Gender bias in statutory leave take-up

01 February 2019

This article was featured in the February 2019 issue of the magazine.

The CIPP policy and research team provide details of the findings of recent research into workers’ take-up of statutory leave, particularly SShPL


Research conducted on behalf of the Government Equalities Office (GEO) prompted the GEO to conclude that significant inequalities persist in the way that childcare responsibilities are divided up and shared, with women in the UK doing on average about twice as much childcare as men (

Whilst there have been no official statistics released by the government on how many parents have taken statutory shared parental leave (SShPL), a freedom of information request by law firm EMW showed that just 9,200 parents shared their leave in 2017–18, only 500 more than the year before.

The GEO research found that although financial factors – such as childcare costs and the parents’ relative income – played a role in determining child care responsibilities, many of the parents still adopted a model where the mother stayed at home or worked part-time while the father worked full-time. 

With SShPL available to both parents, regardless of gender, the CIPP were interested to know whether this apparent gender bias to parental leave was also evident in other types of statutory leave and pay, and so undertook research to explore this issue. 


...parents still adopted a model where the mother stayed at home or worked part-time while the father worked full-time


As well as looking at various court cases, our research used findings from a survey responded to by payroll professionals responsible for paying 20,827 workers in the UK.

  • Proportion of employees taking sick leave – The workforce was relatively evenly split by gender with 10,826 males and 10,001 females. Of the 20,827 employees covered by this research, 8,788 of them had taken sick leave in the past twelve months. A greater proportion of women took sick leave: 45.8% compared with 38.8% of men.

  • Number of employees taking maternity or paternity leave – With only women able to take maternity leave, it wasn’t possible to make a direct comparison with male employees. However, the number of partners (250 male and one female) taking paternity leave following the birth or adoption of a child, was much lower than the 444 women taking maternity leave during the same twelve-month period (see chart).

  • Proportion of employees taking SShPL – With fourteen female and sixteen male employees taking SShPL, uptake though very low appears evenly split amongst male and female employees. This is perhaps not surprising given that females must curtail their maternity leave in order to begin sharing the leave with their partners. There is, of course, the option for women to go back to work and not take any SShPL if their partner takes the whole of the remaining time off but, on the basis of these results, this does not seem to be a common occurrence.

  • Proportion of employees taking parental leave – With the number of employees taking SShPL being relatively evenly split, one might be forgiven for thinking that this would be reflected in the number of males and females taking parental leave; however, this was not the case with more than three times the number of females taking leave to care for their children than males (see chart).

Our research would suggest that the amount of statutory leave taken varies according to gender, with women taking more than men. In fact, women took more of every type of leave except for SShPL, but that’s hardly surprising given its interaction with maternity and adoption leave.

It would be rash, however, to make general assumptions as to the reasons behind this. It’s possible, of course, that the simplest explanation is also the true one – for example, that in the case of sick leave men really are unwell less often than women. 


...interesting to see if the legislative framework is tweaked to make statutory shared parental pay more generous... 


However, the reasons why men take less statutory leave than women are likely to be much more complex, only established by further, more in depth, research.

We know from gender pay gap statistics that men tend to earn more than women, with the government’s own statistics ( reporting that median pay for all employees was 17.9% less for women than for men at April 2018. With statutory leave paid at a much lower rate than most workers’ actual rate of pay, it may be that finances determine which partner takes time off work.

But perhaps parents take a more longer-term view than the immediate impact of statutory payment rates? The same government research highlights a gradual widening in the pay gap between mothers and fathers after the arrival of the first child, reflected in a widening gap in the amount of time spent in the workplace.

Yet it is equally possible that parents still hold to the traditional view that childcare is a mother’s role and that financial implications are less of a factor. However, with the government so concerned about the low take-up of SShPL that it launched a media campaign ( to raise awareness and increase participation it will be interesting to see if the legislative framework is tweaked to make statutory shared parental pay more generous at some point in the future.