Mothers earn less than non-mothers, fathers more than non-

One little thing puzzles me about modern society – this a’wailin’ an’ a’moanin’ about the gender pay gap. For it’s not about patriarchy, misogyny, capitalism or The Man. It’s not even about gender itself as a first line effect. It’s about childcare, who in a family becomes the primary child carer. This both puts a hole in steady career progression and even when school starts it leads to a certain eye off the ballness about commitment to the greasy pole.

And that really is it. The only reason this manifests as a gender pay gap is that it tends to be women who do that primary child care bit. If equal numbers of fathers did it as mothers do then we wouldn’t see a gender gap at all, we’d see what there actually is, a primary child carer gap. Whether we’re going to see equal numbers of fathers, well, I doubt it. We are a sexually dimorphic species. That individual choice is possible is a righteous glory of a liberal society, but to expect equal outcomes is a bit odd.

So, what happens when a man does become primary child carer?

I used to be one of the jubilant ones; a champion of men staying at home. I extolled the virtues of being with my children to witness their first wobbly steps, hear their first garbled words (‘No’ and ‘burger’ respectively; that’s my boys!). Now, having sent 15 job applications within six months without being invited to a single interview, the smile is dying on my face.

This is a growing problem: a recent survey showed men are the primary carers in one-in-seven British families, with the number of stay-at-home dads having doubled in the past 20 years.

Now this first generation of stay-at-home fathers are realising that this choice is making them less employable. In 2013, a report from Toronto University’s Rotman School of Management found that hands-on fathers were looked down on by their colleagues, with sociologists at the University of Gothenburg concluding that male-dominated industries such as financial services are the most resistant.

What is the appropriate reaction here? Mine’s a shrug. OK, you decided to live life that way and good on you. But this is a known problem, not one that’s going to go away either. You have interrupted your career, employers are going to account for that too.

It’s also true that you’ll not be quite the same inside the employment traces as you used to be:

But speaking to other men in a similar position has made me realise that, perhaps, it’s just that they don’t want to hire a former stay-at-home dad.

Take Ian Blyth, 41, from Lincolnshire, who spent 12 years looking after his three children. He says the experience destroyed his photography career.

‘I naively thought I’d go straight back into work. The reality was different. I would have had to spend £20,000 on new kit and time building up contacts again. And at 41, I didn’t have it in me.’

And having responsibility for the boys caused problems when Ian did find work — like the time his son’s school called to say he had chicken pox and had to be picked up right away.

‘That meant shutting down an entire photoshoot in the middle of a forest, models, make-up artists and all. I never worked for that client again.’

If we said these things purely about women we’d be decried as sexists. In fact, people who do so, like Christina Hoff Summers, are regularly decried as traitors to the sisterhood. Yet here we have men saying the same things – it’s not about gender therefore, is it? It’s about primary child caring.

This also explains the gender pay gap as conventionally measured. We’ll all agree that this lad is going to find it a bit more difficult to climb to the very tippy top having taken 6 years out of career progression. That more women do this than men is why there are fewer women at societal tippy top and it really is the paucity of women having those top paid jobs which creates that gender pay gap as currently measured.

Seriously, if the same thing happens to men who do the same thing then it’s not a gender issue is it?

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9 COMMENTS

    • I guess people need the “human interest” angle, but it’s interesting how most Psychology Today reviews of social unfairness disclose that there are also factors that are in the individual’s control.

      How does one pretty up on a CV the fact that one has spent 6 years at domestic chores where there is no way for the prospective new employer to measure the quality of the work product?

      • How does one pretty up on a CV the fact that one has spent 6 years at domestic chores where there is no way for the prospective new employer to measure the quality of the work product?

        As Hallowed Be says below, women with children are starting businesses from their kitchen tables in droves. They sell crafts, write blogs, some write books, buy & sell on eBay – there is no limit to their ingenuity. Do all succeed? Well, no, but most will fail early & cheaply and try something else.

        So, as an employer, I would be interested if the returning worker did something tangible as well as the childcare. Start a small business (as above), learn a language, do an Open University degree, learn programming, keep up to date with developments in their area of work. Many of these are free, or nearly so, and can be fitted into available hours.

        If they did some or all of these things, then they can plan ahead and show initiative and commitment to their career. If not, probably they prefer full-time childcare. Nothing wrong with that, but it may not make for a perfect employee

  1. Women solve the chicken pox problem with something called a “network.” When the fertiliser hits the fan and places you in what is called a dilemma, you call your network. One of your network buddies just has to be available to do the chicken-pox run.

  2. The poster boy married a teacher – at least the hols are covered. The alternative fix is to start your own business. New mums are one of the most entrepreneurial demographics. Many of them, naturally, concentrate on the baby/children market with their start ups. That is, monetising their new found specialism. Even as more men put themselves in this situation i wonder whether they’ll mitigate in significantly different ways so that lo and behold we’ll have to then talk about a a child wage gap gender mitigation gap.

  3. One lost client destroyed his career? YMBJ
    It didn’t destroy my career when I was called at the office by #1 son’s school and told that I MUST come and collect him because he was having (actually had had by then) an asthma attack and they couldn’t contact my wife. The guys may have blinked slightly but just said “OK”
    [There is a whole separate issue as a Teacher or teachingassistant could have driven him home in less than ten minutes whereas it took me over an-hour-and-a-half to hurry to the station without looking like a criminalon the run, catch a train, run from the station to the school, collect boy, walk him gently to the bus station, catch bus, walk home from bus stop – if it had been an emergency, he would have died before I got him home. Tim’s regular readers may be bored but the only excuse is crass stupidity: the alternative answer is malevolence.]

  4. It’s not just who looks after the children. People in senior roles now were at university 20-30 years ago. Then, there was a significant gender imbalance in favour of men.

    When I was at university studying medicine in the 1980s, the ratio was around 2:1. So we have a couple of decades of catch up that we can nothing about, even without the parent thing.