The truth about the working father “wage bonus”

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Like many people, I don’t always find myself in agreement with the Trade Unions Congress, but yesterday it published a report into the earnings of working fathers. The report found that men with children out-earn child-free men by an average of 21%. By contrast, full-time working mums earn 15% less than men if they have kids by the age of 33.

TUC, gender pay gap, wage bonus
The gender pay gap or male “wage bonus” is not all that it seems. Pic credit below.

The so called gender pay gap is nothing new. It’s long been the case that fathers have out-earned mums and men without kids. By the way, I use that language on purpose. We hear a lot of talk about a gender pay gap, particularly from politicians. In reality it’s more of a carer pay gap that affects any woman or man with significant caring responsibilities.

At this point, I am going to contradict myself and highlight something the TUC said that I disagree with. The TUC, in its wisdom, referred to the 21% figure as a “wage bonus”. This, I fear, is a somewhat distorted view of things and the use of language is not helpful.

The TUC itself points out that fathers work longer hours to earn this money. Men are often seen as the providers and breadwinners. Employers have an entrenched but outdated view that men with kids must be more committed employees. As they are seen as more committed than mothers, this leads to men having more opportunities to climb the career ladder further exacerbating any difference in earnings between the genders.

Working fathers are basically trapped. If they don’t put in the extra hours, their income and job could be at jeopardy. This, at least, is what they feel and this pressure keeps guys away from their families. Under the circumstances, this is hardly a “bonus”.

It reminds me of when I first became a stay at home dad. We had a builder working on our house at the time. Whenever he was in our house, I was also at home with my daughter and I eventually felt the need to explain why I was around so much.

Expecting this builder to make a joke of my situation, he did the opposite. He remarked that he would have liked to have been able to adopt my lifestyle because he missed seeing his own kids grow up.

So where exactly do I find myself agreeing with the TUC? Let’s take a look at the remarks made by TUC Secretary General Frances O’Grady;

“In stark contrast to the experience of working mums who often see their earnings fall after having children, fatherhood has a positive impact on men’s earnings.

“It says much about current attitudes that men with children are seen as more committed by employers, while mothers are still often treated as liabilities.

“While men play a much more active role in raising their children nowadays, many are afraid to request flexible working or time off in case it damages their career prospects.

“We won’t break this cycle unless fathers are given access to independent paid leave to look after their kids, that isn’t shared with their partners. And we need more decently-paid jobs to be available on a reduced hours or flexible work basis. This would reduce the motherhood pay penalty and enable more dads to take work that fits with their parenting responsibilities.

While we have come a long way, there is still more to do to make the UK’s working culture family-friendly. Unfortunately, mums are all too often seen as a liability and men are stuck in rut where they must be seen in the workplace to demonstrate commitment. Despite the introduction of shared parental leave, the small but ever-growing increase in the number of stay at home dads and vast increase of fathers wanting to be more involved with their offspring, women are, it seems, still seen as the main caregivers by the majority of employers. This has a negative impact on both genders.

It is also great to see the TUC recommending the introduction of ring-fenced parental leave for fathers. This is something the Swedes and other Nordic nations introduced years ago to address problems with their own working cultures.

As an aside, the TUC research doesn’t quite tell the entire story. I did a bit of digging around and unearthed this fascinating summary from the Office of National Statistics. It transpires part time working men earn less than women and until the age of 29, women generally out-earn men. It can be no coincidence this is about the time many women start having children.

Supporting the TUC’s argument, I also discovered this fascinating transcript of a Freakonomics podcast. In some industries (the example given here was law) a woman might leave a big corporate employer to work at a smaller, provincial outfit at a similar managerial level. The smaller outfit comes with the same work hours at a smaller salary, but the hours can be worked flexibly.

Women take a hit on their salary for increased flexibility. I found this particularly interesting. Last year the floodgates were opened and all employees in the UK given the equal right to request flexible leave. A man’s request for flexible working is twice as likely to be turned down as a woman’s. Further evidence the UK’s working culture needs to change for benefit of men, women and the future generations.

Pic credit; Christopher Brown. Reproduced under Creative Commons agreement

11 thoughts on “The truth about the working father “wage bonus””

  1. Brilliant piece. Thanks for taking the time to present such a well rounded view. I agree the language was bordering on ridiculous, and by proxy pushes some very outdated views ( of both mothers and fathers) in how the initial analysis was presented. I see a few organisations trying to move toward the Nordic utopia of shared leave, but this will take time. I was surprised more mum’s groups didn’t have a strong response to this?

    1. You’re correct, for some reason this story didn’t kick up the fuss I was expecting. Thanks also for your kind comments.

  2. Another really interesting post John and uncovers a lot of inequalities in the workplace which only seem to be part way addressed by bringing in stuff like ‘flexible working requests’ for all. You say that men are more likely to get turned down – do you mean turned down when the request is made for the same reason (ie childcare) or different reasons (wants to spend more time fishing – something I heard a man in my office say once during a dismissive conversation about ‘part timers’). I agree gender equality is only going to become a reality when issues in the workplace are addressed. Thanks for linking up to this week’s #thetruthabout

    1. My understanding is requests re turned down after being formally submitted. If any men are submitting flexible working requests so they can go fishing, only to have the request turned down, I want to have a chat with them about letting the side down!

  3. Carol Cameleon

    If ever there’s a minefield of a topic, it’s earnings and flexible working. I find it all quite overwhelming and tend to think that if I read/hear too much on the subject, I will get frustrated with the way it all ‘is’. This brought up some surprising stats. Until stereotypes are quashed, I personally doubt that it’ll ever truly be equal. Interesting stuff John #TruthAbout

    1. Glad you liked the stats Carol. They came as a bit of a surprise to me as well. We may get to true equality one day. I hope we do.

  4. An excellent thought piece, John. The thinking on working dads is all a bit muddled and often contradictory – not least because no two working dads are the same. I’m conscious of being the main breadwinner in our household but equally we started out family relatively late (I was 37 when Isaac was born), by which time I was already in a good position career-wise and happy to throttle back a little. I chose to prioritise ‘being around’ rather than pursuing bigger jobs requiring more travel. As part of that, I made a conscious decision not to look for jobs outside my current company too. My choice, even though I could probably be earning more elsewhere by prioritising my career.

    My wife has certainly compromised her career by having kids – getting into a routine of, essentially, one year off one year on while we had our three kids at two-year intervals will do that to you. Plus, as someone who works three days a week (to maintain a decent balance), this greatly limits her opportunities in the external market too. Again, her choice, but it’s easy to see how the gap between our salaries has widened considerably over the past eight years, even though my own career path has flattened. #thetruthabout

    1. You can see how these things happen. In fact its glaringly obvious. I’m honest about it, I think my future is in self employment. My former career is shot having spent so long without an employer. That said, I too wasn’t the youngest when I became a dad and so I was happy to make the sacrifice to be around for the kids.

  5. Pingback: Share childcare responsibilities? Not if you're British! - Dad Blog UK

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