I got the 'daddy bonus' but I still don't think it's fair

Fathers have been noted to receive a 'daddy bonus' at work.
Fathers have been noted to receive a 'daddy bonus' at work. Photo: Stocksy

From around the time my oldest daughter was born, I suddenly started getting promoted. It seemed strange that just when I was busy with a newborn my employer decided that a sleep-deprived and generally rundown zombie was just the man for the job.

It may have been a coincidence. Perhaps having a child and reaching a stage in my career where I was ready for senior roles just happened to coincide, but I’d heard about the career benefits of having a child from other men as well.

As a male colleague put it, having children meant he’d joined the Fatherhood Club at work with all kinds of unexpected career benefits. He suddenly had something in common with most— not all, but most — men in his organisation, from the most senior to the most junior. Unlike women, where any mention of children in the workplace can be a liability, children are great levellers for blokes, creating a handy opening for conversations to network. Nothing builds rapport with a senior manager like swapping stories about kids and grand kids.

And it seems that this isn’t just perception. Recent research published in the journal Work, Employment and Society found that the “Daddy Bonus”, or, to use its more respectable academic-sounding term, the “Fatherhood Wage Premium”, is indeed a thing.

Researchers Sylvia Fuller and Lynn Prince Cooke looked at a sample of 18,730 white men between 24 and 44 years of age in 5,020 workplaces, finding that these men received a boost in pay when they had a child. (The study authors confined their analyses to white men arguing that the racial complexities of Canadian society would require another study.)

Men in professional and managerial occupations benefited most from the Daddy Bonus, enjoying a net wage premium of 6.9 per cent compared to a 3.6 per cent for men in other occupations.

While some might argue that fathers are harder workers, that’s not what the research showed. In fact, where pay was merit-based — and therefore based on performance — the daddy bonus was reduced.

Collective bargaining agreements and HR departments that regulate remuneration within an organisation similarly reduced the Daddy Bonus.

It seems that the greater scrutiny and less wriggle room there is over remuneration, the less likely men are to benefit from the mere fact of having children. That’s one more argument in favour of having transparency in remuneration, rather than having it set by individual bargains based on perceptions.

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But, there may be more going on here than simply the fact that having children is good for male bonding and creates a perception of stability and competence.

The researchers also found that fathers who are the sole earner in their families enjoyed a 6.3 per cent daddy bonus compared with an only 2.6 per cent income boost for fathers in dual-earning families.

It may be that this the bump in pay is also attributable to the “wife” bonus.

Presumably, men who have children are also more likely to be partnered. And given that men who are the sole breadwinner are amongst the greatest beneficiaries of the bump in pay that comes with kids, it may be that they’re benefiting from the unpaid work of a female partner in the background helping to progress their careers.

The fact that there’s another person meeting so many of their needs, running much of their social life, and doing the majority of domestic labour, would no doubt flow over into professional benefits. For many men, a wife is like an unpaid secretary and maid who takes care of life so men can direct more time and emotional energy into work.

And, in many cases, partners provide much more than domestic and social support to men. They’re a confidante, helping to strategise, assisting with writing and proof-reading CVs and documents and a sounding-board for ideas.

There is of course no equivalent of the “wife” bonus for women. And, the arrival of children often has a detrimental effect on women, as indicated by phrases such as the “mummy penalty” or the “mummy track”.

Unlike men, if a woman wants to build rapport and credibility with her CEO, pulling out a photo of her baby and swapping stories about first words and first steps is pretty much the last thing she’ll do.

It’s also less likely that she’ll have a male partner clearing her plate of domestic and social tasks so she can focus on her career.

Research from the Australian Institute of Family Studies shows that even women with stay-at-home male partners spend more hours a week performing childcare (21 hours compared with his 19 hours), and only slightly less domestic work (23 hours compared with 28 hours) than their partners.

All the talk about level playing fields and promoting on merit cannot overcome the fundamental unfairness that having a baby is one of the best things man can do for his career and one of the worst things a woman can do for hers.

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