In April 2015, the UK introduced Shared Parental Leave (SPL), allowing mothers to transfer their maternity leave to their partners from two weeks after the birth or adoption of a child. There has been very limited research conducted on this leave policy to date and knowledge on take-up is poor. We present findings from an in-depth survey conducted with expectant mothers in two NHS trusts in England on their knowledge, views and plans around leave after the birth of their child and examine variations across educational and ethnic groups. A total of 575 expectant mothers took part in the survey. Around 7.4 per cent of expectant mothers who were (self-)employed or in education intended to take SPL. Finances and worries over fathers’ careers were cited as the primary barriers to take up of SPL. Individual entitlement for fathers and knowing others who took SPL increased individuals’ reported intention to take SPL. Applying logistic regression models, we found that knowledge of and access to SPL is correlated with education, ethnicity and home ownership. Future research and policy design should attend to such issues to ensure equitable access across families.
This article aims to assess the contention that a ‘feminist’ ideology is associated with a ‘cooling’ of intimacy in heterosexual relationships, as argued by scholars such as Arlie Hochschild and Eva Illouz. According to this thesis, such an ideology, ‘abducted’ by a commercial spirit, encourages women to disengage from warm intimate bonds with others and to prioritize their own personal fulfillment and parity in care and housework. Drawing on two qualitative empirical studies exploring couple’s intimate lives and their feminist and egalitarian preferences and practices in leave, care and housework, this article examines in detail the basis of this thesis, and its effectiveness in explaining the lived experiences of parent couples’ negotiations of this terrain. The data were collected through focus group discussions with parents not sharing leave and a detailed ethnography with couples sharing leave. The comparison shows that, far from observing a clear dichotomy between ‘cold’ feminists and ‘warm’ traditional couples, both sets of parents present a more complex picture of ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ relations. The analysis enables a critical appreciation of sociological theorising about gender equality and intimacy, contributing to sociological debates around individualism, feminism and family life.
Over the last decade there has been a gradual enhancement of British fathers’ rights in the workplace, even though the UK has one of the longest maternity leaves in OECD countries. From April 2003, for the first time, British fathers were given a legal right to take a 2 week paid paternity leave after the birth of a child, building on a 3 month unpaid parental leave entitlement available since 1999. In April 2011 a new right to allow fathers to take up to 6 months Additional Paternity Leave (APL) during the child’s first year, if the mother returns to work before the end of her maternity leave, was introduced. This chapter examines the experiences of six British fathers who were some of the first to take up this opportunity. The study as a whole explored couples’ negotiations and experiences of leave divisions, drawing on the proposition that intimacy is a mediating factor in gender and parenting roles. The accounts portray how, despite men’s lack of formal individual entitlement to leave, they tended to be positioned as the decision makers in taking leave. Women’s structural agency, as higher earners and as holders of the policy entitlement, was often underplayed. Drawing on Hochschild’s writings on the ‘gift economy’ of couples, we suggest that couple negotiations around APL can be conceptualised as a form of gift exchange.