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The Daddy Quota

Sep 12, 2019 • 16m59s

When Annabel Crabb decided to find out what happens to men’s work habits when they have children, she discovered a huge store of gendered norms and inequality.

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The Daddy Quota

78 • Sep 12, 2019

The Daddy Quota

[Theme music starts]

ELIZABETH:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Elizabeth Kulas, This is 7am.

When Annabel Crabb decided to find out what happens to men’s work habits when they have children, she discovered a huge store of gendered norms and inequality. The lives of most new fathers change very little when they have a child. But there is a policy that can change this - and in some places already has.

[Theme music ends]

ELIZABETH:

Annabel, you’ve written this Quarterly Essay, can we start by talking about the chart. There’s only one…

ANNABEL:

There is one chart. I feel like I'm not normally a chart-y sort of person. I don't ever do a PowerPoint. But there was a chart that's compiled by a woman called Jennifer Baxter, who's a researcher for the Australian Institute for Family Studies. I wrote to her and said I was writing this essay. I was interested in pursuing the topic of men, you know, looking at men, just in saying, well, how do they respond when their lives change. And she said, ‘I've got this paper that I'm working on’, and it had this great graph in it that just leapt off the page.

ELIZABETH:

Annabel Crabb is a journalist at the ABC. She’s also the author of the Quarterly Essay, Men at Work.

ANNABEL:

And I wrote back saying, “That graph!” And she said, yeah, look, you know, whenever I show it at conferences or talks people just go “Oh!”.

[MUSIC STARTS]

ANNABEL:

So, what she's done is she's compiled an average pattern across Australia of what happens to women when they have children and what happens to men. So she's got three elements. She looks at what happens to a person's paid working hours, what happens to the hours they put into childcare, and hours they put into unpaid domestic work. And for women, obviously childcare just goes [zipping sound] as soon as the baby's born because obviously.

ELIZABETH:

Shoots up.

ANNABEL:

Yep. And then the paid work of the woman goes straight down, and then it kind of straddles back up but it never really gets to the same point again. This is an average, remember, of parents across Australia. And the domestic work goes zip up and then it stays up. So you look at the graph and it's so evocative and it looks like, you know we know in E.R. or whatever when someone's got a very very dangerous state of elevation there's going to be spikes and troughs everywhere? It looks like the heartbeat of a highly anxious and stressed out person.

But when you pop across and look at what happens with Australian men, it's so different that it's just laugh out loud noticeable.

So childcare for an Australian man goes up when he becomes a father. And then it kind of like, coasts back down again. His domestic work really doesn't change at all - it stays static at about 15 hours, encompassing things like driving kids around, you know yard work, dishes, food preparation, all that stuff, and the paid work stays exactly the same. So really the men's graph just looks like a sort of like a little cruiser just cruising along.

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ELIZABETH:

So, according to this graph at least, a woman’s life changes drastically after having a child. And for a man, not so much. Why is it so different for men and women?

ANNABEL:

If you have a look at the research into what it is that men feel is preventing them from taking parental leave, it is partly economical. They think, well I earn more so it doesn't make any sense for me to give up my income. So like, the gender pay gap really kind of plays into this quite a bit.

But also there's a cultural, like a really, really strong cultural signal to men that really persists all the way from conception, through birth and through toddlerhood. You know, we have mothers groups that are kind of labeled in a way that makes it clear that it's not really for fathers. We have workplace cultures that are accustomed to expecting women to work differently. It is much more normal for a woman to take a big chunk of time off, typically a year, and what happens over that year is that women, they’re out of the workforce, they take on responsibility for a whole bunch of domestic tasks and that sets up this sort of pattern that exacerbates the gender pay gap, that feeds into a lot of the patterns that we see among women at work today.

ELIZABETH:

You also looked at the effect that having a child has on a person’s earning potential, whether they’re a man or a woman. What happens there?

