Dads are now facing a conflict between kids and career that women have had for decades

Ready for battle?
Ready for battle?
Image: Reuters/Eddie Keogh
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It’s an equation all working families must balance: time at work (and income) on one side; time with loved ones on the other. According to new research from the UK, those who feel they’re getting it wrong are in the majority, and and fathers are particularly struggling.

Dads under 35 were more likely than any other group to be willing to trade fewer hours at work for less pay—47% of them, according to a survey of 2,750 parents in the UK by Working Families, a parents’ charity. That was compared to 41% of mothers in the same age bracket. In older age groups, both dads and mums were less likely to want to take a pay cut and work fewer hours, but men were still more likely than women to want to.

Men earn more than women, the charity noted, so the fact that dads are more willing to lose some pay may be because they have more leeway. What’s more, women who have children have often already made changes to their working lives, which are reflected in their salaries.

But the report also suggested that if dads are more willing to take more time out, it’s a sign their attitudes are changing while workplace culture lags behind. Essentially, “fathers are having to consider the same compromises women have had to for decades,” the report’s authors write. “This runs the risk of creating a ‘fatherhood penalty’, rooted in ideas about ideal employees and presenteeism, and at odds with fathers’ desire to spend more time with their children.”

Out of all the families surveyed, 80% felt like they’re getting the balance between work, money earned, and time together wrong.

The UK is more progressive than the US in supporting fatherhood, but lags behind European neighbors like Sweden. In 2015, the UK began allowing employed fathers to share almost a whole year of leave with their partners, most of it paid through government benefits—although most of it at a fraction of what many earn. Only between 2% and 8% of those eligible are taking up the offer, though, maybe because fathers are encountering stigma when they suggest taking more than the “traditional” two weeks.

A British government inquiry also launched today to get to the bottom of why shared leave isn’t working and whether fathers who want to do more childcare “are being failed in the workplace.” On average, British dads spend 24 minutes looking after children for every hour mothers spend—the lowest rate (pdf, p.42) of 16 European countries surveyed in 2016.