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?