Skip to content

Maternity Leave in the UK – A Gender Gap Closing Policy?


There is evidence that the “motherhood wage penalty” is larger for highly skilled women whose opportunity cost of time is higher. However, little is known about certain sectors of employment, including academia.

Policies like paid family leave, a flexible workplace or childcare should help to level the playing field. Many U.K. Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) offer differentially generous maternity leave packages, but are they effective? Preliminary analyses by Dr Clifton-Sprigg and Dr Fichera show a negative correlation between generosity of the package and leave taken by female academics. The opposite is found for non-academics at these institutions. We will explore potential explanations behind these findings and expand the agenda to consider other sectors of employment.

This research opportunity is placed within the wider debate on the gender pay gap, which is narrower within the public than the private sector in the UK. Within the academic sector, there is a large gender pay gap, particularly in the sciences and in senior positions.

Persistent gender pay gap constitutes a societal challenge as it highlights existing inequalities in the labour markets and is an obstacle to the development of inclusive societies, one of the objectives of the Global Challenges Research Framework. Various policies (including maternity leave) are aimed at reducing gender labour market inequalities. Yet, little is known about their effectiveness, particularly in academia.


Project summary

The community held an academic workshop, a stakeholder event and online meetings, and employed a Research Assistant. Over the course of the award they have established a core group of academics with a clear vision for further research and built a network of external experts and practitioners. The Research Assistant has helped to progress several grant applications, supporting data collection and a literature review. The community continue to collaborate and liaise with stakeholders to progress their research agenda and inform policy recommendations for closing the gender pay gap.

University of Bath
University of Bristol
Cardiff University
University of Exeter