DaddiLife has collaborated with experts at Leeds Trinity University and Leeds City Council to produce new research into the lives of young fathers.
At DaddiLife, we’re well aware that dads want to play a complete role in the lives of their children. After all, we’ve done the research. Dads want to provide, and they also want to be present.
Our Millennial Dad at Work study - conducted last year with Deloitte - focused on millennials (roughly, those that reached young adulthood in the early 21st century, and are a decade or more into their working lives), and their attempts to combine careers and parenthood in a way that worked for them.
Research on young fathers
Our new research - conducted with Dr Carmen Clayton and Dr Sharon Pinkney at Leeds Trinity University, alongside John May at Leeds City Council - focuses on another group of dads, those that experienced pregnancy or fatherhood before the age of 25.
These young dads are, in some ways, a more complex and disparate group than their millennial counterparts. While some men in their late teens, 20s and early 30s are in long-term employment, others are still in education and training. Some are in both, and some neither.
That’s why our research is almost entirely qualitative - it’s based on one-to-one interviews with young fathers and round table discussions, rather than statistical analysis - and it broadens the scope of the investigation to include education and healthcare as well as employment.
Young fathers are committed dads
As dads, this group faces real barriers and pressures, some of which are different to those faced by older fathers, or at least more acute. But one factor remains constant across groups. As with the millennial dads we talked to last year, there is a real determination to play an active day-to-day role in parenting.
These are not absent or disinterested dads, whatever popular media would have us believe. As Johnny, 25, told us:
I think it’s just a matter of being there. Not everything revolves around money and stuff like that. Just making sure that your child knows that you’re going to be there, (helps to ensure) they’re healthy and happy.
Similar sentiment was repeated time and again in our interviews and discussions. Young dads are, more than ever, committed, present and available. They appreciate the value of fatherhood, and want to do the best for their children.
The barriers to being better
But in that desire they are sometimes thwarted by forces that seem beyond their control. All the dads we spoke to wanted to work. The problem was that those that did work often fell, out of need, into low paid or casual jobs without obvious avenues for advancement. In a bid to provide for their children in the here and now, they were closing down avenues to better, more family-friendly work in the future.
Because falling into a job (as opposed to planning a career) often meant a lack of balance between family life and work. Working night shifts, for example, and long - sometimes unsociable - hours, was common. Similarly, young dads in junior positions felt pressured to prioritise work above family. Some of our respondents were in and out of casual jobs with few rights, and apprenticeships were often viewed as a means for companies to exploit “cheap and replaceable labour.”
Throughout the study, dads repeatedly voiced a desire to provide for their families at all costs.
On an apprenticeship you’ll be) getting paid £4 an hour and still have to provide for your house, your kids, everything, all your bills, water, gas, electric, TV, phone, all of that, but you have to do 60 hour weeks just to be able to afford it.
Education fails young fathers
Some of the young fathers in our study were either still in education, or at least not long out of it. Most believed that school hadn’t prepared them in any way for being a dad, and that the teaching of practical life skills was a huge gap in the curriculum. Skills like budgeting and understanding tax, as well as parenting skills, were most in demand.
Still, many young fathers in the study recognised the benefits of education and some expressed a regret at not having spent longer at school, as well as a desire to return to education. At the same time, many were too focused on the need to provide for their families for a return to college to seem a realistic option.
But not all. What stood out is that education is a difficult choice for dads. Those in higher education (HE) were often juggling study with fatherhood and part-time work, and wanted HE institutions to make allowances for the complexity and difficulty of this “delicate balancing act”.
I think they just teach the wrong things in school...I’ve never recited a Shakespeare poem to someone at work, and they don’t teach you about mortgages, rent,
or anything like that, do they?”
Healthcare ignoring some fathers
If young fathers feel let down by education, some young fathers are even more negative towards the healthcare system, at least according to our research. There were positive references and pockets of good practice, but in many cases too our young fathers felt ignored by healthcare professionals during pregnancy and beyond.
This was exacerbated by their own reticence in asking for support. Many would probably accept that their own pride was often an obstacle when it came to accessing support and advice.
All of which has obvious implications for young fathers' mental health. The majority of our respondents reported feelings of anger, frustration and anxiety at varying levels - particularly when unable to find work or training. For a few, feelings of frustration and depression were long lasting and potentially debilitating, and while some were adept at self-help, most did not know any other young fathers and struggled to create a meaningful support network.
I’d just rather deal with it myself... Just deal with everything on me own, it’s the
What young fathers need
In many ways all this throws up more questions than answers. That’s fine. We hope this study is just the start of the story. It’s clear that more comprehensive research into the lives of young fathers is desperately needed.
But what we hope to show at the very least is that young fathers face unique pressures and stresses that require focused solutions. At the same time, it’s clear that young dads - just like their older counterparts - want to play a full part in the parenting of their children. Suggestions to help them achieve that aim might include:
You can also download our Policy Briefing Paper here which summarises the pathways from the research and the implications for policy in each area.
Update 2021: Evidence paper - House of Lords Inquiry into the role of public services for vulnerable children, which the research team submitted.
A final word from our wonderful research partners
Dr Carmen Clayton, co-author and Reader in Family and Cultural Dynamics at Leeds Trinity University, said:
“Through a mutual and passionate interest in modern day fatherhood and the lives of young fathers, Leeds Trinity University and DaddiLife formed a new research collaboration to focus on the current educational, employment, and training experiences and trajectories for this group of parents.
By providing a platform for young fathers’ voices, we hope that this study will generate and encourage much needed discussion amongst professionals and policy makers and our online launch event will be a starting point for initiating these debates.”
Councillor John Pryor, Executive Member for Learning, Skills and Employment at Leeds City Council, said: “We are pleased to be able to support this important research by Leeds Trinity University and DaddiLife because of the insight it will give into the experience of young fathers, and how they could be better supported in their roles as a parent and in wider society.”