When work conflicts with family for dads, it can take a toll on their children’s financial future.

Dads who struggle to balance work and family life are risking not only their own health and wellbeing, but also their children’s future career success and incomes.

This is the alarming revelation of our recent research, which analysed data from 592 Australian fathers and their children over a 17-year period. We were aiming to find out what happens when a dad’s job brings them into conflict with their role as a parent.

The financial knock-on effect we found was stark. Fathers who experience high compared to low levels of workplace conflict reduce their children’s incomes by 8.3 per cent per annum. Based on the average annual Australian salary of $92,029.60, over a career beginning at 21 and ending at 64,  this amounts to as much as $316,582.

Fathers who struggle to manage their work-life balance could impact their children’s long-term finances. Photo: Ground Picture/Shutterstock.com

Many parents work hard to provide a strong financial foundation for their children, but doing so could jeopardise their work-life balance and, counterintuitively, backfire on their kids’ long-term financial wellbeing.

Having a burnt-out dad can mean children grow up with a negative perception of work, which ultimately changes their drive for success and future earning power. The negative effects are greatest when fathers are experiencing social isolation.

So, what’s wrong with this picture?  

Australian dads with kids younger than 14 work on average 43 hours per week. Half of working fathers report that it is difficult or extremely difficult to balance work and family responsibilities.

Men are less inclined to seek help and support, which affects the energy they bring to work and family roles. The struggle juggling work and family has been associated with increased occupational burnout, issues with job performance and decreased health.  

There is also crossover to partners. Men who work long hours have less time for their partners, which can lead to decreased relationship satisfaction. In heterosexual relationships, women often carry the domestic burden. For example, in dual-income couples, women may spend 10 hours more each week on domestic work and nine hours less on paid work.

Do we have solutions at hand?  

Based on our study, it’s clear decision-makers need to institute flexible, fathers-only, family-friendly work policies, including paid parental leave just for dads.

International examples such as in Canada may not be perfect but tell us much better policies are possible. This scheme combines a couple’s leave and has a limit for how much one carer can access out of the total. For example, in a standard parental leave plan one carer can get a maximum of 35 out of 40 weeks,  meaning at a minimum the other carer has five weeks to use or lose.

Having stronger social networks and support could also be protective for these fathers, including excellent community organisations (from sporting groups to men’s sheds) and having a friend to chat with.

This article is based on research co-authored with Dr Sonya Shenyang Lin Shen, Dr Lena Wang and Dr Jeremy Dawson.

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