ANNABEL:

Oh look, there is a really longstanding and very robust principle called the fatherhood premium and the motherhood penalty. And it is that a man who has children is considered more reliable, more promotable, more stable employee, and a woman employee who has children has the opposite experience. And a few years back, NATSEM did some amazing number crunching on what the economic consequences of that were for men and women. And they modeled a 25 year old man starting out on an average career of 40 years duration average and they computed that he could expect to earn two million dollars over the course of that 40 year career. But if he had children that would go up to 2.5 million. Whereas they calculated that a woman would also 25 years old, same average career, same duration, could expect to earn 1.9 million dollars over the course of that career but if she had children that would go down to 1.3. So there you see the most clear demonstration of the same biological event, you know, becoming a parent having just a wildly different effect on the careers of men and women.

ELIZABETH:

It seems that the role of what the perceived idea of what an employer will think if a male does apply to take time out drives a lot of what is and isn't asked for from a new father.

ANNABEL:

Yeah. So there's a really great piece of research that the Diversity Council of Australia did a couple of years back which was looking at millennial fathers and, this is really interesting, because I think there is a bit of a generational change going on and for younger fathers who want to be more involved than their own fathers were, this puts them in an awkward situation because sometimes they're dealing with legacy employers that are expecting that men will continue to be these sort of ideal employees that are available round the clock before during and after they have children. And the research from the DCA is really interesting. It shows, for instance, 79 per cent of millennial fathers would like to work a compressed workweek but only 25 percent of these guys actually work like that. So there is a real disparity between the aspiration and the reality.

The next question is, okay so why is that? Is it because these guys are fibbing and they like; ‘Yeah, I would love to come home to my screaming child at 4PM or whatever, but unfortunately I can't!’ Or do they have a reasonable apprehension that this ambition of theirs will be inconsistent with promotability, reliability, likeability in the workforce and I think that it is correct for at least some men to be cautious about how that aspiration will be created by their employers.

[MUSIC STARTS]

ELIZABETH:

So, where are we now? Who takes leave and who doesn’t?

ANNABEL:

Well, I mean, we've had a federal paid parental leave scheme for about eight years now, and it's been used since it was introduced by about one point two million women. And in that time it's also been used by about six and a half thousand men. Less than one half of one percent of the number of women is the number of men who have used that scheme.

ELIZABETH:

We’ll be right back.

[MUSIC ENDS]

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ELIZABETH:

Annabel, you’ve written this Quarterly Essay about gender and work and where children might fit into that. What do we know about men who have pushed back against these norms and said, actually, I do want to spend more time caring for my kids and have successfully altered their work arrangements to make that happen?

ANNABEL:

So in 2014, the Equal Opportunity Commission did this big report on pregnancy and return to work, which also included a big section on the experience of men who take parental leave. And what they discovered from that research was that around about a quarter of the men they talked to reported that they had had some level of harassment or blowback from taking leave, which went all the way from sort of remarks to being dismissed, you know.

And the interesting thing is the way all this is couched these days because, I mean, the way the legislation was phrased is that it talks about primary carers. It doesn't say maternity leave, it’s primary carers leave. But also, there is this sort of weird thing where it's evolved into a, primary carer means birth mother unless demonstrated otherwise, I mean that’s sort of the presumption. It sounds gender neutral but in practice, if you are a man and you apply, they’re like; ‘Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa! Hold down there!” Like, that's not for you.

And there's a really interesting Canadian study that is a couple of years old now which looks at the experience of caregiving men, non caregiving men, caregiving women and non caregiving women, who are parents in the workplace. And actually what that study showed was that it's really the differentiation from the norm, more than the gender, that is significant in the question of whether you're getting blowback at work. Because what they found out was that women who took parental leave and then worked part time or combine their work with looking after their kids, they were accepted because that was a normal thing to do. Men who did that got criticised, but at the same time women who worked like traditional men i.e. worked full time and didn't work flexibly to accommodate their children, they also got a bit of blowback as well. So like, the most criticised people were the people who swam against the tide of expectations. All of that is pointing to this sense that we have these sort of deep seated ideas about who will do what, and then when someone violates that then that's uncomfortable or unusual or worthy of comment.

ELIZABETH:

What about government policy and hope for change potentially in flexibility, in how different couples may figure out how to, you know, navigate this for themselves?

