Fathers should be helped and encouraged to work flexibly to reduce the impact that having children has on women’s careers, a think-tank says today.
The Social Market Foundation said that cultural barriers to men working part time help force mothers into career choices that have long-term costs for their employment levels and wages.
In a new report, the SMF showed that ten years after having their first child, mothers work 9% fewer hours than fathers and are paid 19% less per month.
The root cause of that difference is the decision many women make to work part-time after having children, the SMF said. Three years after their last child is born, only 45 per cent of women work full time, while 92 per cent of men do. The median number of hours worked by mothers in employment falls from 37 to 25.
Fathers work longer hours after having children despite growing evidence that more men want to work less and spend more time caring for their children. Their median working week rises from 38 to 39 hours. Working longer may help men win promotions and wage increases that women working part time miss out on.
The report was published by James Kirkup, the SMF Director, who works part time. He said more men should be able to do the same: “Fathers working flexibly can be good for women’s careers and good for men, but too many men just don’t feel able to ask employers about working differently. That needs to change.”
Having children sharply increases the pay gap between men and women, the SMF found. Before they had children, mothers typically earned 101% of the average hourly wage, and fathers earned 112%.
Three years after having children, both mothers and fathers had higher wage rates, reflecting their greater age. But the wage gap between the two widens significantly: men with children earn 127% of average wages, while pay rates for women with children only rise to 102%.
The SMF said its study, sponsored by Vodafone UK, follows on from an “important” report from the Commons Women and Equalities Committee in March, which called for longer paternity leave for new fathers to help balance career progression for men and women.
The SMF report analyses differences between mothers and fathers over a longer period and shows that the decision for mothers to work part-time has long-term consequences for their employment and wages over the rest of their lives.
Of those at work ten years after their first child was born, first-time mothers earn 11% less per hour, 19% less per month and work 9% fewer hours per week than first-time fathers.
SMF analysis shows that ten years after the birth of a first child, seven in ten (73%) of mothers and nine in ten (89%) of fathers are in work. Mothers predominantly work shorter hours, with six in ten (61%) employed on a part-time basis. By contrast, 97% of employed fathers work full-time.
Nicole Gicheva, SMF researcher, said:
“The decision for women to work part-time after having a child can make sense for a family and no-one should try to dictate how parents should combine work and family. But it is also decision that can have far-reaching consequences for a woman’s employment and pay.
“There is a common idea that it makes sense for women to work part-time while fathers remain full-time because men earn more. But wage rates before children are not so different and it is actually the choices that parents feel they have to make about their working patterns after having children that can increase variations in pay rates.
“Those consequences of those choices can disadvantage both women and men. Women miss out on work and pay, men miss out on time with their children. A better balance of work between the sexes could benefit everyone.”
As well as helping women work more and develop their careers, increasing the number of fathers working flexibly could meet a growing demand among men for a different approach.
More than a third (36%) of fathers report that they would take a pay cut to achieve a better work-life balance but fathers can feel uncomfortable requesting flexible work, especially where workplace culture equates professional ambition with a traditional full-time role. Survey evidence shows that fathers often find the culture in their workplace to be unsupportive of their wishes for more childcare responsibilities.
The SMF recommended policies including requiring employers to state on all job vacancy notices whether they are willing to consider part-time or flexible working arrangements. A new Government award, perhaps modelled on the Queen’s Award for Enterprise, should also be used to celebrate employers with the best record on helping parents continue their careers.
James Kirkup said:
“Sensible policies can nudge employers to be more open to flexible working for both sexes and celebrate those who do. But the real issue here is cultural: too many men worry that their employers won’t consider letting them change their working patterns to share childcare, and some are scared that they’ll be penalised for even asking.
“Employers, business leaders and politicians need to help dismantle that cultural barrier by sending a clear message that men can succeed at work while playing a full part in their children’s lives. Helping more men to work flexibly would help both parents strike a better balance between work and childcare.”
1 The SMF figures are derived from analysis of datasets held by the Understanding Society and British Household Panel Survey projects, longitudinal studies that survey the behaviour and lives of tens of thousands of British households over time.
2 James Kirkup is available for interview about his own experience of working part-time, both as SMF Director and previously as a senior editor at a national newspaper. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
3. The report will be published online at https://www.smf.co.uk on the morning of Monday 11 June.
4. For inquiries about the report, please contact Laura Webb, SMF Head of External Affairs and Partnerships on 07502048969 / or email email@example.com
5. The report was supported by Vodafone UK. The SMF retained full editorial independence. A registered charity, the SMF declares all its funding sources.
About the SMF
The Social Market Foundation (SMF) is a non-partisan think tank. We believe that fair markets, complemented by open public services, increase prosperity and help people to live well. We conduct research and run events looking at a wide range of economic and social policy areas, focusing on economic prosperity, public services and consumer markets. The SMF is resolutely independent, and the range of backgrounds and opinions among our staff, trustees and advisory board reflects this.