Additional paternity leave: ‘unlikely to have an impact’

Additional paternity leave: ‘unlikely to have an impact’

TIHR Researchers reflect on the possible impacts from the Additional Paternity Leave legislation.


3 May 2011

TIHR Researchers reflect on the possible impacts from the Additional Paternity Leave legislation.

As of the 3rd of April 2011, fathers of children born in the UK have been given the right to take 26 weeks additional paternity leave instead of the mother. In debates in the media this leave has been highlighted as putting unaffordable financial and administrative burdens on employers which the country cannot afford. A few voices have raised the hope that it can change UK comparatively high levels of gender inequality.

But given the evidence it is not very likely that the leave will have any significant impact on either UK finances or gender equality.

The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations and partners have just finalised a comparative study on paternity leave and parental leave for fathers in all EU Member States. The evidence shows:

  • Men only take leave if it is generously remunerated (close to full pay);
  • Men mainly take leave if a part of the leave is reserved for them (1).

The new British leave is paid at 128.74 a week for 14 weeks and the last 12 weeks are unpaid (2). This is not generous, certainly not by European standards. Even the Nordic countries with high levels of gender equality have had to give men full pay to convince them to take leave. Gender roles aside, British men earn an average of 21.3% more an hour than women (3), so most couples will not have any financial incentives to let the man take the leave – quite the contrary.

As couples can distribute the leave between them by personal preference it is therefore very unlikely that many fathers will use the leave. This is backed up by the UK government’s impact assessment of the Additional Paternity Leave. The impact assessment estimates that it will be taken up by between 4% and 8% of new fathers and it is unlikely that fathers will take more than 13 weeks.

As the take up of the leave will be close to zero in percentage terms, so will the impact of the legislation.

But let us assume that employers and business will indeed experience a surge in claims from men wanting to use the leave. What would be the impact compared to the situation today?

    • Financially: The direct costs for employers will be nil in any event as all the costs are reimbursed by the state and close to nil for the state as well as the paid paternity leave would replace the mothers’ claims.
    • Administratively: The BBC, the Federation of Small Businesses, and others contend that the new regulation will put additional administrative burden on small employers. It is hard to see how and why this would be the case. Firstly, fathers already have the right to 2 weeks of paternity leave which is reimbursed by the state. Secondly, the new regulation is similar to maternity leave regulation. This means that only businesses which have never employed a mother nor a father taking ordinary paternity leave would be faced with new administrative rules to learn.
    • Lost productivity:If fathers were indeed to take up the leave, companies which employ more new fathers than mothers would experience a productivity loss. However, employers who employ more new mothers than fathers would in fact experience a productivity gain as their partners would take leave at the same time allowing mothers to return to work earlier. Therefore the claim that the new regulation will have a detrimental effect on Britain’s productivity is equivalent to claiming that men are more productive than women.

If Britain does experience a surge in men wanting to go on a combination of low paid and unpaid leave the benefits for Britain would be significant. International research shows that countries where men take 1-3 months of additional paternity leave or parental leave experience:

  • Higher female employment rates (Sweden and Denmark have significantly higher female employment rates than the UK);
  • More equal distribution of unpaid work;
  • Lower mortality rates for men taking long periods of leave;
  • Improved child wellbeing, social mobility and educational performance of children;
  • Lower gender pay gap;
  • More gender equality in the labour market (under-use of women’s skills costs the UK and estimated 15-23 billion a year)(4);
  • Lower discrimination against pregnant women and women in the child rearing age (200,000 British women are affected by pregnancy discrimination in the UK each year).

However as it stands the positive and negative impact of the Additional Paternity leave looks to be negligible as few fathers will use the entitlement.

The Tavistock Institute, as part of the EPEC consortium, has currently conducted an EU-wide impact assessment of paternity leave measures across EU Member States and at EU level. Read about it here.

For more information please contact:
David Drabble d.drabble@tavinstitute.org

(1) This has been observed in Sweden where 2 months of leave is reserved for the father at 80% of previous earnings and in Denmark where reserved leave for fathers was changed to being transferable and fathers then stopped using the leave as frequently.
(2) Legislation and rates are available at Direct Gov.
(3) 2008 Eurostat data.
(4) Equality and Human Rights Commission, Working Better, page 23.

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