IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


UCL academics highlight what public policy can do to support working families

18 November 2021

UCL Institute of Education (IOE) Professors Alison Koslowski and Margaret O’Brien have contributed to a new open-access book ‘Engaged Fatherhood for Men, Families and Gender Equality’.

Parents and two children standing together in kitchen. Image: August de Richelieu via Pexels

The book looks at how workplace norms, government policies, and healthcare systems still treat women as the ‘primary parent’, which can impact fathers, as well as family health, wellbeing and gender equality in the labour market.

The book is split into sections on health and wellbeing, social policy, and work and organisations. The first section examines the importance of fatherhood engagement for infant health, child development, maternal welfare, and men’s own health and adult development. The social policy section highlights aspects of family leave policies that increase fathers’ participation in infant caregiving, and the final section examines the experiences of fathers from a range of socio-economic perspectives, from white collar to blue collar to the precariously employed.

Professor Koslowski and Professor O’Brien, new and former director of the IOE’s Thomas Coram Research Unit respectively, wrote a chapter on fathers and family leave policies and what public policy can do to support families. They provided recommendations for policymakers, highlighting the success of Iceland and Germany’s leave reforms, and stressing the importance of clear incentives to families for fathers to take leave, such as high-income salary replacement and the presence of an individual entitlement and a non-transferable component to paternal leave.

The academics also recommend that organisations should examine and challenge their gendered cultural practices around leave take up by fathers at all levels, and fathers themselves should begin to take their entitled leave. They note that this is particularly important as there is a growing evidence base that early father involvement matters for child development and couple wellbeing.

Professor Alison Koslowski said: “Parenting leave policies can increase fathers’ participation in infant caregiving, the cross-national comparative evidence shows us this, but they need to be designed in a particular way – individual entitlement is key.”

Professor Margaret O’Brien added: “Our research shows how vital basic statutory parenting leave is for UK working parents who have babies and young children. This new book highlights growing international evidence on the benefits of family leave for child and parental health but also working life. It brings together leading pediatricians, obstetricians and social policy makers.”

'Engaged Fatherhood for Men, Families and Gender Equality: Healthcare, Social Policy, and Work Perspectives' was published by Springer in September 2021.



Image: August de Richelieu via Pexels