When we think of parents taking lower salaries to be with their kids, we often think of mothers having to give up their careers to stay home. While this may still be true for many families, a recent study also found that as many as 38 per cent of UK working dads would take a pay cut to spend more time at home with their children.
In an age where dads are spending more and more time with their kids, family life has become an ever greater priority for fathers across the country. However despite the fact that many dads would choose to work fewer hours to spend more time with their kids, financial pressures often mean they struggle to find the work-life balance that works best for them and their family.
Dads are sharing the same struggle as mums in trying to find the work-life balance, just in a very different way.
Times are a-changing
Over the last two decades there has been a significant change in the working patterns of parents. The traditional gender roles of women staying at home to look after the children and run the household, and dads going out to work has eroded.
Dual-earner households are now the norm in the UK. Mothers have experienced the largest increase in employment rates. Latest figures show that between April to June 2018, both parents were working in almost three quarters of UK homes. Of these families, almost half (45.5%) had both parents in full-time employment.
With both parents working there has been a seismic shift in terms of dads helping out more when it comes to childcare and household chores.
An extract from a 1950s Home Economics Book , detailing how wives should welcome their husbands home after a long day’s work drives home how just much things have changed. 50s wives were advised to:
This idea of an emotionally distant background father figure seems like a caricature that belongs well and truly in the past.
Research shows that dads today spend seven times as much time actively involved in their child’s upbringing than their own fathers did with them in the 1970s and 80s. But by taking on more childcare and juggling this with demanding work hours, many dads are feeling burnt out. They too are struggling to find the right balance between work and family.
The Working Families Index reveals that almost half of all working dads would like a less stressful job so they could devote more time to their children and that almost 40 per cent would be prepared to work fewer hours or take a pay cut if that was an option.
However, while things are changing at home, elsewhere – particularly in the workplace – it’s taking longer to catch up. And this is preventing dads from being able to find the work family balance they would like.
Flexible working for dads
One possible solution to finding a better work life balance has been flexible working. This has been more and more successful for mothers as it has enabled many mums to balance the demands of children and work. However for dads the battle is somewhat different than purely the logistics of finding the hours to work. Dads also have to battle the outdated idea of the father as the breadwinner, which still prevails in workplace culture.
Parents now have rights to request flexible working from their employers. However there is a gap between policy and practice with regards to this. A recent report revealed that this ‘breadwinner’ culture means that fathers are afraid to request flexible work in case it marks them as not committed to their jobs. They also fear it may negatively affect their chances of promotion. The report found that fathers felt they couldn’t access flexible working hours as their manager’s assumed they were the main breadwinners.
Many dads even feel reluctant to even discuss family and work related issues with their employers. 41 per cent of fathers admit to lying or bending the truth to their employer when family life conflicted with work.
So although many dads express a desire to cut back on working hours to spend more time with their family, financial pressures and outdated work patterns mean they feel unable to do so. It seems that work-family policies are lagging behind and still hold onto the gendered binary of care-giving women and working men. Even IF both parents work.
Mothers still pay the price
While we still fight to close the gender pay gap, the truth of the matter is that it’s still predominantly mothers whose earning potential is hit by having children.
However hands-on and involved dads are the reality is that schools will often phone mums first if the children are poorly and need picking up from school. Despite a move towards flexible working, it is still frowned upon for dads to leave work early or take time off to look after their children.
Mums are the ones who give up their careers or take pay cuts for part time work which enables them to look after their children. By contrast, men actually get a fatherhood pay bonus and find themselves earning more.
What can we change
The fatherhood pay bonus comes at a cost though. Dads are expected to put in extra hours to advance their pay. They can only do so because mothers are at home looking after the kids. It’s a cycle that’s hard to break.
James Tugendhat, Managing Director, International at Bright Horizons, said:
The Index highlights the UK’s long hours culture is putting severe strain on family life in the UK. Many parents are working unsustainable hours to make ends meet, returning home stressed and exhausted.
Sarah Jackson, Chief Executive of Working Families, said
We need a more widespread, genuinely flexible approach to work. But on its own, flexible working is not enough if all it delivers is the flexibility to manage a bumper workload. We need human-sized jobs that allow parents to fulfil their labour market potential and give families back the time together they need to thrive.
So although the research shows that dads want to achieve a better work-life balance, things are not so clear cut. As we move towards a time where both parents are more likely to work, both mums AND dads face a struggle to achieve a work-life balance and often find themselves coming up short. The report states:
Parents are very clear: family is the most important thing to them, but the twin currencies of time and money they need for their families to thrive are not available to them. Only one in five families feel they are getting it right.
Times are a-changing for dads but there’s still a long way to go before policies and social attitudes catch up to allow dads to achieve a better work-life balance, to make families happier.
- “The Fatherhood Bonus & The Motherhood Penalty – Parenthood and the Gender Gap in Pay”, Michell J. Budig, PhD
- “The Modern Families Index 2017”, Bright Horizons Family Solutions
- “The Modern Families Index 2018”, Bright Horizons Family Solutions
- “‘Plan dinner the night before, NEVER complain and speak in a soft voice’: The cringeworthy 1950s marriage advice for housewives on how to ‘look after’ their husbands”, Laura House for the Daily Mail Australia
- “Extract from 1950s Home Economics Book”, Frames etc Facebook