IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Parental leave policies in the UK: an intersectional analysis of leave policies since the 1970s

This research project aims to provide an intersectional analysis of UK parental leave polices, looking at factors such as gender, race and class.

This project draws on an intersectional theoretical framework to explore how ideas about race, gender and class as well as 'good' parenting shape both the way policies are made and the way people understand and use them. 

It has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement number 838816.

The research began in February 2020 and will end in January 2022.


Over the last fifty years, the UK government has introduced a range of policies to help parents balance work and family life. Policies such as maternity leave, paternity leave and more recently, Shared Parental Leave, play an important role in the lives of mothers, fathers and their children.

These policies aim to improve gender equality, the experience of fatherhood and infant well-being. However, research has shown that these aims are not always achieved. In particular, despite attempts to encourage fathers to take more parental leave, women continue to use the majority of leave available to care for children in the first year of their life.

Gender clearly plays a role in the take up of parental leave but what about other factors, such as race or class? What about how society defines 'good' parenting? 

Research questions
  • If we look back at three crucial periods in the introduction of new parental leave policies, what can we learn if we pay attention to gender, race and class?
  • In 2020 and 2021, how do black parents use the parental leave options available to them, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?


To answer both historical and contemporary questions about parental leave policies in Britain, this project uses two approaches:

Critical analysis

A critical analysis of legislation, parliamentary debates and media commentary of three crucial pieces of parental leave legislation:

  • The Employment Protection Act of 1975, which introduced six weeks of paid maternity leave.
  • The Employment Act of 2002, which introduced two weeks of paid paternity leave.
  • The Children and Families Act of 2014, which introduced Shared Parental Leave or transferrable maternity leave, allowing fathers and partners up to 50 weeks of partially paid leave.


In-depth, longitudinal interviews with a group of fourteen black parents who had babies in 2020. Parents will be interviewed twice.

First, when their baby is very young or shortly before their baby is born and second, when their baby is 10 months old, the average age at which mothers in the UK end their maternity leave (Chanfreau et al, 2011).

Intersectional theoretical framework

In both approaches, the project draws on an intersectional theoretical framework, an analytical approach drawn from black feminist theory.

Intersectionality sees oppressions (such as sexist employment policies that forced women to quit their jobs when they became pregnant, which led to the introduction of paid maternity in the 1970s, and racist hiring practices that favour job applicants with 'white' or 'European' sounding names) as interlinked and connected.

This project examines parental leave policies with this framework in mind.