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Simplifying information about Shared Parental Leave improves parents’ understanding of the scheme and made them feel that it was less of an effort to take it up, according to a new report.
The report for the Government Equalities Office also found giving dads messages that addressed the long-term financial and career cost to mothers of doing the majority of childcare; negative perceptions of men requesting flexible working or long periods of leave; and the regret men may feel if they missed out on the time with child, but found there was little impact with regard to interest in flexible working and SPL among prospective fathers, although men who were already dads were more engaged and more likely to say they would take SPL.
The report says that, despite progress towards gender equality, women in the UK do on average about twice as much childcare as men. “This disparity contributes to gender gaps in both employment and earnings, with women being substantially disadvantaged relative to men,” it states. For example, in April to June 2017, 91.7% of fathers aged 25-34 were in work compared to just 67.7% of mothers.
The new study is based on a literature review of the key drivers of parental decision making; in-depth interviews with 13 first-time parents; an analysis of the 2014/15 UK Time Use Survey on time spent on childcare by men and women in the UK as well as the two online experiments designed to test potential solutions for encouraging parents to share parental leave and childcare responsibilities more equally.
It found couples often make decisions about the division of childcare and return to work without explicit discussion or negotiation, despite these decisions having a substantial impact on both parents’ lives. Also, many couples experience a strong financial incentive for the mother to take on a bigger share of childcare responsibilities. This is because women tend to earn less than their partners, and most employers offer enhanced maternity pay but not enhanced Shared Parental Pay. At the same time, says the report, couples tend to disregard or not be aware of the long-term cost to mothers of taking time out of the labour market.
The report says there is a lack of awareness of Shared Parental Leave and a perception that flexible working and parental leave are acceptable for women, but not for men. Other issues are more social [social attitudes and norms] and emotional. The report says parents are influenced by concerns about their child’s safety and guilt (particularly for mothers), which often result in a strong preference for home childcare. Women can also be more averse to ‘giving up’ parts of their leave to share it with partners.