The fight for a woman to work in a society where her ability and value do not concede discrimination is already a well trodden path. The UK gender pay gap is higher than the European average. Women earn 82 pence for every £1 earned by a man (that’s best case scenario depending on which statistics you read), despite the Equal Pay act being introduced 44 years ago. What is more worrying is that the pay gap is at its most extreme when a woman is in her career prime from 40 to 60, peaking in her 50s.
The influence of motherhood on the gender pay gap is apparent well before women become mothers. In a study of graduates three years post graduation, Chevalier (2007) found that gender differences in career expectations explained 18 per cent of the gender pay gap, with women much more likely to expect to take a break for family reasons (and men expecting their partners to do this). This highlights how childcare issues may impinge on pay even prior to motherhood, given the expected household division of caring responsibilities and childcare support available.
The fact remains that the work women do and childcare itself is undervalued by our Patriarchal society. Only when we have reached a point where society views child-birth and rearing, as a worthy act, will discrimination diminish. The most effective way to balance the scales is to create a framework where it is possible for all couples to share maternity and paternity leave equally. Enter the new Shared Parental Leave law which came into effect on the 5th April 2015. This law (pushed forward by Nick Clegg) states that parents can now legally share 12 months leave, a right that has existed in Sweden since 1974. A big step in the right direction, however as the average pay gap between men and women sits at approximately 18% and statutory parental leave pay is only 60% of the national minimum wage, the infrastructure to support this change isn’t there. The equation is simple, when you add an extra person to your family your outgoings increase, therefore you need to ensure your income is as high as it can be. The evidence from other countries supports this claim. In Sweden, parents receive 480 days’ leave – including 390 at around 80% of their salary – for each child, with 60 days reserved for each parent and the remaining 360 shared as the couple choose. Sweden has the smallest difference between the proportion of men and women employed in Europe and a below average gender pay gap.
Thank you Nick Clegg for pushing forward this change to offer parents the opportunity to share their leave. However, due to the gender pay gap, until we increase statutory parental leave pay, it is highly unlikely many men will take extended paternity leave simply because, as a family, they won’t be able to afford it.