Alison Koslowski (University of Edimburgh)

"Fathers at work: explaining the gaps between entitlement to leave and flexible working policies and their uptake"

18 May 2017, 2:00 pm


Much workplace support to parents offered by employers in the United Kingdom is gender neutral in design, but fathers’ usage rates are generally very low and far below that of mothers. Why are fathers unlikely to use the full range of leave benefits available to them following the birth of a child? The paper addresses this question empirically using a mixed-methods design which includes: data from the Growing up in Scotland study; 20 in-depth qualitative interviews with fathers of young children working in the public sector in dual-earner couples, as well as; an audit of extra-statutory benefits offered to fathers by employers. We take a capabilities approach, which suggests that many fathers are somehow not fully enabled by their organisations to use policies. This paper contributes to the evidence suggesting that UK fathers refrain from using post-birth leave in part due to economic constraints. Unsurprisingly, given this situation, leave taking is socially stratified. We argue that the reliance of parents on extra-statutory leave benefits explains at least part of the gap between fathers’ entitlement to and uptake of statutory leave. The extra-statutory entitlement is more than just ‘top up’ to the statutory; it is rather a facilitator for the take up of statutory entitlement, by fathers. Organisational cultural norms support many employed fathers in taking a couple of weeks leave post-birth, but longer leave duration for fathers is not yet a usual parenting practice in the UK. Findings suggest that line manager relationships, the ‘modelling’ behaviour of peers and gendered leave practices all impact on how fathers feel about using work-family balance policies, and whether they are likely to use them. The limits of workplace support for fathers can challenged via the consideration of some key institutional conversion factors which if addressed may better enable fathers to exercise greater agency with regard to work-family balance policies.