Why are UK men working such long hours?
Published: 6 Oct 2017
by Helen Norman and Colette Fagan, University of Manchester
When couples have children, it is usually the mother rather than the father who adapts her employment hours and schedules to accommodate the demands of raising children. Most mothers drop to part-time hours while some exit the labour market completely. But what happens when men have children? Do their work hours and schedules change too?
Father’s work-time patterns
Across Europe, fathers work long hours and spend longer days at work compared to other men. Our analysis of the 2015 European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) found that in the UK, 36% of fathers with a child under the age of 18 worked long, full-time hours (45+ hours p/week) compared to just under a third (31%) of other men. This trend is mirrored across the EU-28 but the incident of long working hours in the UK for fathers and other men is, respectively, 5 and 7 percentage points above the EU-28 average.
UK fathers are also more likely than other men to work long days of 10 hours or more (55% compared to 52% respectively). Once again, this trend is mirrored across the EU-28 but the incident of fathers and other men working long days is, respectively, 8 and 15 percentage points higher than the EU-28 average.
When it comes to working flexibly (i.e. being able to determine work hours oneself or adapt them within limits), we found little difference between fathers and other men but we did find variations depending on where they live. For example, in the Nordic countries, all men are the most likely to be able to flex their hours whereas men in Spain are the least likely (67% compared to 37%). UK men don’t do so badly with half having flexible hours – slightly better than the EU-28 average (46%).
Why do men spend longer at work when they have children?
Long, full-time hours are not conducive to fathers’ childcare involvement (e.g. see Norman et al. 2014; Fagan and Norman 2016; Norman and Fagan 2017) so it is important to understand why some fathers spend longer hours in work.
First, the gender pay gap encourages the mother to adapt (and reduce) her work hours because she tends to be the lower earner in the household. Fathers continue to work full-time and in some cases, work longer full-time hours to make up for the loss in household income.
Secondly, cultural and workplace expectations put pressure on men to work long, full-time hours to demonstrate their commitment to the company or organisation. Evidence shows that some men face resistance from managers and/or colleagues if they request to take off long periods from work (e.g. see Working Families 2016; 2017).
Thirdly, UK policy design enables mothers to take up to a year maternity leave whereas fathers are only permitted to take two weeks of paternity leave. Shared Parental Leave – which allows parents to share up to 50 weeks’ leave and 37 weeks’ pay previously only available to the mother – is rarely taken up because it is too low paid (Norman and Fagan 2017). The Right to Request reduced or flexible work hours has been extended to all employees but men are less likely to make a request for flexible working and are more likely to get their requests rejected when they do (see Tipping et al. 2012).
Fourthly, traditional ideologies and attitudes towards parenting persist with almost a third of the population (30%) still believing that pre-school children suffer in the UK if the mother works full-time (see Norman, Fagan and Watt 2017).
Why are men more likely to work flexibly in some countries compared to others?
Flexible working options are more advanced in other countries.
For example in Sweden, parents have the right to reduce their normal working time by up to 25% until their child is eight years old, which means at least 60% of Swedish men and women have access to flexible work schedules (Plantenga and Remery 2009). Alongside this, parental leave is structured so that men are encouraged to stay at home for longer with their new-borns through well-paid, non-transferable parental leave, which makes it is more acceptable for them to take time off to look after their children.
Another example is the Netherlands where there is more widespread availability of working time options, which provide all employees with flexibility in how they organise their working day and week (Fagan and Norman 2013). This may partly explain why over a quarter of the Dutch male workforce (28%) works part-time compared to just 18% of the male workforce in the UK.
How can UK policy better support parents to balance work and care more effectively?
Based on evidence from other countries, we think there are four ways in which policy can aid a better work-life balance for men and women:
- Reforming Shared Parental Leave so that fathers are entitled to individual, non-transferable leave that is well paid (at 80% of earnings or higher).
- Limiting long hours of work and promoting flexible working to all men so they are able to adapt their work to share childcare responsibilities with their partner.
- Improving the supply of affordable, good quality and flexible full-time childcare from the age of two (i.e. at the end of the maternity leave entitlement) so that women are not obliged to reduce their work hours to meet childcare demands.
- Stepping up measures to close the gender pay gap as this creates a financial logic for women to reduce their employment and take primary responsibility for childcare. It is positive that large companies are required to report their pay gaps from 2018 but action plans should also be published detailing how they will close their gender pay gaps.
Fagan, C., Norman, H. (2016) Which fathers are involved in caring for pre-school age children in the UK? A longitudinal analysis of the influence of work hours in employment on shared childcare arrangements in couple households in Crespi, I. and Ruspini, E. (eds): Balancing Work and Family in a Changing Society: The Fathers’ Perspective, Palgrave Macmillan.
Fagan, C., Norman, H. (2013) Men and Gender Equality: tackling gender segregation in family roles and social care jobs in Bettio, F., Plantenga, R., Smith, M. (eds) Gender and the European Labour Market, Routledge: London
Jones, J. (2015) Spain has most inflexible working conditions in the European Union, the Local (Spain):
Norman, H., Elliot, M., Fagan, C. (2014) Which fathers are the most involved in taking care of their toddlers in the UK? An investigation of the predictors of paternal involvement, Community, Work & Family, 17:2, 163-180
Norman, H., Fagan, C. (2017) What makes fathers involved in their children’s upbringing? Working Families Workflex blog:
Norman, H. Fagan, C. and Watt, L. (2017) What should mums and dads do? Changes in attitudes towards parenting, Working Families Work Flex Blog, 24 March 2017:
Plantenga, J., Remery, C. (2009): Flexible working time arrangements and gender equality: A comparative review of 30 European countries, European Commission, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
Tipping, S. Chanfraeu, J., Perry, J. and Tait, C. (2012) The Fourth Work-Life Balance Employee Survey, Employment Relations Series, No. 122, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills: London
Working Families (2017): Modern Families Index, Working Families and Bright Horizons: London
Working Families (2016): Shared parental leave: the perspective from employers January 2016, Working Families Briefing:
Our analyses are based on an overall sample size of 16,761 men and fathers in the EU-28. The sample sizes for the individual countries ranged from 496 in Sweden, 507 in the Netherlands, 843 in the UK and 1,658 in Spain.
 Sweden and Finland
 British Social Attitudes survey covering 3,000 people living in Great Britain
 Based on our analysis of the 2015 EWCS survey