What is the Fatherhood Forfeit?

Research suggests that dads who choose to work part time suffer from a fatherhood penalty. But what exactly is it?

Dads, son and father, fatherhood, working dads


Dads can experience bias when applying for part time or flexible roles, studies suggest, whilst mothers doing the same often receive praise for proactively seeking a greater work-life balance – although it can have longer reaching effects on their career progression.

This has been coined the “fatherhood penalty”.

Research by Jasmine Kelland, a Lecturer in Human Resource Management at the University of Plymouth, shows that fathers who choose to work part time face a number of potential issues with questions over their commitment, and suspicion regarding their pursuit for an improved work-life balance.

She said: “In the UK, traditional patterns of employment and parenting are in decline, and the stereotype of fathers going to work while mothers raise a family are increasingly diminishing. Conversely, we are seeing an increasing number of fathers working fewer hours to accommodate family life, while mothers increasingly work full-time. In the context of these societal changes, a shift in the attitudes of employers is also required so that workers are treated fairly on the basis of their skill set rather than their familial choices.”


The study included an online survey completed by around 100 managers, where participants were asked to score fake candidates who were equal in experience and skills, but showed differences in their parental status.

The early findings indicate that if they want to work less hours, fathers can be seen to face a small ‘fatherhood forfeit’, with mothers being scored 5% higher than fathers in the online survey despite having similar qualifications and experience.

Focus groups & interviews

The research also featured a focus group made up of managers and working parents, and a series of interviews with parents, managers and HR professionals.

The ‘fatherhood forfeit’ was apparent again with managers viewing fathers who wanted to work part-time with suspicion and considering them deviant. Dads themselves said they felt they received less workplace support than mums and had to make more of a case than their female counterparts when wanting to work part-time. They also reported feeling a loss of status, facing ‘Where is mum?’ discrimination and experiencing friendship issues as a result of their reduced working hours.

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