Fathers given choice, choose wrongly

A jobless mate stay-at-home dad directs me towards this article:

The minimal take-up of shared parental leave in the UK, estimated, in the absence of reliable statistics, at about 2% of 285,000 eligible couples annually, has happened because the policy is wrong. In other countries and regions, when appropriate shared-leave entitlements have been introduced, uptake has soared: for example, to 91% in Iceland, 86% in Quebec and 63% in Portugal.

I think what the author’s saying is that couples with children in Iceland, Quebec, and Portugal share parental leave differently from those in Britain. Obviously, this is a bad thing.

The British system shared parental leave system gives mothers all the leave and then expects them to hand over some of their entitlement to fathers. So the very question, “why don’t fathers take up the entitlement”, which has been asked for years, is flawed.

Presumably because the answer means we are less Icelandic.

It is extraordinarily easy to design a system that would work. Such systems have existed for decades in other countries.

It is? Well, now I’m all ears.

The first thing to understand is that fathers and mothers want the same thing.

Heh! Then why don’t more fathers share the parental leave?

Pew-funded research in the US in 2015 found that fathers were just as likely as mothers to say that parenting was extremely important to their identity (57% and 58% respectively).

Wonderful, but what has this got to do with fathers taking parental leave and splitting the caring duties?

The same research found that 48% of fathers felt they were not doing enough caring.

So more than half thought they were doing plenty.

Earlier Pew research in 2013 found that working fathers were as likely as working mothers to say they preferred to be at home with their children but could not because they had to earn instead (48% of fathers v 52% of mothers).

You don’t say! In other news, middle-aged Brits living in Paris would prefer to loaf around all day watching TV and playing the banjo, but cannot because they have to earn instead.

This means if fathers were to be offered the same as mothers are offered – allowing parents to choose absolutely freely on a level playing field – fathers would take leave in huge numbers.

No it doesn’t, you’ve just written that because you’ve not understood any of the three previous paragraphs. Which, given you wrote them, is impressive. We know fathers don’t want to take time off work to look after their children as part of a parental leave sharing system, and you should be trying to find out why. Instead you dismissed the very question as “flawed” and climbed on your own personal hobby-horse.

It really is that simple.

Well, something here is simple but it’s not your proposal.

A woman on an average annual wage of £27,000 gets, in the first year, six weeks’ state maternity pay at £466 (90% of pay) plus 33 weeks at £141, making a total of £7,449. A father gets two weeks at £141, or £282. So fathers get 26 times less – a gender pay gap of 96%.

If anyone can make head or tail of this, they’re smarter than I am.

If the state treated mothers and fathers equally, and offered them the same entitlement, there would be no need for expensive publicity campaigns.

Okay, here’s the problem. It is well known that the gender pay gap is in part down to women taking breaks from their careers to have kids at the critical stage when everyone else is pulling 70-hour weeks to demonstrate their suitability for higher positions. If men take the same parental leave as women, their careers will suffer too. I’ve no problem with this, but the men concerned might. They might ask themselves why are they killing their career and turning down chances of a bonus when their wife – for purely biological reasons – is sat at home looking after the baby. I read somewhere that in Scandinavia where men and women have the same entitlements, men simply choose not to take it. Having spent a couple of weeks around a mother and newborn baby once, I can understand why.

Men taking time off in the first year would, within a year or two, become a social norm, just like men attending the birth of a baby.

And why would this be a good thing? This sounds more like social engineering to make modern men wetter than they already are. As wet as the author, in fact. Frankly, I don’t see there’s any reason why a man should attend the birth of a baby. Sure, he should be present nearby in case anything goes wrong, but there’s nothing he can actually do in the delivery room. He should be wandering the hospital grounds smoking cigars with other soon-to-be fathers talking about cricket.

One company, Aviva, has introduced a policy of treating mothers and fathers among its staff exactly equally. This is little short of heroic. It is hardly reasonable to expect employers to correct the £7,200 difference in what government gives mothers and fathers.

So it falls to the taxpayer, then. And note he thinks it’s perfectly reasonable to expect employers to find and hire replacements for all these absent fathers.

Other employers make things worse. A 2017 survey of 341 companies found that 95% enhanced maternity pay above statutory provisions, often to a significant extent, but only 4.4% enhanced paternity pay for even part of the statutory two weeks.

Y’know, perhaps these employers have consulted with their staff and found while women are attracted to enhanced maternity pay, men aren’t all that excited about enhanced paternity pay? But they’re just companies employing people under free market conditions, not house husbands who write for The Guardian. What would they know?

Does this matter? Absolutely. Supporting children’s attachments to both their mothers and fathers early in their lives builds the foundation for child development.

Now there’s a pretty frank admission of truth seldom seen in the pages of The Guardian! Perhaps this chap should have a word with his fellow columnists who regularly tell us a child doesn’t need a mother and a father, or any kind of stable relationship at home.

The more fathers care early on, the more they tend to invest in the child for the rest of its life.

And what are all those fathers working late in the office for, eh? For the fun of it?

And when fathers care more, women earn more.

Yes, but the men earn less. That’s precisely why they don’t take parental leave in the numbers you want them to. Little wonder this chap is the stay-at-home dad while wifey goes to work, isn’t it? Can you imagine having this bloke on a job, trying to get something done? I bet his boss punched the air when he announced he was leaving, and hired a fresh cabbage to replace him.

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8 thoughts on “Fathers given choice, choose wrongly

  1. Speaking as a father of more children than most, I can confirm that small children are, at best, boring for a father. They don’t even recognise you much before 3 months.

    At the same time, you are acutely-aware of your position as the provider and the probability that this inequality is only ever likely to increase.

    Lastly, any study of populations that quotes Iceland as a credible control or contrast location is batshit crazy. Presumably the study couldn’t afford the airfare to Tristan da Chuna?

  2. Careful. If you point out fathers make choices that disadvantage the mothers of their children, it will be outlawed. Choice will be removed in the interest of parity of outcome.

    And Billy, much of this discussion is occurring because mothers have worked out that rearing children alone at home is boring also, particularly in modern social arrangements.

  3. A bloke I know said that fathers instinctively want to provide the environment for their children to thrive. That doesn’t necessarily mean they want to get involved in the nitty gritty bits of making sure they are fed, cleaned etc. To a decent extent n the modern world it makes sense for a dad to work 70+ hour weeks and earn bonuses and overtime because that’s how he makes sure his wife and children have a roof over their head, food to eat and so on and his earning potential is likely higher than his wife’s while she’s pregnant or nursing a newborn

    In fact the same bloke joked that the only reason he personally washed/changed etc. his children was that his wife made it moderately clear that continued sexual relations would occur more often and sooner if he helped out.

  4. Choice will be removed in the interest of parity of outcome.

    Yup. There is already talk of forcing fathers to take leave they choose not to.

  5. “And Billy, much of this discussion is occurring because mothers have worked out that rearing children alone at home is boring also, particularly in modern social arrangements.”

    Indeed. We’ve just taken a month’s overseas holiday with our kids and were astounded at how much fun they are when we don’t have to go to work/school/sports/music lessons/etc..

    ….which reminds me of that great Mark Twain quote;

    “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”

  6. In fact the same bloke joked that the only reason he personally washed/changed etc. his children was that his wife made it moderately clear that continued sexual relations would occur more often and sooner if he helped out.

    This says much about the state of the modern male. “No sex unless you change the nappies”. That isn’t love, it’s Stockholm syndrome.

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