Dad and Partner Pay: Implications for policy-makers and practitioners

CFCA Paper No. 12 – February 2013

Current attitudes and practices of Australian parents

This section reviews mothers' and fathers'3 practices regarding working and caring, and examines the impact family policies can have on choices related to paid work, unpaid work and child care for both mothers and fathers.

Balancing workforce participation with unpaid work and child care

Changes to Australian families and family formation in recent years are reflected in the current demography of fatherhood, including delayed marriage, consequent delayed fatherhood and fewer children per family (Smyth, Baxter, Fletcher, & Moloney, 2012). Despite suggestions that contemporary imagery related to a nurturing and involved father is now considered "masculine" (Coltrane, 2009, p. 387), research indicates that the behaviour of most fathers does not match this imagery. Flood (2003) illustrated this as follows:

The image of the new father, the man highly involved with his children and sharing the parenting with his female partner, now exerts a powerful influence on popular perceptions [and yet] while the culture of fatherhood has changed radically, the conduct has not, and traditional divisions of labour often persist in both parenting and domestic work. (p. 7)

This assertion is supported by Bittman, Hoffman, and Thompson (2004), who stated that there is:

broad agreement in the literature that men are reluctant to take up family-friendly provisions (e.g., career breaks, parental leave, part-time work), both because of the effects this has (or is perceived to have) on income and status, and for personal identity and career progression reasons. (p. 1)

Work-family policies to date have either supported women's entry into paid work (with the provision of child care benefits and increased access to child care) or encouraged women to remain at home, out of the workforce (through penalising tax reforms) (Brennan, 2007). Research suggests, however, that in aggregate, mothers' and fathers' time spent on caring and other unpaid work is still very different, even though fathers' involvement in child care and housework has increased modestly over the past 15 years (Craig & Mullan, 2012). Importantly, Craig and Mullan found that fathers' child care time increased across the range of care activities, including hands-on routine care (and not just play, talking, educational and leisure activities). More attention is now being paid to broader work-family policies, including promoting men's participation in caring for their children (see Fox, Pascall, & Warren, 2009; Lewis & Campbell, 2008) and research indicates that being an "involved parent" is increasingly important to Australian fathers (Hand & Lewis, 2002).

In Australia, the main strategy for combining paid employment and unpaid domestic work has been for women to move into part-time employment. Part-time employment is high among Australian women, with 41% of employed women working part-time compared to an average of 26% in 2006 in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.4 There are particularly high levels of part-time employment for women between the ages of 30 and 44 years (Baxter & Gray, 2008). More time is available for child care; however, a consequence is that women also end up being responsible for the majority of unpaid domestic work (van Egmond, Baxter, Buchler, & Western, 2010). This is apparent when parental time use patterns are analysed. For example, using nationally representative data from 2004, Baxter, Gray, and Hayes (2007) reported that mothers with a child aged under 5 years spent an average of 38 hours per week parenting and playing with children, 23 hours per week doing housework, and 11 hours per week in paid employment. This compared to fathers spending 16 hours per week parenting and playing with children, 6 hours doing housework, and 43 hours in paid employment.

So while some academics discuss a shift away from the traditional breadwinner/carer model to a dual worker/carer model (Ben-Galim, 2011; Fox et al., 2009) or an adult worker model (Lewis & Giullari, 2005), others more realistically refer to the most common family model as the "modified breadwinner model" (Broomhill & Sharp, 2005; Haas, 2005). In this model, the father is the primary breadwinner and the mother also returns to work (usually part-time) while remaining responsible for most of the unpaid domestic work and child care.

Bittman et al.'s (2004) policy research paper for the Australian Government found that workplace arrangements enabling a balance between work and family responsibilities had until recently been regarded as solely the province of women. Some of the reasons men are now interested in these provisions include: men's own expressed interest in caring for and having more time with their children, the business benefits, "gender equity", and the inadequacy of child care provision (Bittman et al., 2004, p. 3). However, the paper also listed the workplace barriers discouraging fathers' uptake of leave: the unevenness of family-friendly provisions, the novelty of men's use of these provisions, doubts about the legitimacy of men's claims to family responsibilities, negative attitudes on the part of immediate supervisors, informal practices and taken-for-granted assumptions, and the workload burden resulting from measuring performance by outcomes rather than by length of time spent at the workplace (Bittman et al., 2004).5 Broomhill and Sharp (2012) found that a legislative guarantee of job and career protection for those who take parental leave was also important in shifting the behaviour in households towards a dual earner/carer model.

Making leave and other family policies more father-friendly

O'Brien (2009) referred to the need for a "father-care-sensitive leave model" (p. 190), which calls for an acknowledgement that current leave entitlements are mother-sensitive and that fathers' caring needs and responsibilities should also be considered and included. It is not only family leave models that are gendered; many policies around childbearing, family and child care are influenced by the model of the traditional family unit, with one primary breadwinner (male) and one primary carer (female). For example, Brennan (2007, p. 38) argued that policies related to family tax benefits in the late 1990s-early 2000s made it much more economically advantageous for a family to rely on a single income than to share paid work and family care between the parents.

