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More Fathers Take On Role Of Child Care, Study Finds

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The number of young children being cared for by their fathers while their mothers work has risen sharply in the last few years, and men's involvement in child care is likely to keep growing, a new report suggests.

The report shows that in 1991 one-fifth of preschool children were cared for by fathers while their mothers worked outside the home. Between 1965 and 1988, that figure had remained about one in seven.

The study was issued by the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit research group based in Washington. It draws on data from the Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation.

Martin O'Connell, the author of the report and the chief of the fertility-statistics branch of the Census Bureau, attributed the rise in care by fathers to increases in the number of women in the workforce, the number of men unemployed, and the numbers of parents working part time or night shifts.

He also noted a slow but growing acceptance by society of men's taking on child-care duties.

The report says that when mothers work outside the home, a larger share of their preschool children are now cared for by fathers than by grandparents or other relatives.

But it stresses that mothers are still more likely than fathers to "adjust their work schedules to accommodate child-care needs.'' Even when fathers are the primary care-givers while mothers work, the report notes, 40 percent of the mothers adjusted their work schedules to meet child-care needs.

More Than Economics

The report says that fathers are more likely to assume a primary child-care role when they work nontraditional shifts or are unemployed.

But it notes that father care was more common in 1991 than in 1985, even though unemployment rates were roughly equivalent.

"No matter how the economy grows in the future,'' Mr. O'Connell writes, "increases in child-care costs and the proportion of women returning to work after childbirth will continue to exert pressure on fathers to provide child care, if the supply of affordable alternative arrangements does not expand.''

Mr. O'Connell said increased participation by fathers in situations "where father care was traditionally least expected'' also points to personal and emotional motivations.

But the report notes that business practices will have to change to allow for "a more equitable distribution'' of child-care duties.

Copies of "Where's Papa? Father's Role in Child Care'' are available for $6 each from the Circulation Department, Population Reference Bureau Inc., P.O. Box 96512, Washington, D.C. 20090-6152.

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