Headlines last week loudly proclaimed that "Just 1% Of Men Take Shared Parental Leave". Have things changed so little? Is it true that most fathers want so little to do with their newly born son or daughter?
The statistic published in a report by "My Family Care" and the "Women’s Business Council" in my opinion seems completely out of touch with the real world. Just take a walk around any major supermarket, or town centre and count the number of men with babies and small children. Has no one else noticed it?
When I was a child in the 60's and early 70's my Dad would drive my Mum to the supermarket and then sit in the car while she did the shopping. Today this behaviour sounds bizarre, however back in the 1970's the strict demarcation of sex roles was part of everyday life. It existed in family life as well as the world of work. In factories such as the Ford car plant in Dagenham, workers kept strictly to to their jobs and could end up be be punished if a plumber changed a lightbulb, or an electrician touched up paintwork. At home men 'brought home the bacon' but did not do the shopping and certainly took no part in child care.
So do British men still live in the 1970's? If we believed the figures reported by the survey, we would be right in thinking so. Fortunately the Radio 4 programme 'More or Less' has completely debunked the 1% figure, calling it "one of the worst statistics we have ever looked at on More or Less... it is just so wrong."
So why was it so wrong? Well, instead of looking at the number of men who had become fathers that year, the survey compared the number of fathers taking shared paternity leave with the total number of men in the whole workforce! This would include men who had become fathers decades previously, or men who had no children at all. Yet this 'wrong' story was reprinted widely and uncritically in sources including; The Mail, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and Sky News.
The 'real' evidence shows that most fathers care deeply about their children and want to be involved with them. A survey published in 2008 by the Welsh charity Children in Wales revealed that 89% of fathers in Wales were present at the birth of their child, and around 65% of them had attended ante-natal classes with their partner. Perhaps what the survey does show is how clearly out of touch the mainstream media are with fathers today.