Fact Sheet #2: Basic facts about fathers in New Zealand

Official Statistics:

"A family nucleus consists of two or more persons who are members of the same household, and who comprise either a couple, at least one parent role/child relationship, or both."

"A household is either one person who usually resides alone or two or more persons who usually reside together and share facilities (such as eating facilities, cooking facilities, bathroom and toilet facilities, a living area)." (Statistics New Zealand)

Groupings are based on where people live, with the relationship to others being secondary. Hence in official statistics (such as the Census of Population and Dwellings and the Time Use Survey) non-custodial parents are not considered part of the family, and live-in partners or step-parents are assumed to be parents to any children in the household.

Other Considerations:

These definitional problems need to be kept in mind when looking at the following official statistics for 2001:

In 2001, there were 407,793 couples with children (this includes dependent children and adult children who live at home). We have no idea how many of the 407,793 fathers who live in these couples are the biological father or a step father. Of these couples, 35% have one child living in the home with them, 39% two children and 26% more than two.

There are 182,919 sole parent family units in New Zealand. Of these 33,366 were sole fathers. Sole fatherhood is more common amongst older fathers (that is, as the children get older some of them go and live with dad). For example, in the father age group 20-24 only 6% of sole parents are men, but this rises to 28% in the 50-54 age group.

Amongst childrearing families (two parents and sole parents) with a pre-school child in 1986 the most common arrangement was for the father to be in paid work and the mother at home (49.2% of all such childrearing/working arrangements). By 2001, this arrangement was found in only 28% of all childrearing families (sole and two parents combined). The largest single arrangement was where both partners in couples worked (36%).

In 2001 amongst all couples raising a pre-school child, 12% of fathers were not employed. This is up from 5% in 1986. Some will be unemployed, some choosing to stay home and look after children.

Sole fathers are much more likely to be employed than sole mothers.

In 2001, of employed partnered fathers (that is part of a couple) with a pre-school child, a quarter worked 50 or more hours per week. For employed partnered mothers only around 6% worked these hours. There has been little change in the proportion of partnered fathers working long hours since 1986.

A baby was a Father's Day present for an estimated 170 men in 2001.

Today's newborn babies have fathers who are, on average, three years older than the fathers of newborns 20 years ago.

While the average age of fathers of new babies is increasing, only 1 in 100 babies will have a father aged 50 years or over.

Fathers with children under a year old get 42 minutes less sleep than the male average.

Over a lifetime, fathers average seven fewer Father’s Days than mothers have Mother’s Days. This is because men generally start parenting later in life and have shorter life spans than women.

Fathers living with children spent an average of 52 minutes a day socialising as a main activity (compared with 73 minutes for mothers). However, these times can vary depending on whether they have a partner, their involvement in the labour force and the age of their children.

Over one-quarter (27 percent) of babies born in New Zealand last year had a father who was born overseas.

Some important things we do not know about fathers:

We do not know how many children men have – only women are asked questions about how many children they have.

We do not know anything about fathers who live separated from their children – official statistics are based on households not families (families can cross households). So many families described as “sole parent families” actually have two active parents but the parents live in separate households (they are effectively two-household children).

We do not know anything in New Zealand about how much time separated men spend with their children – some information is available on this issue in the US and other countries.


These data were drawn from either the New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings or the New Zealand Time Use Survey. In addition, for Fathers Day 2004 Statistics New Zealand (2004) put out a brief “fact sheet” on fathers and we include some of these facts.

For further information on fathers contact either:
Paul Callister paul@callister.co.nz, or
Stuart Birks k.s.birks@massey.ac.nz

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