Recent reports on Shared Parental Leave (SPL) suggest fathers are concerned about taking time off in case it affects their careers, but perhaps they should look again.
Men reading this week’s report from IPPR for the TUC[i] might think that coming out as a Dad in the workplace could enhance their career: full time fathers get a 21 per cent “wage bonus” compared with full time non-fathers at age 42. This is contrasted with the motherhood “penalty” with mothers working full time earning 11 per cent less than women without children working full time at age 42.
The report suggests increased work effort by fathers may account for some of the bonus, but positive discrimination may also be an influence. Perhaps employers think that men with children are more committed to their jobs, and reward them accordingly. Research in America found that men mentioning parenthood on their CVs scored more highly with employers than non-fathers (while the opposite worked for women). We have certainly heard anecdotal evidence of employers considering Dads a ‘safe hire’ because they are perceived as looking for long term, stable employment and will therefore be reliable and committed. It is also often the case that where the woman has had to stop work (childcare costs, inflexible employers etc) then they can more easily allow the man to work longer hours because they don’t have to share the caring responsibilities.
While the reasons for the motherhood penalty are well rehearsed, there’s a danger in thinking fatherhood warrants a pay bonus. Just as workplace discrimination plays its part in the motherhood penalty, it is harming fathers too.
The financial bonus for fathers comes with a cost – fathers spend less time with their families. Evidence from the ONS Labour Force Survey (2015) shows that full time working fathers work an average half an hour longer a week than men without children.
Employers may be wrong to equate increased hours at work with increased commitment. They may find they are rewarding the wrong thing. The latest report looked at fathers at age 42 but there is evidence that younger fathers’ attitudes are changing. For example, research from Working Families found that 42 per cent of younger fathers (aged 16-35) feel resentful towards their employers about their lack of opportunity for work life balance. If fathers are disengaged, the extra hours may not be productive ones.
Fathers should take heart that they are not suffering the wage penalty that mothers experience. This may encourage more fathers to discuss their needs at work. Let’s hope the report also encourages employers to question whether they are making assumptions about both men and women that no longer fit with modern families’ working patterns or aspirations.
SPL offers society the chance to redress some of this imbalance but until more men start taking this leave and challenging employers’ and more generally, society’s gender bias that men don’t want to share the care, then we will not get anywhere fast.