I bet The Telegraph‘s science desk leapt for joy when they realised they could have a run a story with the headline “Men should concentrate on playing with their children and leave the care to women“.
Trouble is, the actual study didn’t say that. Instead, it showed that parents* whose roles overlap tend to be more competitive, and sometimes that competitiveness can undermine the support given to the child. For couples who can avoid letting that rivalry get the better of them, there’s no reason both parents can’t share caregiving duties.
Incidentally, the paper doesn’t seem to mention couples where the men did the majority of the caregiving and women just focused on playing; since there’d be no competition in these couples, there’d be none of the undermining behaviour seen in the study.
The Telegraph‘s article seems to quote heavily from this Science Daily article, though curiously they forget to neglect to quote the author’s conclusions:
Overall, [study leader Sarah] Schoppe-Sullivan said the results show that each couple has to decide for themselves which way works best when it comes to taking care of their children.
“There is more than one path to an effective co-parenting relationship,” she said.
“Effective co-parenting is not necessarily synonymous with equally sharing caregiving duties.”
In other words, this study isn’t saying “men are bad parents”, it’s saying “every couple is different”. There’s a big difference between the two.
* All the parents in the study were in couples, most were married, all lived in Midwest America, and they all had 4-year-old children; hardly a definitive sample of all parents anyway. I don’t have access to the paper, unfortunately, so I don’t know where all the parents involved were the birth parents of the children, whether any of the children were adopted, whether any of the couples were same-sex, etc.