Want to make things better for mothers? Sort out paternity leave.
I can’t stop going on about how we need to improve things for working mothers. I go on Twitter planning to share some witty observation about the Dawson’s Creek 20 year reunion or something, and I find myself retweeting articles about the gender pay gap.
Whenever I tell myself that my followers are probably getting tired of all my armchair activism, I read stats like these and get going all over again:
Almost 90% of fathers with young children work full time.
Fewer than 7% of fathers with young children work part-time.
Over 38% of mothers do.
That’s…well, pretty fucked up.
I was wondering how many of those 38% of women who work part-time (like me) are doing it by choice rather than circumstance (childcare costs, societal expectations), and then it occurred to me: should I be asking the same question about men? How many of those full-time fathers are doing it by choice? If taking time off to raise children was more financially viable and socially acceptable, would more men do it?
“Parental leave and the gender pay gap are closely linked,” said Maria Miller, the chair of a committee of MPs that is recommending that fathers get the option of 12 weeks’ paid, ‘use it or lose it’ paternity leave. “Until we get it right for dads we can’t get it right for mums.”
Surveys done by the committee show that many men feel financially, professionally and culturally unable to take time off or reduce their hours during their children’s early years.
The standard rate of shared parental pay – £145.18 a week or 90% of your average weekly earnings, whichever is lower – is rightfully off-putting for most men. A 2017 survey found that 95% of employers offered enhanced maternity pay above statutory rate, but only 4.4% offered enhanced paternity pay for even part of the statutory two weeks. Dads are kind of getting jacked here.
Employers also may not take request for flexible work from fathers as seriously. Because of that, men fear that taking time out or reducing their hours to spend time with their children would negatively impact their careers. And they’re right to worry. After all, that’s what happens to women.
The committee is recommending that the UK follow the Swedish example of ringfencing paternity leave, which couples then lose if the father doesn’t take it. They also recommended that paternity pay should be set at 90% of the father’s pay, and capped for higher earners.
I know mothers are reading this and saying, “I want maternity pay set at 90% of my wage!” And yeah, obviously. That should be standard for everyone.
I also know some mums are saying, “I don’t want the government taking away my maternity leave!” And I hear you, ladies – but you can still take a big ol’ chunk of leave yourself. Even in liberal, daddy-loving Sweden, women still take around 75% of all parental leave. But that’s down from 99.5% in 1974 when shared leave was introduced.
Introducing ‘daddy months’ in the UK would give fathers time to bond with their child and help emphasize the fact that mums and dads equals in this whole parenting thing. It’s a step towards reducing that 138% difference between the number of mothers who work part time and the number of dads who do. And, most importantly, it’s a step towards changing attitudes.
In Sweden, it’s normal to see ‘latte papas’ gathering in coffee shops, wearing Baby Bjorns and swapping stories about weaning techniques and poonamies. No one asks them if they’re babysitting or congratulates them on managing a baby on their own. It’s just a thing.
I hope that it’s Britain’s thing someday, too.