A new analysis of US Census Bureau data by the Pew Research Center finds that stay-at-home fathers are becoming more common, suggesting a slow shift in parental roles that Pew says is driven by more than just economic considerations:
The stay-at-home share of U.S. parents was almost identical to what it was in 1989, but there has been a modest increase among fathers. The share of dads at home rose from 4% to 7%, while the share of moms staying at home remained largely unchanged – 27% in 2016 versus 28% about a quarter-century earlier. As a result, 17% of all stay-at-home parents in 2016 were fathers, up from 10% in 1989, the first year for which reliable data on fathers are available. …
However, the long-term uptick in dads at home is not driven solely by economic factors. The modest increase is apparent even after excluding those who were home due to unemployment. Furthermore, a growing share of stay-at-home fathers say they are home specifically to care for their home or family, suggesting that changing gender roles may be at play. About a quarter (24%) of stay-at-home fathers say they are home for this reason. Stay-at-home mothers remain far more likely than dads to say they are home to care for family – 78% say so.
Pew also finds that Millennial parents are more likely to be at home with their children than Gen X parents were at the same age in 1999-2000, with a particularly significant jump among fathers from 3 to 6 percent. A larger proportion of Millennial dads are staying home deliberately to care for family, rather than as a result of unemployment or for some other reason.
Identifying “stay-at-home parents” is increasingly difficult in the era of remote work and the gig economy, which Pew acknowledges. Parents are defined as “stay-at-home” based on their employment status during the year prior to the survey, which is similar to how the Census Bureau categorizes them:
“Equal Lives,” a new report prepared by the UK organization Business in the Community in partnership with Santander, sheds light on the needs, perceptions, and attitudes of working men and women in the UK regarding the balance of work and caregiving. Overall, the report finds that men want to be more involved in caring for their children and elderly parents, but feel hindered from doing so by a combination of organizational and public policies and societal expectations around gender roles. Some of the report’s key findings include:
- The majority of men (85%) agree they should be as involved in all aspects of childcare as women. At the same time, over nine in ten men believe it is equally acceptable for both women and men to take time out from employment in order to care for their family. …
- Even in organisations which have familyfriendly policies, men report concerns for career, progression, finances and a feeling that their caring duties are not as recognised as women’s and less appreciated by organisations.
- The ability to work flexibly is the organisational policy that both men and women find the most important when it comes to balancing work and care. However, takeup is significantly lower than its perceived importance.
- Many men say they would be encouraged to use policies to support them with balancing work and care if they were confident that it would not impact their career prospects or if there were more visible examples from senior leaders in their organisation.
“This finding resonates with the conversations we’ve had in our ongoing research with men and couples who opted to take shared parental leave,” professors Emma Banister and Ben Kerrane note at the Conversation. Enacted in 2015, the UK’s Shared Parental Leave policy grants new mothers (or “lead parents” in same-sex couples) a year of leave to divide between themselves and their partners in any proportion they choose. Take-up of SPL has been disappointingly low, which critics attribute to a lack of public awareness and the common practice among employers of “topping up” the statutory minimum of parental leave pay for mothers but not fathers. Beyond that, Banister and Kerrane’s research suggests that the scheme may be hindering itself by replicating the gender expectations it is meant to ameliorate:
Andy Dean Photography/Shutterstock
In an opinion piece published last weekend, Bloomberg columnist Anjani Trivedi made the economic case for paternity leave, arguing that organizations too often overestimate the costs and neglect the financial upsides of offering parental leave to both mothers and fathers. “The real question,” she points out, “is what the cost would be of replacing that employee,” and paid leave is usually cheaper, Professor Jody Heymann of UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health and WORLD Policy Analysis Center, tells Trivedi. Considering that parental leave and other family benefits can have a major impact on employee retention, and that the costs of replacing an employee can rise to as much as twice their annual salary, universal parental leave policies may well save more than they cost.
The growing number of employers offering gender-neutral parental leave benefits in recent years reflects the fact that employees, whose opinions count more than ever in the tight labor markets of the US and other advanced economies today, are more sensitive to the availability of paternity leave: Our latest benefits perceptions research at CEB, now Gartner, finds that globally, an additional two weeks of paternity leave improves employee perceptions of rewards to a greater degree than the same amount of additional maternity leave.
In the US, which unlike most countries does not legally mandate paid maternity leave, employees are still more responsive to changes in leave for mothers, but even there, Millennial men who are now starting families are more interested than their fathers were in being actively involved in raising their children. However, many of these men don’t have access to paid parental leave or feel pressured by their peers, their managers, or their own financial concerns not to take advantage of this benefit even when they are entitled to it. The absence of family-friendly benefits like parental leave and flexible work arrangements already drives many working mothers out of the full-time workforce; if fathers do the same, the case for such policies becomes even stronger than it already is.
World map showing availability of government-mandated paid paternity leave (World Policy Center)
With Father’s Day just around the corner, a handful of new studies came out this week highlighting the challenges dads often face when it comes to taking time off to nurture their newborn children. While employees in many countries have come to expect maternity leave as a standard benefit, the availability, amount, and acceptance of paid paternity leave still lags. Looking at the government policy level, according to a new analysis from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), there are still 92 countries—including the United States—where there is no national policy mandating paid paternity leave for fathers, affecting an estimated two thirds of the world’s children under the age of one.
