Better paternity policies will keep mums in the workplace

Better paternity policies and role modelling can challenge the social norms that drive mums from the workplace and stop dads doing more parenting



The need for workplace policies focussed on dads has been laid bare by new findings.

Women are far more likely to reduce their hours or leave the workforce when they become parents. That’s true even where the mum earns more than the dad. Researchers say this shows social norms are a big driver of parental decisions around care.

Women’s employment rates fall from 90% to 75% when they become mothers according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). And their average weekly hours fall from and average weekly hours fall from around 40 to less than 30. While motherhood generally marks a stagnation in women’s wages, dads’ wages, hours and employment barely changes.

The findings are based on an analysis of data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study. They’ve just been published as part of the ongoing IFS Deaton Review of Inequalities, funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

Dads quitting work

Three per cent of men earn more than their partners quit work when they become a dad. But 13% of women higher earners leave the workplace.

Those behind the study have suggested the findings show that couples base decisions on more than just financial considerations. And in order to challenge the social norms paternity policies ought to be beefed up.

Mark Franks, director of welfare at the Nuffield Foundation, said: “Decisions couples make about how to balance paid employment and parenting are not based solely on who earns more, but they do have long-term consequences for mothers in terms of salary progression and a widening of the gender pay gap.

“Policies designed to address that gap need to be based on understanding of the role of social norms in driving decisions made by parents, which are evident in how mothers have picked up the additional parenting demands resulting from recent school closures.

Parental leave policies and employer practices primarily focused on women will reinforce such effects.”

Gender pay gap

Alison Andrew, a senior research economist at IFS and report author, said: “The gendered roles of men and women in paid work and childcare after heterosexual couples start families play a crucial part in the development of the gender pay gap, and gender differences in careers more generally.

“How these parents divide up paid work and childcare cannot be straightforwardly explained by (smaller) pre-existing differences in their career trajectories.

“Even where the mother was the main earner before having a child, she is much more likely to give up work or reduce her hours after becoming a parent than is the father.

“The roots of these gender differences cannot all be traced back to which parent was in the better position, career-wise, to be the primary breadwinner. Attempts to understand and address gender pay gaps must consider the role of social norms and maternity and paternity policies – and the links between the two – in driving men’s and women’s roles after childbirth.”

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