Why the parenthood penalty could tear corporate Britain apart

UK parents face the possibility of a ‘parenthood penalty’, which could lead to backlash from frustrated parents, according to research.

Men on low pay are four times more likely to be working part-time today than in the 1990s, according to research released earlier this week by the Institute of Fiscal Studies. According to the institute, 20 years ago, only one in 20 men aged 25 to 55 worked part-time with low hourly wages. Now one in five of this group works part-time.

Part-time workers, both men and women, earn less on average per hour than their full-time counterparts. Traditionally, a much higher proportion of women work part-time – 41 per cent compared with only 11 per cent of men, but the gradual increase of low paid male part-time workers reveals a worrying trend.

UK independent job site, CV-Library, ran its own analysis based on the number of males on the site looking for part-time work. In the last year alone, 82.3 per cent of men looking for part-time work were searching for jobs that paid up to £25,000, and between 2010 and 2016, the site has seen a 294.6 per cent increase in demand for these part-time roles. Half (50.8%) of male candidates looking for part-time work in 2016 expected to be paid up to £15,000, while 31.5 per cent expected to be paid between £15,000 and £25,000, suggesting lower salary expectations across the board.


A fatherhood penalty in sight

The research from both IFS and CV-Library highlight a potential fatherhood penalty in the horizon. Women continue to play a greater role in caring for children, as well as for sick or elderly relatives, which is why more women work part time and receive low pay with fewer opportunities to progress. IFS research from 2016 revealed that the pay gap opens up significantly once women hit their forties, as more return to the workforce full time after their children are grown.  Women often find that their male contemporaries are promoted ahead of them, and receive lower bonuses as they struggle to prove they’re just as capable despite the ‘break’. A PwC report reveals that three in five professionals who return to work after raising their children are moved into lower-skilled or lower-paid roles.

Now with more men taking on childrearing responsibilities, the option of part-time work is looking more and more appealing to new fathers, which could cause a similar gap for these men. The 2017 Modern Families Index has also revealed that 47 per cent of working fathers want a less stressful job in order to improve work-life balance, with over a third willing to take a pay cut for this.

“Society is continuing to change, especially with the introduction of shared parental leave a few years back, which could explain why more men are looking for lower-paid, part-time positions, in order to maintain an income, while supporting with childcare,’ Lee Biggins, CV-Library founder and MD explains.

The eternal work-life balance

According to diversity recruitment firm, The Clear Company, we may soon reach a point where all parents are penalised during employment. Employers have yet to alter perceptions of working parents and develop a culture that embraces these individuals, according to the recruitment firm’s director, Kate Headley.

“The motherhood penalty has long been an issue that’s needed to be addressed by businesses. Just because a woman has taken a career break in order to have a family, doesn’t mean they are any less capable of returning to their original job or worth less than those who haven’t made this life choice. The fact that we are now seeing a rise in men struggling to balance family life with work and considering pay cuts in order to spend better quality time with their children, suggests that age-old attitudes still haven’t changed,” she explains.


While most employers understand why the gig economy is as popular and powerful as it is today,  working parents are still not afforded the same respect and rights as other employees. “Unless this idea of a parenthood penalty is stamped out now, firms will soon find themselves facing a backlash from parents, both male and female, who feel they are being unfairly treated,” Headley adds. “As we have come such a long way in providing a more flexible working environment, it is almost a step backwards that parents feel the need to take a pay cut in order have the work life balance that should be readily available to them.”

It is also no longer uncommon for employees to have over ten different jobs in their working life, according to CV-Library’s Biggins. The gig economy also offers workers greater work-life balance, while “(bulking) up their career portfolio with a multitude of part-time positions,” he explains.

“That said it’s clear that some industries do need to improve pay and facilitate exciting career opportunities that will support not only the nation’s workers, but also the wider economy.”

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.

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