Have Only 1% Of Fathers Taken Up Shared Parental Leave?

It is one year since the launch of Shared Parental Leave (SPL), a Government policy that allows both mothers and fathers to share parental leave. To understand the impact of this policy My Family Care (a business that works with employers to support working parents) and the Women’s Business Council carried out a survey of over 1,000 parents and 200 businesses.

The headline message from this survey that has been reported in much of the national press is that only 1% of fathers have taken up SPL (including the Guardian, Telegraph, Independent and Daily Mail). This is an extremely low figure and there has been much discussion on why this is the case. But is it really true?

Looking at the original research in more detail, you’ll find that this figure relates to all men, not just fathers. The press release states “We found that just 1% of men (that is, all men, not just eligible men, based on our HR respondents’ feedback on take up percentage) have so far taken up the opportunity to share their partner’s parental leave”. This means that many of the headlines about this story are misleading since we do not know how many fathers who have been eligible for SPL in the past year have in fact used it.

Possibly a more informative statistic is that the research found that 63% of men who already have children, and are considering having more, said it was likely that they would choose to take SPL. These are the men that are likely to be eligible for SPL in the near future, indicating that the future take up may be reasonably high.

When the Government introduced the policy, they estimated that out of the approximately 285,000 couples eligible, the take up would be between 2 and 8% (as reported by The Huffington Post who also picked up on the reporting errors we discuss here). This is still a relatively low proportion and the research that has taken place gives us some insight into why this may be the case. For example, it was found that 55% of women surveyed said that they wouldn’t want to share their maternity leave and around 50% of men and women believed that SPL could negatively impact a man’s career.

The social acceptability of a policy like this is crucial. More examples of fathers taking up SPL may encourage others to consider doing the same, which is why misleading headlines such as those seen yesterday are potentially damaging.

What is the take-home message from this type of reporting? If you’re interested in a story that summarises research undertaken by a trusted organisation, don’t just rely on the headline and the newspaper write-up, delve a little deeper into the detail and look at the research for yourself!