Half of fathers do not take paternity leave, study says
It is a Catch-22 situation facing every modern father: how to spend more time with children during their formative years while also providing for the family's long-term financial security.
On this issue, society has frequently failed fathers by either forcing them to give up work and become house husbands or demand that they spend long hours in the office bringing home the bacon. Those men who try to reconcile the two roles end up pleasing neither the family nor the boss, and, in the worst cases, suffer stress and even marital breakdown.
A report published today suggests that more men are giving up the battle for a better work-life balance. Almost half of fathers fail to take up their right to two weeks' paternity leave.
Research published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission also reveals that two out of five men are afraid to ask for flexible working arrangements because they think it would harm their career prospects. They fear their commitment to their job would be questioned and it would negatively affect their chance of promotion.
"While there have been huge changes in women's participation in employment over the last 30 years, men's contribution to childcare has not increased at the same rate," say the authors of the report. "In most cases, women continue to shoulder the responsibility for childcare, even in households where both parents work full-time."
Fathers told the researchers they wanted to take a more active role in caring for their children, but two out of five admit that they do not spend enough time with their sons or daughters.
The findings are disheartening for men who harbour dreams of a more enlightened society which will support fathers who don't want to to sacrifice their family lives for their careers.
Professor Jay Belsky, director of the Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues at Birbeck, said that the findings showed both how far society had come but also how far society has to to change. "On the one hand, there have been great changes in fathers' involvement in the family in terms of time invested ... but in terms of who the child goes to first when they need a parent, mothers are still first.
"So if you compare the father of today with the men of 30 years ago there has been something of a revolution, but if you compare today's father with the role of the mother then the changes are much more modest."
Professor Belsky was unsurprised that half of fathers don't take their full allowance of paternity leave.
He said that when paternity leave was first introduced in Sweden, considered by many to be the home of the work-life balance, there was a similarly low take-up.
"What we are talking about is a social expectation," says the professor. "What men may be asking themselves is what their mates and employer will think of them if they take full paternity leave."
Becky Sibert, a policy officer at the charity Families Need Fathers, says that the Government needs to bring in social reforms to help fathers make better choices.
"It is clear that the Government's approach to supporting a balance between work and childcare commitments is outdated," she said.
But this report also shows that legislation is not enough to change society's attitude toward fathers.
Andrea Murray, acting group director of strategy of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: "It is clear that today's families require a modern approach to balancing work and childcare commitments."
A working dad: 'Entitlement and reality are different'
*Paul Richard-Douglas, 27, is an insurance analyst based in the City of London. He has worked in the industry for eight years
My partner and I are expecting our first baby in January, so I've recently had my human resources interview to request paternity leave. If you don't give 15 weeks' notice, I believe they can decline your request. I know that I'm entitled to two weeks, but realistically it's at my manager's discretion.
January is a busy time for us, and already I've been asked if I could just take one week, and then have the rest of the time as a day here or there later in the year that won't come out of my holiday entitlement.
I have quite a lot of sympathy for the management, because we've already got one member of the team on maternity leave. If you're at a certain level of seniority, you're needed in the office and there's no way round that. You can't just call up a client and say, "Sorry, everyone's on leave, we'll do it when they get back."
Certainly there's a culture of taking less than you're entitled to. Earlier in the year one of the underwriters took three days off when he had a baby: he won't ever get round to claiming the rest.
There was also quite a famous incident a couple of years ago when a guy went home at six in the evening, his wife went into labour and gave birth during the night. He had a shower and was back in the morning.
Yes, I could demand the full two weeks and there's not much they could do about it, but in reality it doesn't work like that. If no one else does, then you can't either really can you? I'd be looked upon very badly.
I know there's talk at some companies of increasing paternity leave from two weeks to four weeks as they have in other countries, but entitlement and reality are different things. I'm not sure what difference it would actually make.
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