Business as usual for back-to-work dads after the birth of a baby, AIFS finds

by Freya Lucas

May 29, 2019

The birth of a child changes little for Australian fathers’ when it comes to their working lives, an analysis of employment trends undertaken by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) has found.

 

AIFS Director Anne Hollands said that while the birth of a child dramatically alters maternal employment, when it comes to fathers, working patterns remain virtually unchanged. Whilst men may be stepping up more when it comes to sharing parental responsibility, the AIFS analysis found that the number of hours men spend in employment remains the same after the arrival of a child.

 

In contrast, mothers tend to undertake a primary care role for children under one year of age and then gradually increase their time spent in paid employment. Ms Hollands noted, however, the impact of parental leave availability for fathers, and the gender pay gap as barriers for couples who would otherwise choose a more equitable division of family responsibility.

 

Senior research fellow Dr Jennifer Baxter noted that fathers are more likely to choose flexible working arrangements, or those which allow them to work from home, rather than reduce their overall work hours to accommodate childcare responsibilities. She said that, in essence, fathers do spend time on parenting and child care when they have young children, but they fit this in around their hours of employment.

 

Those fathers who are parenting as part of a couple are mostly employed in full-time work, Dr Baxter said, adding “they rarely take part-time hours as a flexible work option to assist in the care of children”. Instead, she said, “fathers continue to work full time in the labour market, where expectations about the need to work long hours tend to prevail”.

 

Those fathers who were single tended to have more diverse employment patterns, with a larger proportion of them being in part time work, or unemployed. The arrangements here, Dr Baxter noted, are not likely to reflect an active choice to spend fewer hours in employment, and more time parenting, but rather a reflection of circumstances.

 

The most common arrangement for fathers caring for their children, Dr Baxter said, is flexible work arrangements, which came in at 30 per cent. This was followed by working from home (15 per cent) and part-time work (5 per cent)

 

Dr Baxter noted that “while there was steady growth in the proportion of fathers taking up flexible work options to care for children between 1996 and 2008, this trend has since levelled off over the last decade.”

 

Commenting on the findings, Emma Walsh, CEO of Parents At Work, said that the reluctance of fathers to change their working lives, or take available parental leave is based on “continued adherence to traditional gender roles” and the gender pay gap.

 

She noted as an illustrative example Australia’s lack of a nationally legislated approach to shared parental leave and, as a result, fathers being labelled as secondary carers. Most employers, Ms Walsh said, provide “limited parental leave for secondary carers, if any at all”.

 

Noting an awareness by fathers of stigma and bias around taking extended periods of leave, and a lack of “in house” role models, Ms Walsh said the gender pay gap was also a huge consideration in decision making at a family level.

 

“Parental leave for fathers needs be actively encouraged and incentivised. Companies need to develop an organisational culture that encourages men to take leave. Importantly, fathers in leadership positions should themselves take leave, leading by example and removing any bias within the workplace,” Ms Walsh said.

 

In doing so, she believes fathers would then have a better work/life balance, and spend more time with their children, whilst mothers would have the opportunity to pursue their employment with “flexibility and purpose.”

 

“By actively promoting men and women as equal carers through shared parental leave, we have the opportunity to narrow the gender pay gap, boost workplace productivity and champion Australian parents in both their family and work goals,” Ms Walsh said.

 

The AIFS report is available to view using this link: Fathers and Work – A Statistical Overview Emma Walsh’s article Fathers and Parental Leave,published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, is also available for review.

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