Public still believe women should take majority of parental leave, finds survey

Just 34 per cent support splitting childcare responsibility equally between parents

Most British people still think mothers should take the lion's share of paid parental leave, a survey of public attitudes has found.

The latest British Social Attitudes survey found four in 10 (40 per cent) British people felt mothers should take most of the paid shared parental leave – a smaller percentage than previous years, but still the most popular opinion.

In comparison, 34 per cent supported equally shared parental leave – up from 22 per cent in 2012 – while just 12 per cent felt the mother should take the entire period.

Almost nobody (less than 0.5 per cent) supported the father taking most or all the leave.

The figures, compiled by the National Centre of Social Research, suggest a slight softening of opinion since the introduction of Shared Parental Leave, but its report warned: “The fact that only one-third support an equal division of leave suggests that the default path prior to the introduction of SPL, for the mother to take all of the leave, may still be exerting some influence on attitudes.” 

Dr Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, noted the shift in attitudes among the public was “encouraging”, but said she believed government and employers needed to do more to continue the progress and create opportunities.

“The take-up of shared parental leave remains low and requires concerted effort from employers to promote it as an option – and from government to identify and address the sticking points,” said Miller.  

“Employers need to think more creatively about the types of flexible working they offer to retain talented people and ensure it is available at all levels of seniority. Otherwise the ‘sticky floor’ comes into play where people feel unable to progress without work-life balance support.”

The survey also found a change in opinion towards women’s roles. Just 19 per cent thought the best way for a family with a child under school age to function was with a mother at home, compared to 31 per cent in 2012.

But while this was in line with the direction of policy change, the report said it was unclear to what extent these views could be directly attributed to the introduction of SPL and pay.

“HR needs to be analysing workforce data to see what is happening in their organisation, and address any issues to give employees more choice over how they split childcare responsibilities,” said Miller

The survey also asked about attitudes towards flexible working, finding that 67 per cent would feel comfortable requesting flexible working, with women more likely to feel comfortable compared to males.

However, there was little evidence from the data to suggest the right to request had altered the level of take-up, nor has it altered employee perceptions, or that the introduction of the right to request flexible working has had any impact on its uptake. 

Encouragingly, the survey found a “clear consensus” in favour of equal pay, with around nine in 10 (89 per cent) believing that it was wrong for men to be paid more than equally qualified women in the same job for the same company. However, there was a noticeable difference between the attitudes of men and women – 78 per cent of women consider pay inequality very wrong, only 57 per cent of men share the same view.