Why we need the UK press to stop dad-shaming

14 June 2016


Jeremy Davies writes:

When we launched our Fairness In Families Index yesterday, our press release highlighted that ‘UK mums and dads are the worst in the world at sharing childcare’. We went on in great detail to pinpoint the structural reasons that underlie the fact that for every hour of childcare done by British mothers, dads do 24 minutes – the lowest ratio in the developed world.

We made crystal clear that the design of our parenting leave system, our continuing gender pay gap and the widespread failure of family services to reach out to and support fathers to be confident, hands-on parents, conspire to push families into traditional, gendered family roles.

Frustratingly, headline writers at the Independent turned the story into ‘British dads the worst in the world’. We complained and they later changed their headline (although not the opening paragraph). Other publications, including the Daily Mail, have made similar unfounded claims.

British dads are upset – and understandably so.

Nowhere in our report or press release did we say British dads are the worst at anything. Our indicators were not designed to measure parenting quality. They were designed to measure the extent to which men and women are sharing the domestic work involved in family life: they included measures of the time men and women spend on childcare, housework and caring for older people; we also looked at the proportion of the part-time workforce who are men (26%).

We did not measure men’s and women’s respective contributions to providing for our families – not because it’s not interesting, but because we felt our other measures already gave a useful overall picture of countries’ progress towards gender equality.

For the record, the other side of the coin is this: dads in 82% of couple families work full-time. In 29% of such families, mums work full time too. In 31%, mums work part-time. In 22%, the dad is the sole breadwinner. That leaves 18% of families where there’s some other arrangement – this includes those where mum is working full-time and the dad isn’t, for example, and those where both mum and dad work less than full-time.

In couple families in which at least one parent is employed, only one mother in five (22%) brings home even half the family income. A third (31%) of UK dads in couple households were working 48+ hours per week in 2011. The average full-time UK working mum does 39 hours per week…the average full-time working dad does 45 hours.

So the real story about fairness in British families is NOT that British dads are ‘the worst’.

The real story, as we have said throughout our report and press release, is that mums and dads are still not sharing the childcare work. This isn’t because dads are lazy and useless – any more than it’s about mums wantonly failing to earn enough. It’s about the structures that shape our ability to share the caring and earning, not being fit for purpose.

Regardless of the headline writers’ careless dad-shaming, will continue to push for changes in those structures, because we believe that only by doing so will we create a level playing field on which parents can make decisions about who does what.







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