Fathers are more likely to see sons rather than daughters after divorce or separation, new research suggests.
Professor Lucinda Platt of the London School of Economics and Political Science and Dr Tina Haux from the University of Kent analysed data from the Millennium Cohort Study, an ongoing examination of the lives of 19,000 children born in the UK in the years 2000-2001.
They focused on heterosexual couples, either married or cohabiting, who had children but then split up before the child turned 11. In each case the child continued living with the mother.
Non-resident fathers were more likely to see sons rather than daughters regularly, they found, and perhaps less surprisingly, fathers who were actively involved in the children’s lives before the separation were more likely to see their children afterwards than less engaged fathers. Economic factors also played a role –non-resident fathers who could afford to live somewhere with a spare room for the child to stay in also saw their children more frequently than other fathers.
According to the report, eight out of ten non-resident fathers with children under the age of three have some contact, while nine of ten fathers of children over the age of three do so. However, the proportion of children seeing their fathers dropped as time passed: three out of ten had lost all contact by the time the children reached the age of 11.
Nearly three quarters of fathers with children aged five or under had occasional overnight contact, rising to 80 per cent of fathers who separated when their child was around their 11th birthday.
Fathers whose children were very young when the children separated or those had separated from the mother a significant period of time in the past were more likely than other fathers to have no contact at all.
Newly single mothers, meanwhile, reported a significant drop in the confidence they felt about their own parenting abilities, when compared to women still in a relationship. This effect did not lesson over time and was also not influenced by the extent of the father’s involvement. This slump in confidence could be associated with the emotional trauma of separation, suggested the researchers.
Professor Platt said:
“We can conclude that being a single mum is tough and those trying to support this group of women should recognise that a focus on mental health alone may not be enough to help them get back on their feet and provide a happy, healthy home for their child. Practical, as well as psychological, support around parenting is likely to be key.”
Read Parenting and contact before and after separation by Tina Haux and Lucinda Platt here.