Did you take any shared parental leave this year? If not, why not?
Perhaps it’s because your employer doesn’t enhance shared parental pay. Perhaps your wife or partner didn’t want to give up her maternity leave. Perhaps you were concerned about the impact it might have on your career. Or perhaps you’re not eligible or have never even heard of it.
Or perhaps it’s just because you haven’t had a child in the last year.
That’s right: the much-quoted “only 1% of dads chose to take shared parental leave” headline doing the rounds over the last week is not quite what it seems. The figure, from a report by My Family Care, a consultancy, refers to all men, not just those who have had a child in the last year.
When the context of the statistic is considered, the uptake of SPL starts to look a bit more encouraging. If 1% of all men, whether they are eligible dads or not, took some shared parental leave in the last year, then that ought to be a fairly large number of people. As Tim Harford says in the Radio 4 More or Less episode on this subject, even if every eligible father in the UK had taken some shared parental leave, the statistic would still only be around 5%!
It’s a shame because this stat and the widespread misreporting of it could potentially discourage families from taking shared parental leave in reluctance to do something that appears to be highly unusual. It’s a shame that the media outlets who reported on this last week failed to pick up on this important bit of context. I’m not pointing fingers: I did a number of TV and radio interviews myself last week and also assumed the statistic referred to eligible fathers only. I have learned my lesson from that.
There is some room for optimism though. A different survey, conducted by recruiters Totaljobs, suggested that many people (whether parents or not) understand the benefits of sharing leave and would be keen to make use of SPL in the future. The My Family Care survey found similar results. Both surveys suggest that British families are open to the idea of sharing leave, and that the old-fashioned view that childcare is just for women is not so deeply entrenched as some had feared.
With fairer pay and some encouragement many more dads might still take on some of the childcare burden in the future.