The good news is that "changes in government and organisation policy to incorporate the issues of work-family balance are beginning to acknowledge that achieving the balance between work and family poses challenges differently for men and women" (Fletcher, Fairbairn, & Pascoe, 2004, p. 56). The not so good news is that Australia's family policies, organisational culture and gendered stereotypes still exert a powerful influence on mothers' and fathers' choices concerning earning and caring. For example, only 1-2% of families have fathers sharing equal responsibility for the physical care of children and only 5-10% of families have a father who is highly involved in the day-to-day care of children (Flood, 2003). In another study, fewer than 3% of families from a sample of more than 8,000 couple families surveyed over three time periods had both parents working part-time (Baxter & Smart, 2010). However, Baxter (2012) showed that a substantial proportion of fathers of young children are involved in personal care activities every day or a few times a week. For example, 41% of fathers reported changing nappies or helping their 2-3 year old children with the toilet every day, and another 45% did so a few times a week. Around 30% of fathers helped their children get ready for bed every day, and 51-56% did so a few times a week.

Another issue to consider is why men do not take paternity or parental leave. No clear-cut conclusions have been drawn from one of Australia's major longitudinal studies of children and their families. For example, Hosking, Whitehouse, and Baxter's (2010) study of 2,110 participants from Wave 1.5 of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) found that the main reason given by men for not taking leave at the time of a birth or adoption of a baby was that they couldn't afford to (23%). The second highest rated reason was that they were too busy (14%) or lacked entitlement (5%). In addition, almost half of respondents stated that they used annual leave instead of paternity or unpaid leave (44%). However researchers at the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS, 2008) found that the most common reasons were that paid paternity leave wasn't available (46%) and that the partner wasn't eligible for paternity or parental leave (22%). For fathers who used no leave, the most commonly specified reasons for this were that the father was self-employed (47%), the mother was at home full-time (37%), and the father's work was too demanding (24%).

One of the main differences between "best practice" paternity-leave-rich countries and paternity-leave-poor countries is the extent to which paternity leave is financially compensated. This will be discussed later in the paper.

Fathers' leave entitlements and leave-taking behaviours

There is limited information about fathers' leave entitlements and the leave-taking behaviours they have undertaken to care for their young children. As mentioned above, Hosking et al.'s (2010) study found that 44% of fathers relied solely on paid annual leave. The balance relied solely on paid paternity or parental leave (14%); unpaid leave (16%); another form of paid leave (6%); or two or more types of leave (20%), most commonly combining paid paternity with paid annual leave. Finally, the study also found that 22% of fathers took no leave around the birth of the child, 32% took less than 2 weeks, 22% took 2 weeks' leave, 6% took 3 weeks leave, and 17% took 4 weeks' leave or longer. In summary, 76% of fathers took between no leave and 2 weeks' leave when their baby was born.

Table 1 shows the results of the Baseline Mothers Survey (BaMS) undertaken as part of the evaluation of Paid Parental Leave in Australia (Martin et al., 2012). Most partners who had access to employer-funded paid parental leave (14% of total partners surveyed) took either 1 to 2 weeks' leave (35%) or 2 to 4 weeks' leave (31%). Overall, for fathers who had access to employer-paid paternity leave, 92% used some leave after birth.

Table 1: Leave-taking behaviour of partners where the mother is eligible for Paid Parental Leave in Australia a
Type of leave partners had access to % who took this leave
Employer-funded paid parental leave b  
None 8
Less than 1 week 16
1 to 2 weeks 35
2 to 4 weeks 31
Unpaid parental leave  
None 55
Less than one week 7
1 to 2 weeks 16
2 to 4 weeks 16
Other leave without pay  
None 69
Less than 1 week 9
1 to 2 weeks 10
2 to 4 weeks 9
Other paid leave c  
None 20
0 to 1 week 8
1 to 2 weeks 20
2 to 4 weeks 37

a This table is a composite drawing on data from Table 6, Table 7 and Table 10 in the PPL Evaluation Phase 1 report (Martin et al, 2012)
b Percentages are for those elegible for this leave
c Paid holiday or annual leave

Most partners who had access to unpaid parental leave took none (55%), and 57% of those who had access to paid holiday or annual leave took between 1 and 4 weeks.

In Australia, only 14% of middle to higher-income fathers received employer-funded paid parental paternity leave (Hosking et al., 2010). For fathers, employer-funded paid parental leave is generally limited to 2 weeks.


3 In this paper, the term "father(s)" is used interchangeably with the term "partner(s)".

4 Thirty-four countries are members of the OECD. A current membership list is available at: <>.

5 This paper has not discussed the business case for paid parental leave, which includes: higher retention rates, better morale, increased return rates from parental leave (the cost of replacing staff is extremely high), higher productivity, fewer workers' compensation claims, easier recruitment of high-quality applicants, less industrial action, low levels of absenteeism, and better customer satisfaction (Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, 2004, cited in HREOC, 2005). For further information, see the Australian Government's Paid Parental Leave Guide <>.