British parents the least likely to share childcare responsibilities equally

Gender equality in parenting: why Brits are the worst at sharing the load

A recent study published by the Fatherhood Institute (FI)[1] reveals that British men will spend just 24 minutes caring for their children for every hour a woman spends.

The FI’s ‘Fairness in Families Index 2016’ brings together a number of key indicators to measure the progress developed countries are making towards ‘gender equality’. According to this year’s study, British fathers spend the least amount of time caring for their children, relative to their partners, out of 22 countries – with Portuguese fathers in the top spot for equality. But why? What is it about British society that is preventing men from spending the quality time they would like with their children?

The FI has identified 3 key factors that conspire to push families into traditional, gendered family roles in the UK:

1) The design of our parenting leave system – even with the introduction of Shared Parental Leave, the UK benefits system is heavily weighted towards supporting new mothers (and only the 11th most gender balanced out of 21 countries).

2) Our continuing gender pay gap – with men earning an average 17.4 % more than women in similar full time roles, it is often impractical for fathers to stop working for any length of time, or even reduce their working hours. The index reveals that in couple families where at least one parent is employed, only one mother in five (22%) brings home even half the family income. It also found that just 25.8% of the UK’s part-time workforce is made up of men, compared to 42.1% in Portugal (which is perhaps why they are able to spend more time with their children).

3) The widespread failure of family services to support fathers – early years, schools, social work and maternity services are often very mum-centric, and fail to engage with and reach out to fathers in the same way that they do with mothers.

FI chair, Will McDonald, said: “It’s clear that today’s fathers want to play a substantial role in caring for their young children… What our analysis shows is that compared to other countries, the UK has failed to create the structures to support families to achieve the greater sharing that they want, and that is so important for our children’s futures. This needs to change, or we will continue to fall behind.”

Over the last few years the government has taken steps to address the gender imbalance, by introducing flexible working and Shared Parental Leave (SPL) initiatives. However, these are still relatively underutilised. A recent study of 1,000 working parents[2] found that 63% of male respondents with young children would be interested in taking SPL in the future, but 50% felt that it would be perceived negatively in the workplace. It’s clear that workplace attitudes need to change before we will see a vast increase in the amount of time working fathers are able to spend with their children.

If you have any thoughts about gender equality in parenting, and how employers could make SPL more socially acceptable, please comment below.

Read more: Are you taking advantage of Shared Parental Leave?


[1] The Fatherhood Institute, June 2016

[2] Employee Benefits, April 2016