ANNABEL:

Look, governments can, I think, devise solutions that work intelligently with what they know to be the tendencies and expectations that are existent to date. And there's some great examples, and of course they’re in Scandinavia because of course, where governments have changed the way that they structure parental leave, in a way that takes account of this persistent feeling among men that they have an obligation somehow, you know, to provide, to be the breadwinner and so on. And so some of the most intelligent tweaks to government policy that I've seen have included things like establishing a what they call a ‘daddy quota’ which is they say, okay, this family, if it's a two parent family, is entitled to X amount of parental leave. This chunk of it is only available if it's the dad who takes it. So, if you don't take it up then it's lost to the family.

ELIZABETH:

Use it or lose it.

ANNABEL:

Yeah. That way it kind of works with this paternal urge to provide, not against it. And, here's where it becomes really relevant and interesting for Australia, there is a whole heap of research that shows that the more involvement a father has very early in their baby's life, the more connected they will be to that child throughout life and the more equal the division of domestic labor will be in that household on an ongoing basis. So, you can actually pull levers as a government. It's just about lateral thinking, I think. And at the moment our parental leave scheme really, it reflects our expectations about who will do what. So for instance, you know, the main scheme has to be applied for by the birth mother, and there's a secondary scheme called the Dad and Partner Pay Scheme which is two weeks at the minimum wage which makes it lovely and clear who's supposed to not be the primary caregiver.

ELIZABETH:

You make the point in this essay that Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg are the first prime minister and treasurer to both have young children since the mid 70s. Do you think we’ll see changes on the basis of their experience?

ANNABEL:

Oh look, I think, I always used to get frustrated when I'd see female senior executives with children, the first thing they'd be asked is you know, how do you do it all? And, you know, if you talk to Tanya Plibersek or Kelly O'Dwyer or Nicola Roxon or any of these, like, really senior women that have juggled cabinet roles with the care of young children. You know, they get asked all the time and I used to get a bit annoyed because I think, well ask her about her job! But actually the older I get the more I think, actually, that is a sensible question. You know, asking how other people manage their lives is a really understandable curiosity. Now I just get annoyed when men don't get asked it. One, because I think you're just assuming that they've got a spouse that takes care of everything which is not always the case.

And two, you normalise it, you normalise this idea that actually having changes in your family responsibilities doesn't make any kind of difference to the way that you work. And that's an unfair assumption because it's unfair to men who do work differently, and it's also unfair to women who don't, statistically, have the opportunity to rely on a non-working spouse the same way that men do. So you're kind of making a whole half of life invisible.

[MUSIC STARTS]

We haven't thought enough about men and what governs their behaviour. It’s not an attack on men at all. Like, I mean, I think you've got to understand why people behave the way they do and often men are responding really rationally to all of the stimuli that they see around them. But that can be changed. It really can be.

ELIZABETH:

Annabel, thank you so much.

ANNABEL:

It's a pleasure!

[MUSIC ENDS]

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[Theme music]

ELIZABETH:

Elsewhere in the news:

The Morrison government yesterday announced that welfare recipients chosen to participate in its drug test trial program will have to consent to testing or have their payments cancelled. The bill introduced on Wednesday outlined that those who failed a drug test would not have their payments cut or cancelled, but would be placed into an income management program that would see 80 per cent of their payment delivered through a cash-less debit card. The trial would include 5000 welfare recipients across three locations in NSW, QLD and WA. The government also announced $10 million in rehabilitation funding across the three trial locations, but experts in substance abuse met at Parliament house on Wednesday to call for an additional $1.2 billion a year to meet the community's need for increased services.

And in Melbourne, the Russell Street bomber, Craig Minogue, has made an unsuccessful bid to be released from prison after the High Court voted to uphold legislation that prevents parole periods from applying to those who’ve murdered police officers. Minogue received a life sentence in 1988 with a non-parole period of 28 years after he murdered a police officer and injured 22 people using a car bomb. The judges said, quote, “ the fixing of a non-parole period said nothing about whether the plaintiff would be released on parole at the end of that.”

This is 7am. I’m Elizabeth Kulas. See you Friday.

[Theme ends]

When Annabel Crabb decided to find out what happens to men’s work habits when they have children, she discovered a huge store of gendered norms and inequality. The lives of most new fathers change very little when they have a child. But there is policy that could change this – and in some places it already has.

Guest: Writer and broadcaster Annabel Crabb.

Background reading:

Quarterly Essay: Men at Work
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz and Atticus Bastow. Our editor is Erik Jensen. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

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78: The Daddy Quota