BSA36: Women and work press release

A third of Brits say parental leave should be evenly shared, but around half still think it’s best that mothers do most of the childcare

Against a suite of government policies designed to enable parents to share childcare responsibilities more equally such as Shared Parental Leave, the British Social Attitudes Survey finds that 51% of people think the best option for a family with a pre-schooler is for the mother to do most of the childcare, despite 34% saying that parental leave should be evenly split between parentsi. In 2012, just 22% favoured the fifty-fifty split option.

The survey, carried out by the National Centre for Social Research, reveals that 12% of the population believe that the mother should take the entire leave period (16% in 2012) when asked how parental leave should be divided. 40% of Brits think that she should take most of the paid leave (43% in 2012). Millennials and those educated to degree level are most in favour of dividing parental leave equally (42% and 41% respectively). Those aged 55 years and over (27%) and those with no qualifications (28%) are least inclined to say mothers and fathers should halve it.

Yet, when it comes to deciding how a family with a pre-school age child should best organise work and family life, only 16% favour arrangements that represent an equal split of childcare and work between parents. 9% think that the mother and father should both work part-time (5% in 2012) and 6% favour both parents working full-time (4% in 2012).

In sharp contrast, 51% favour options which see the mother doing the lion’s share of childcare. 32% think mothers should work part-time and fathers full-time (38% in 2012) and 19% think mothers should stay at home and fathers should work full-time (31% in 2012). The proportion of people who are undecided on the best childcare and work arrangements for a family has risen from 19% in 2012 to 30%.

There is stronger consensus regarding equal pay, with most Brits (89%) saying it is wrong for men to be paid more than equally qualified women working in the same job role for the same company. However, the research reveals notable differences between demographic groups with 78% of those with no qualifications considering pay inequality as either ‘wrong’ or ‘very wrong’ compared to more than nine in ten graduates (92%). Women were significantly more likely (78%) than men (57%) to say unequal pay is ‘very wrong.’

Brits were more divided when asked about a specific gender pay gap scenario: Is it right or wrong for men to be paid more than women in a company where men hold most of the senior positions and women hold most of the junior positions? While just over four in ten (43%) think this scenario is wrong, around three in ten (31%) consider it to be right and two in ten (20%) believe it is neither right nor wrong. Again, attitudes towards the gender pay gap vary widely by demographic group. Those most impacted are significantly more inclined to say it is wrong than those least impacted; almost half of women (48%) view the gender pay gap as wrong compared to 38% of men. In a reversal of attitudes to equal pay, graduates (33%) are less likely than those with no qualifications (55%) to think the gender pay gap is wrong.

Nancy Kelley, Deputy Chief Executive at the National Centre for Social Research, comments: "It’s encouraging to see that the vast majority of the public support sharing parental leave - a driver for equality in the workplace as well as a policy that helps families make decisions about home and work that are right for them.

On the other hand, it is clear that both practical barriers and cultural norms about women’s place in the home and at work do persist. We are still more likely to feel that mothers, not fathers should be at home with young children, and while pay equality is clearly seen as wrong, the public has far more mixed views about the gender pay gap.

Despite considerable social change, and strong policy intervention, we still have some way to go in supporting women to flourish in their careers and men to take a more active role in caring for children."