The paternity leave data came from the World Policy Analysis Center, which has published an interactive map and chart where it can sorted by region and national income level, as well as compared against maternity leave data. Not surprisingly, the gender gap between paid parental leave policies is significant, as very few countries—including the US— don’t mandate paid maternity leave.
Most organizations do offer both maternity and paternity leave, however, and typically more than the amount required by law. Gender-neutral parental leave policies are becoming more popular as well, as are lawsuits accusing organizations of discriminating against men when it comes to unequal parental leave benefits. But when paternity leave is available, men often perceive a stigma around taking it. A new survey from Promundo and Dove Men+Care of more than 1,700 US adults has highlighted this dynamic, finding that while men and women say they want to be equally involved in raising their children, men don’t feel comfortable taking paternity leave because they are worried about how prioritizing their children will be perceived by others, particularly at work:
The motherhood penalty refers to the negative impact becoming a mother has on the lifetime earnings of working women compared to their male colleagues. Whereas men who become fathers can actually see their earnings increase relative to their childless peers, mothers often see theirs stagnate or decline and never recover, contributing significantly to the earnings gap and wealth gap between men and women.
Responding to a recent sponsored study by Merrill Lynch and Bank of America on financial wellness issues specific to working women, Washington Examiner columnist Hadley Heath Manning objects to calling the motherhood penalty a “penalty,” arguing that it’s more of a tradeoff for women who just want to spend more time raising their children:
Among all demographic groups, who makes the most money? Married fathers. This isn’t because society values them more, but because they often make sacrifices to try to earn more to support their families. And who shares household earnings and the associated wealth accumulation with married fathers? Married mothers, of course. The term “motherhood penalty” fails to capture this. Married motherhood comes with great benefits, both financial and non-financial.
The reality is that mothers are paid less than non-mothers (and accumulate less wealth as a result) not because employers or “society” penalize us, but because, on aggregate, mothers make trade-offs that result in less money.
Manning’s argument is one we often hear from gender pay gap skeptics and critics of gender equality initiatives in the workplace. More importantly, it’s just plain wrong. Nobody expects women who freely choose to take multi-year career breaks to earn as much in their lifetimes as those who don’t.
The problem is that these choices are not always made freely, and when men and women make the same choices, the outcomes are very different.
Last week, the UK Employment Appeal Tribunal overturned a lower tribunal’s ruling in favor of a father who sued for discrimination after being denied enhanced pay while taking shared parental leave, Jo Faragher reported at Personnel Today, but returned the case to the lower court to reconsider whether the father in question was a victim of indirect discrimination:
In the case of Hextall v Chief Constable of Leicestershire Police, a male worker claimed that his employer had discriminated against him because of his sex as he was only entitled to receive statutory shared parental pay, when the employer paid enhanced maternity pay. …
Mrs Judge Slade ruled that the initial tribunal had erred in applying a direct discrimination comparator (as in a woman on maternity leave) to an indirect discrimination claim, so the latter will now be heard by an employment tribunal at a future date.
This case was similar to that of Ali v. Capita Customer Management, in which the Appeal Tribunal ruled last month that the plaintiff Mr. Ali had not been discriminated against when his employer, which offered enhanced maternity pay to new mothers, told him he was entitled to the statutory rate prescribed in the UK Shared Parental Leave law for his paternity leave beyond the first two weeks.
In that case, the higher tribunal said it was an error to treat Ali’s circumstances as directly comparable to those of a woman who had recently given birth, ruling that maternity leave and enhanced maternity pay have an additional purpose of supporting the “health and wellbeing of a woman in pregnancy, confinement and after recent childbirth,” which goes beyond the purpose of parental leave generally.
The UK’s Employment Appeal Tribunal has overturned a controversial ruling from a lower court that a new father whose employer had declined to enhance his statutory pay while using shared parental leave had engaged in sex discrimination, Ashleigh Wight reports at Personnel Today:
Last year, the employment tribunal ruled that it was direct sex discrimination to allow new father Mr Ali only two weeks’ leave on full pay, when female staff were allowed to take 14 weeks’ maternity leave on their full salary. …
The EAT found the employment tribunal had erroneously interpreted that Mr Ali’s circumstances were comparable to those of a woman who had recently given birth as both had leave to care for their child. The EAT said the purpose of maternity pay and leave is to recognise the “health and wellbeing of a woman in pregnancy, confinement and after recent childbirth”.
Mr. Ali, a former Telefónica employee, had transferred to a job at Capita but remained covered by his former employer’s policies, which offered 14 weeks of enhanced maternity pay to mothers on leave but only two weeks’ leave at full pay to new fathers. His wife had returned to work not long after giving birth, based on medical advice that doing so might help alleviate her postpartum depression, leaving Mr. Ali to care for the baby. When he was told that he was only entitled to the statutory rate prescribed in the UK Shared Parental Leave law for his paternity leave beyond the first two weeks, he sued, and a tribunal ruled in his favor last June.
The nonprofit organization Working Families, which advocates for parental leave and other work-life balance benefits for UK workers, cheered the appeals tribunal’s ruling, saying that a final ruling in the plaintiff’s favor would have resulted in employers abandoning enhanced parental pay for mothers rather than extending it to fathers as well, Wight adds: