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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  • Nigel says:

    too late. The report you gave was in fact highly leading in the way it was framed. It certainly did ignore the contribution of fathers in terms of earning for their families. The Index was highly contrived including the very few people who are MPs or Senior Management. Once I was a promoter of the work of the FI and Promoted its work and materials. That will stop. I don’t believe for one minute you were that naïve

  • nongenderbias9 says:

    After a hard day at work Judge QC Mark Anthony who had been limiting father’s family arrangements to 2 hours per week; his wife confronted him with a dish cloth and demands to start cooking for the family immediately. They were all famished. After dutifully completing the washing up he was quizzed as to why he had missed dusting behind the best Mum in the world trophy. No sex for him that night; not that he retained the energy nor the inclination. On late night TV he was reminded how difficult it was for single Mums whose feckless fathers failed to pay maintenance. He resolved to tighten the law to track down these wicked men and hold them accountable.

    Kind regards

  • Nigel says:

    I don’t suppose my comment will get published. All you had to do was say A third of dads work 48+ hrs per week making it hard to share childcare. It was you FI who handed “worst in the world” outto the press. I’ve supported and promoted FI initiatives in the past but this is the end. You must have known what would happen with your deliberately inflammatory headline.

    • Fatherhood Institute says:

      Thanks for your comments Nigel. We plan to include indicators on fathers’ v. mothers’ earnings and working time in future editions of FiFI, where we can find comparative data internationally (earnings will prove more difficult to establish, but we will try).

      Our position is that the way to get policies to support fathers’ involvement taken seriously, is to point up gender inequalities that reduce opportunities for women and mothers, because that is a major policy concern. I understand that others, especially those who feel they have suffered at the hands of a feminist dominant paradigm, have a different view.

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