How much are stay-at-home dads worth?

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Stay-at-home dads aren't really a mystery. They're not wrapped in riddles. They shouldn't be an enigma. They are, in fact, legion. A small, undermanned legion, to be sure, but growing in strength each year. If a modern mystery attends the dad who turns his back on full-time paid work for full-time baby wrangling, it's his complete absence from this week's election barney over paid parental leave.

Noted tax-and-spend socialist Tony Abbott proposes to rake billions of dollars from big business to pay for every Australian mum to stay home on full pay for six months after dropping her bundle.

Meanwhile, the tight-fisted scrooges of the ALP would condemn the nation's lactating heroines to struggling along on a miserly welfare scheme of such wretched parsimony that it must surely scare thousands of young couples into never having sex again.

There are the usual suspect reckonings at the edges, of course. Abbott claims the average working mother will be 21 grand better off. The government points out the average working mum is not the chief executive of Yahoo and so will trouser far less, because the would-be PM is paying out the biggest baby bucks to those power-mums earning generous six figure salaries.

It's a curious inverse of the set-to over the national broadband network, where the government is offering the rolled gold option and the opposition is saying the country can't afford such indulgences. At least in that debate they're staying in character. If cognitive shock at the prospect of cheering on Abbott as a champion of women's rights is too much to handle, however, you could entertain the thought both sides are still getting their old-timey biases on by completely ignoring the growing number of dads who'll be covered by this scheme. Covered, but not really considered.

We, the fathers of mothers' group, the dads of the daily school pick-up and drop-off, the homemakers in our own very rough and masculine way, are an afterthought in all this. Both policies are framed in terms of mothers and their lost earning potential, which is understandable while the vast majority of at home care is still performed by mums. But that is increasingly changing and, correct me if I'm wrong, haven't the last couple of decades been partly about trying to bring on that change? To convince men that they have more to offer than a pay packet, some footy training tips, and a stern presence when naughtiness and shenanigans threaten to get out of hand?

The two parties at least appear to have designed their competing programs with an open bias against the very idea of full-time fatherhood. Abbott's scheme, for instance ''grants working mothers six months' leave on their actual wage, capped at the $150,000 salary level. If the father is the primary carer, he will receive the parental leave payment at the mother's salary.'' It extends cover to same-sex couples, an enlightened policy for which he has received zero credit.

But if a man chooses to give up full time work after the birth of a child, why should the payment be based on his wife's salary, rather than his own? It seems an inexplicable policy choice. Perhaps, in future, with female graduates outnumbering males, it will come to have a more equitable outcome, but for the moment it merely reinforces the idea that dad's job is to find paid work, and mum's is to raise the kids. If these policies are meant to rebalance the roles of men and women, and the demands of work and parenthood, both sides could have put more thought into checking their biases against the idea of the stay-at-home father.

There's already more than enough to go around.

John Birmingham blogs at smh.com.au/comment & Brisbane Times and writes books at home during school hours.

4 comments so far

  • The authors point gives another great reason why this policy is a crock.

    If stay at home fathers were paid at their replacement rate, then it would be obvious that the already bloated cost of this policy would be even higher.

    When did it become the taxpayers responsibility to cater to the lifechoices of individuals?

    Want kids? Save for them and pay yourself. Its meant to be a sacrifice to get what you want.

    Commenter
    Freddie Frog
    Date and time
    August 21, 2013, 8:03AM
    • I totally agree, John. I've been astonished by the number of my fellow feminists praising the Libs maternity leave policy for precisely this reason. Women will always be disadvantaged in the work market as long as potential employers are mentally calculating the cost of lost time parenting, and not doing the same with male candidates. Encouraging more men to take on an equal (or when it suits their family, primary) caretaking role is absolutely essential to eliminating this discimination, and essential to giving men an equal opportunity to be appreciated as loving, caring parents. Their worth as a caretaking parent should not be held up against the biased and imaginary standard of "the mother that should be there".

      Commenter
      Barbarina
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      August 21, 2013, 8:06AM
      • Isn't the reason obvious? Money. The majority of households across the country are set with the man being the primary breadwinner and the female having the lower paying job. Or put another way, the reverse of this is still pretty uncommon. This is more so after the Mum usually stops or reduces work for an extended time to have a 2nd or 3rd child.

        So for example, if your Dad is on $150,000 with the Mum bringing in $30,000 then many such households would probably make the rational decision for the Dad to stop working (and the Mum to as well for a few months too if they wanted to).

        That said, for the households where the Mum is the main bread winner is the Coalition saying the stay at home Dad would get a pay RISE to her income?

        Commenter
        Peter
        Location
        Oz
        Date and time
        August 21, 2013, 9:20AM
        • First of all, I believe that paid parental leave should be scraped. Unless sick leave which we can't really control, having a baby is something we need to plan for it. This is like telling people that you can plan to have EXTRA 6 months off and still get paid. In addition, no paid parental leave payment should be paid if one of the parents is not working. I support the labour policy that payment should be based on minimum wages. And like family payment, you will be paid less for any extra dollars you receive.

          Commenter
          Antonio
          Location
          Penrith
          Date and time
          August 21, 2013, 9:34AM

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