From the TUC

How fair are our families?

02 Dec 2010, by Guest in Equality, Working Life

Today marks the launch of the first ever attempt – not just in the UK but in the world – to map how high-income countries fare in allowing mothers and fathers to share earning and caring roles.  And the results are striking.  The UK sits a lowly 18 out of 21 countries in fairness in families, suggesting there is a long way to go if we are to become the most ‘family friendly country in Europe’ as the Coalition aspires to be.

The Fatherhood Institute’s Fairness in Families Index (FiFI) compares 21 countries, calculating their average ranking across ten indictors to arrive at the overall ’league table.’  The table moves from the most equal, Sweden (average position 4th across all indicators), at the top of the Index to the least equal, Switzerland (average position between 15th and 16th across all indicators), at the bottom:

The Fairness in Families Index: overall ranking on 10 indicators of gender equality
Overall rank Country Average ranking across 10 indicators
1 Sweden 4.00
2 Finland 4.90
3 Norway 5.00
4 Denmark 6.78
5 Portugal 7.44
6 Belgium 7.67
7 Greece 8.89
8 France 8.90
9 New Zealand 9.50
10 Italy 10.11
11 Netherlands 10.33
12 USA 10.44
13 Spain 10.50
14 Germany 10.80
15 Canada 11.50
16 Ireland 11.75
17 Australia 12.13
18 UK 12.20
19 Japan 13.25
20 Austria 14.43
21 Switzerland 15.71

The ten indicators we used were:

Gender equality in parental leave; Gender pay gap; Percentage of men in the part-time workforce; Percentage of women sitting in parliament; Percentage of women in management positions; Percentage of children in lone parent families; Percentage of GDP spent on childcare and education of children under 5; Ratio of men’s to women’s time spent caring for children; Ratio of men’s to women’s time spent on unpaid work; Maximum ‘full-time equivalent’ leave available for fathers

The Index clearly shows that the UK has substantial ground to make up in addressing the needs of working men as they become fathers.  In Sweden, fathers are entitled to 40 weeks of full-time equivalent paid leave, consisting of paternity leave at time of birth and flexible parental leave for a substantial period afterwards.  Here, men are entitled to two weeks paternity leave, paid at a rate equivalent to only two days of average full-time earnings.  And the differential in leave entitlement between men and women in Britain encourages a gendered pattern of earning and caring, despite overwhelming evidence showing that men and women believe that the picture of ‘father-breadwinner and mother-homemaker’ is outdated.

Our policies around parental leave also contribute to the gender pay gap. The UK ranks 15th on this indicator, with full-time working women earning 21% less than full-time working men.  Belgium fares best, with a gender pay gap less than half the size (9.3%).

In Scandinavia, where there are relatively generous and flexible parental leave systems, men make up 30%-40% of the part-time workforce, compared to only 24.2% in the UK.  Arguably, fairness in families could better be secured in a labour market where ‘family-sized jobs’ were a more normative expectation for all parents. In this model there would not be the dichotomy of opportunity which frequently persists, where parents choose between full-time and part-time work, and the latter poses challenges to career progression.

The Index suggests that the UK is lagging behind most countries in establishing a framework for parenting and earning to be shared.  The Coalition’s commitment to supporting shared parenting would imply that the UK should be moving up this FiFI league table over the next few years.  The good news is that establishing a framework in the UK to support a fairer balance in earning and caring will not be flying in the face of public opinion or personal aspiration.  In fact, it’s safe to say the new generation will welcome policy and legislative moves to allow them to choose more easily how they achieve real fairness in their families.

GUEST POST: Fiona McAllister is Policy Officer at the Fatherhood Institute. She has a longstanding interest in family research and policy analysis. She studied early marriage and analysed evidence on outcomes following relationship breakdown for One plus One. At Family Policy Studies Centre she led research on voluntary childlessness. She has worked part-time for many organisations including Gingerbread and the Institute of Education and Policy Studies Institute, and has written on diverse issues including lone parents’ training needs and defining well-being. She has lectured at the Universities of Sussex, City and North London.

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