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Shared Parental Leave: Effects on uptake of leave and labour market outcomes of parents in the UK

This project evaluates the impact of the 2015 Shared Parental Leave (SPL) reform in the UK, using longitudinal household data from Understanding Society.

Project status

In progress


1 Aug 2023 to 1 Aug 2024

This project will evaluate the 2015 Shared Parental Leave (SPL) reform in the UK. Specifically, it will use longitudinal household data collected in Understanding Society and econometric analysis to assess the impact of the policy, considering take up by fathers, whether it affected the length of leave taken by mothers, as well as any changes in labour market outcomes of mothers and fathers relative to pre-reform years.

Transition out of and back into work following birth of a child can fundamentally alter the shape of the working lives of parents, particularly mothers. Women in the UK adjust their labour market behaviour after childbirth more than men and women in other European countries. This widens the existing gender inequalities in the labour market.

Family-friendly policies are important for addressing these inequalities. Introduction of SPL was intended to help parents balance out child-related responsibilities and encourage females to return to work. Little is known about the effectiveness of this policy except for its low uptake, related to complexity and poor financial coverage.

The aim of this work is to rigorously evaluate whether the policy achieved its objectives, considering the overall effect and the possibility of various groups being differently affected. The results can inform future policy design and practice. It is of particular importance given the UK government’s Good Work Plan consultation and ambition to reform family-friendly policies in the UK. It is also of interest to employers who increasingly focus on developing policies to support employees’ work-life balance.

This project constitutes a key foundation of a broader research agenda into the gendered causes and consequences of parental leave decision-making in the UK initiated by the GW4 Maternity Leave Network. The GW4 network brings together academics from across disciplines and institutions to debate issues surrounding maternity leave provision in the UK and its effect on gender pay gap, and to establish an ambitious, policy-relevant research agenda.

Project lead

Dr Joanna Clifton-Sprigg is a Lecturer in the Department of Economics, University of Bath. In 2023/2024, in her capacity as the Understanding Society research fellow, she is also working within the University of Bath Institute for Policy Research (IPR). Joanna's research interests are in labour economics, migration, economics of education and applied econometrics.


Understanding Society is the UK Household Longitudinal Study. It is the largest longitudinal study of its kind and provides crucial information for researchers and policymakers on the changes and stability of people's lives in the UK. The Study is based at the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex.

The Understanding Society Fellowship programme enables researchers to devote time to projects that directly impact on the Study. The Fellowship programme provides funding for a 12-month full or part-time project based on Understanding Society data or focusing on methodological challenges.