‘Everything works against fathers’: UK dads feel work-life balance strain

16 January 2017

A new report suggests UK men run the risk of facing a ‘fatherhood penalty’, as they struggle to hold down demanding, well-paid jobs while taking a greater role in looking after their children. The Women and Equalities Committee at Parliament is so worried that it has launched a new inquiry into fathers in the workplace.

Working Families’ Modern Families Index found that dads increasingly want to take an active part in childcare but are having to consider the same compromises women have had to for decades. This runs the risk of creating a ‘fatherhood penalty’ – whereby men move into lower paid and lower quality work because they have become fathers:
● 47% of fathers surveyed for the index said they would like to downshift into a less stressful job, reflecting the difficulty they face in reconciling work and home.
● Eight out of ten mothers and seven out of ten fathers said they would assess their childcare needs before taking a new job or promotion, indicating that both genders now feel they might have to downgrade their careers in order to care for their families.
● Just under half of millennial fathers (46%) said they would be willing to take a pay cut to achieve a better work-life balance, vs. just over a third of fathers overall (38%).

Meanwhile, the Women and Equalities Committee is consulting on whether, and how, fathers are being failed in the workplace. Its inquiry, which will run until 1 March, will focus on the following issues:

  • How well do fathers feel their current working arrangements help them to fulfil their caring responsibilities for children of all ages?
  • Are there employment-related barriers to fathers sharing caring roles more equally?
  • Do fathers have the financial support to enable them to fulfil their caring responsibilities?
  • Are there social or attitudinal barriers to fathers in the workplace which need to be challenged?
  • Are there changes to the workplace – such as an increase in freelance, agency or casual working – which might have an impact on fathers? Are there challenges for fathers working in particular employment sectors?
  • What role can Government, employers and other stakeholders play in overcoming these barriers? What policy or legislative changes would be most effective in supporting fathers to fulfil their caring responsibilities?
  • Are there specific issues facing fathers from particular groups or backgrounds, for example because of their income or ethnicity, or fathers of disabled children and young people?
  • Are there examples (in the UK or internationally) of best practice amongst employers that could be taken up more widely?

Find out more, and contribute to the inquiry, here.

Listen to Fatherhood Institute CEO Adrienne Burgess talking about the limitations of shared parental leave, on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.


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  • Mark Bainton says:

    I’ve just read the BBC article with interest, since I have just taken early retirement in order to look after my children, who are 7 and 9 years old.
    I am fortunately able to do this because my wife has recently started work as a Primary teacher.

    We will of course be less well off, as my wife’s salary is somewhat less than that which I was earning, but we feel it’s worth it, and the children will now get looked after by a parent rather than a child-minder, and my wife can concentrate on her new job.

    I did work for a national company who have a ‘Family Friendly’ Policy and also apparently offer ‘Flexible Working’; and they promote these policies with great enthusiasm. However, the reality is (as I discovered) that they do not really want to offer any of this. Hence after a formal application to reduce my work hours, and a number of meetings, I ended up resigning.

    If you’re wondering, there is quite an age difference between myself and my wife…but that’s another story!

    • Fatherhood Institute says:

      Thanks for your comment – very interesting. As a matter of interest, do you feel they particularly didn’t want men to take up flexible working?

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