Despite decades of social progress in the workplace, many women still have to contend with the lion’s share of child-care. The normal role of a father is as the secondary parent.
While most countries allow up to three months of maternity leave, only around half a dozen countries offer fathers more than two weeks paternity leave.
Being a solo father and the gender gap
When dad takes a couple of weeks off around the birth, the division of tasks in the home tend to continue following a traditional route.
It has been proven that when a father takes over the caring of a child and spends weeks or months in the solo care of young children, his long-term relationship with them is closer. The father becomes more confident as a parent and takes much more responsibility for housework and care of the home offering considerable potential for greater gender equality in the home.
A study by the University of Oslo found that paternity leave improved children’s performance at secondary school. Daughters, especially, seem to flourish if their dads had taken time off.
The quality of the couples’ relationships may also improve, with greater mutual understanding and sharing.
The rules for maternity and paternity leave in the UK
Parental leave is an employee benefit available in almost all countries.
You and your partner may be able to get Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Statutory Shared Parental Pay (ShPP) if you’re having a baby.
A couple can share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between them. The remaining 13 weeks of leave entitlement, if taken, is unpaid and only if the parents meet certain eligibility criteria. One rule is that by the end of the 15th week before the baby is due one parent must be in employment with at least 26 weeks of service. This must be with the same employer.
There is an option to take leave in blocks separated by periods of work (giving at least eight weeks notice). This can be taken all in one go. You can also choose to be off work together or to stagger the leave and pay.
How does our policy compare to other countries?
It seems that where parental leave is transferable from the mother and not particularly well paid – the system that has developed, for example, in the UK – fathers tend not to use it. Additionally, because men are typically the higher earners, the family can’t afford for the fathers to take those entitlements in any case.
However, in countries where some of the leave is for the father only and it’s also well paid, fathers do take it. For example, fathers’ entitlement in Norway is 10 weeks of fully paid leave. It’s part of the couples’ total 49-week parental leave entitlement, and it’s more readily taken up than in the UK. This is often when the mother has returned to work. This pattern of role-swapping also reduces the couples’ reliance on day-care.
Leave policies shape families and gender roles
We have had a gender revolution giving women equal rights in the workplace. There could come a day when men will want their equal rights. More time in the home to participate in the family as carers as well as earners.
There is the risk that a division could arise. For example, leave arrangements in Nordic countries are linked to citizenship. In some countries leave arrangements aren’t as generous – particularly for self-employed or irregularly employed workers.
Studies done show that the rules set by governments for leave arrangements in children’s early years may have a significant impact on how families operate. This includes the roles that men and women occupy in work and the home. This ultimately affects the strength of fathers’ relationships with their children.
If you’re in HR, take a look at your paternity leave policy. Is there anything you can do to improve it? If in doubt, contact us.