paper asks how time spent with one or both parents can affect children’s social, emotional and verbal skills. It finds the effect of doing educational activities with the father is smaller than that of time spent with the mother or with both parents together for children’s verbal and socio-emotional skills.

The research uses data on a cohort of children born in Australia in 1999-2000 which covers children’s and parents’ characteristics as well as measuring social and emotional skills, vocabulary and reasoning at ages six to 11. It also collects time-use diaries from parents and from children over the age of 10.

The study reveals that time investments by parents do not yield equal results: time spent with mothers or both parents together has a greater effect on emotional and behavioural skills as well on verbal ones. Time spent with both parents has a greater effect on children’s verbal skills when at least one parent is educated to degree level.

The research concludes that the differential effect from fathers’ and mothers’ inputs is driven by fathers who spend less than 30 minutes per day on educational activities with their children. Therefore there are strong policy implications: reforms that encourage fathers to spend more time with their children could be highly beneficial. A further benefit could be that mothers do not reach a certain threshold where they tend to become too tired to spend the time efficiently. Paternity-leave reforms and home-visiting programmes targeted at fathers could be a useful development.