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The latest British Social Attitudes survey is a mixed picture for working dads
There’s no point in getting angry with the British Social Attitudes Survey.
It’s an accurate snapshot of what Britain thinks.
But the results, released yesterday don’t make all that cheery reading for anyone interested in changing the way men work whether in the name of making men’s lives better or the higher goal of gender equality.
However, let’s start with the good news. There’s been a leap in the proportion of people who think mums and dads should share childcare equally. The amount of people agreeing that men and women should take an equal amount of parental leave has jumped from 22% to 34%. This is one of the biggest differences recorded in the latest data. (But sadly not the one that was leading the news bulletins as once again editors overlook parents in favour of more obviously political issues like Brexit.)
Take up of Shared Parental Leave may still be woefully low. But these results show things are changing.
We know men are still put off taking Shared Parental Leave by both cultural and financial factors.
But it’s clear from the NatCen social attitudes research that views are shifting. The momentum is with those that favour equality. That’s not to say that momentum is unstoppable, the amount of people who think homosexuality is wrong has increased slightly in these latest results for the first time in decades. That provides a timely warning that those of us who want to see change can’t just sit back and expect it to happen organically.
The findings on sharing childcare also provide valuable ammunition with which to face down those that point to the Shared Parental Leave statistics to ‘prove’ that men don’t want to spend more time with their kids.
There’s another key finding on this one. The number of people who agree that ‘a man’s job is to earn money and a woman’s job is to look after home and family’ is now fewer than one in 10. A few more percentage points off that figure and we can begin to talk about consigning that attitude to the history books, a 20th century kink. And a moment to pay homage to the second wave feminists of the 1970s who started that particular ball rolling.
But it’s not an entirely rosy picture.
Still a third of people think the ideal working family involves a dad doing full time hours and a mum combining a part time job with childcare. Why? Probably because that’s the picture they are most used to seeing.
That would also explain the 10% drop off in the proportion of people who think the ideal set up is men working full time and women staying in the home. That’s an increasingly rare arrangement with more women in the workforce.
This highlights the value of role models. If folk see men in part time roles or working flexibly in order to fit work and childcare together they will regard that as the norm.
The same goes for flexible working. There’s been very little change in the last seven years in the proportion of people with a flexible working arrangement. (Worth pointing out however that the figures only cover those with a formal flexible working arrangement. It might be a different story with informal arrangements particularly given the research showing attitudes shifting regarding the balance of childcare.) The more people that model change, that work flexibly and show it can be successful – and it can, there’s evidence that employees that can work when and where suits them are more creative, productive and loyal – the more likely others are to follow their lead.
Once again this story boils down to working dads exercising their political power. Commentators are right to fret about a reverse in progressive attitudes when it comes to LGBT issues. But there’s also room in the news agenda for folk asking why the government isn’t doing more to accommodate all those parents that want to be able to split childcare but currently face barriers be they cultural or economic.
Last week Equalities Minister Penny Mordaunt launched a gender equality roadmap that promised a review of Shared Parental Leave would be complete by the end of the year. That’s not good enough.
The British Social Attitudes Survey shows parents want change now. So don’t get angry at the results of that research, even if some show a disappointing amount of progress still to be made.
Get angry at the authorities for not acting to create a public policy landscape that enables parents to make genuine choices about how they arrange their own family.