Paternity Leave, Gender Equality and the UK Economy

by | Jul 10, 2024 | All, Fatherhood-Motherhood-Children Education, Gender Equality, Work-Life Balance/Integration | 0 comments


This report is a collaboration between the economics think tank the Centre for Progressive Policy (CPP), the global movement Women in Data@ and the charity and campaigning organisation Pregnant Then Screwed (PTS). It explores the economic and health impacts of extending the statutory entitlement to paternity leave and pay, including through its impacts on gender equality in the labour market.

Parental leave entitlement presents one of the first policy opportunities to influence the course of gender inequalities in pay and employment, which we know to be detrimental to the economy. They also provide an early opportunity to signal the importance of both parents’ participation in childcare, including for maternal mental health.

This paper first considers international evidence on the economic impact of paternity leave and presents new evidence that 6 or more weeks of paid paternity leave is associated with reduced gender inequality in the labour market. It then examines the insight from two new surveys, one survey of recent parents conducted by PTS and another more recent YouGov survey, commissioned by PTS and CPP, which focuses explicitly on paternity leave.

While one of the aims of this paper is to highlight the gendered impact of unequal access to parental leave, we recognise the diversity of couples who have children, including same-sex couples and couples who adopt. All our recommendations apply to all couples, in which the second or non-birthing parent has access to paternity pay and rights, as is currently the case in UK law.


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Key Findings

There is convincing existing evidence that increasing the entitlement to paid leave for fathers and those eligible for paternity after the birth or adoption of a child increases their engagement with their children, spreading the distribution of unpaid care responsibilities and housework more equally between parents, improving gender equality.

  • New CPP analysis suggests that this translates into higher levels of gender equality in the labour market. CPP’s analysis of OECD data finds that countries with more than 6 weeks of paid paternity leave have a 4 percentage point smaller gender wage gap and 3.7 percentage point smaller labour force participation gap than countries that have less than 6 weeks.

In turn, greater gender equality in the (abour market has beneficial macroeconomic impacts:

  • Recent CPP analysis finds that closing gender employment gaps in all UK local authorities would increase economic output by £23bn (approximately 1% of GDP).New CPP analysis of PTS survey data suggests that fathers and partners taking paternity leave supports mothers to return to the labour market:
  • We find that a woman’s partner taking parental leave is associated with a 34% increase in the likelihood of a woman being physically ready to return to work.


According to new data from our YouGov survey carried out in May 2023, this finding is in line with public opinion:

  • 65% of mothers with children under the age of 12 polled as part of our YouGov opinion survey thought that increasing paid paternity leave would have a positive impact on mothers’ readiness to return to work.

New findings from PTS’s 2023 ’State of the Nation’ survey of recent parents suggest that fathers and partners are taking lower than optimal levels of leave due to their finances:

  • 20% of recent fathers said that no parental leave options were available to them following the birth or adoption of their
  • 43% of recent fathers who took some parental leave but did not use the full entitlement available to them cited financial hardship as the primary reason for returning to work early.

This situation is perpetuating mental health problems, which has both short- and long-term cost implications:

  • 63% of recent fathers surveyed by PTS said they did not feel mentally ready to return to work when they did,
  • 29% of parents surveyed by YouGov said either they or their partner had experienced a new mental health issue in the two years following the birth of their most recent child.
  • 45% of these parents received no treatment or support. Existing evidence suggests that perinatal mental health problems cost the NHS £1.2bn a year and the failure to address perinatal mental health problems costs society even more – around £8.1bn a year.
  • 83% of mothers with children under the age of 12 polled as part of our YouGov opinion survey thought that increasing paid paternity leave would have a positive impact on mothers’ mental health.

Despite the introduction of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) in the UK, the length of leave taken by parents is closely tied to statutory entitlement, regardless of income.Changing this entitlement could therefore have a strong influence on behaviour. In our new YouGov poll, there is broad public support for increasing paternity entitlement:

  • Only 18% of the public think that the statutory entitlement to paid paternity leave should be two weeks or fewer.
  • 57% of parents of children under the age of 12 and 44% of the wider public would support paid paternity leave increasing to at least 6-8 weeks.
  • 81% of parents of children under the age of 12 and 66% of the public would support an increase beyond the current statutory provision of two weeks
  • 57% of prospective parents say that they or their partner would be able to take 6 weeks of paternity leave if it was paid at 90% of their current salary, falling to 53% of likely parents if leave was paid at 80% of

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