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The influence of atypical working hours on family life

An examination of which parents undertake work at ‘family times’, such as weekends, why they do so and how it affects family life.

Written by:
Ivana La Valle, Sue Arthur, Christine Millward, James Scott with Marion Clayden
Date published:

Parents work in an increasingly deregulated labour market - often at what have traditionally been regarded as 'family times', such as Sundays. While such work is increasing, we know very little about its nature, how atypical working arrangements come about and their impact on family life.

This report – part of the Family and Work series – addresses these key issues and explores the implications of the growth in atypical working hours for employment and childcare policies. Drawing on a large-scale, nationally representative study the report:

  • assesses the frequency and extent of atypical working;
  • examines how family activities are affected by parents working atypical hours;
  • explores the effects of atypical working on children;
  • asks whether parents in lower socioeconomic groups feel more constrained to work atypical hours than those in professional jobs.

The results suggest that the potential business benefits of limiting regulations on working times and hours need to be considered alongside the costs to families.


A growing number of parents work at times which have traditionally been regarded as 'family times', such as evenings and weekends. Little is known about the effect that work at 'atypical' times might have on family life. This study, of a nationally representative sample of working parents, looked at the extent of such working, why parents undertake it and how it affects family life. The study shows that:

  • In the majority of two-parent families one or both parents frequently worked atypical hours, while just over half of employed lone mothers worked at atypical times.
  • Mothers were less likely than fathers to work frequently at atypical times, and their (typical and atypical) arrangements often reflected their preferences about reconciling work and family.
  • Fathers' frequent atypical work was more closely linked to financial necessity and job insecurity, or career ambition and long working hours.
  • For both mothers and fathers, control over working arrangements depended largely on their labour market position, with parents in lower socio-economic groups more likely than those in professional jobs to feel they had no option but to work at atypical times.
  • Where parents took turns to look after children, this was partly determined by a desire to maximise the time either parent spent with their children, but also (in a minority of cases) by lack of affordable and adequate childcare.
  • In households where (one or both) parents frequently worked atypical hours, family activities were more likely to be limited by work. The time parents had as a couple appears to be the main 'casualty' of atypical work, as parents prioritised time for children and the whole family.
  • Long working hours and Sunday work seem to cause the greatest disruption to family life: parents with these working patterns were more likely than others to say that work limited their engagement in family activities.


While we know that work at atypical times is increasing, we know very little about its nature, how such arrangements come about and their effect on families. This study explored the impact of atypical work on family life. 'Atypical hours' were defined as work at the weekend, and on week days before 8.30am and after 5.30pm. Other important factors, such as the frequency, predictability, regularity and amount of such work, were also considered.


982.pdf (82.01 KB)
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This report is part of the care topic.

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