Fathers are the primary care giver for one in every 14 babies, a study suggests.

A study tracking the development of babies in 8,500 families paints a picture of changing family life in English homes in the 2020s.

Academics found that for 7.4% of babies, their father is their primary caregiver.

Just 20 years ago, only one in 1,000 (0.11%) of nine-month-olds were cared for primarily by their dad at this age, they added.

The study will track children for the first five years of their lives, and potentially beyond.

Researchers and the Department for Education have published the first tranche of findings of the Children Of The 2020s study, focusing on babies when they were nine months old.

Other findings include:

– A third (32%) of today’s primary caregivers were on parental leave from their job when their child was nine months old, compared to just 2.5% of primary caregivers 20 years ago.

– Nearly three quarters (72%) of parents said their nine-month-olds spent some time watching television, videos or screens every day. On average, children who watched screens typically did so for an average of 41 minutes a day. But 7% of babies studied watched television for more than two hours a day. The World Health Organisations says that “screen time is not recommended” for children under the age of one.

– Nine-month-old babies who often played turn-taking games, like peek-a-boo, with their caregivers understood more words than babies who did these things least.

– Babies who were read to several times a day and those who engaged in frequent physical play understood more words.

– One in four (25%) families with nine-month-olds said they had experienced significant financial strain, such as having difficulties managing finances, not keeping up with bills, being unable to afford essential baby items and having to skip or cut the size of meals.

– Some 43% families were using some form of regular childcare when their babies were nine months – most of these were informal care from families or friends but some children were in formal care including nurseries or childminders.

“We are extremely excited to unveil these first findings from the landmark Children of the 2020s study, the first new national study of babies to be launched since the millennium,” said study director, Professor Pasco Fearon from the department of psychology and language sciences at University College London and the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge.

“These vital new insights reveal the dramatic shifts in our society over that time, with fathers taking a greater role in parenting and parents more likely to be balancing caring responsibilities with work and parental leave.

“As the first post-Covid study of families with babies, Children Of The 2020s shows the many challenges parents are now facing as they deal with rising costs, health and mental health difficulties, and issues accessing public services.

“There are, however, very encouraging signs of resilience, with parents showing how engaged they are with creating a healthy home learning environment for their children, spending a substantial amount of time interacting positively with their babies and helping to develop their early language skills.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The department commissioned this research to better understand early childhood development factors which will help shape policy decisions.

“We are encouraged by many parents engaging in activities like reading and play, recognising its importance in early development.”

It is hoped the long term data from the study will give academics a broad view of factors that can influence how a child develops in their early years.

Parents of babies born in England in late 2021 are asked about their child’s development, their neighbourhood, their family, health and mental health, the child’s home learning environment, and formal and informal childcare provision and preschool education.

As well as providing information to researchers, parents are also asked to track their child’s language and development on an app.

The study is led by experts from University College London along with Ipsos and the universities of Cambridge and Oxford and Birkbeck, University of London.