Julia Llewellyn Smith has an article in the Telegraph today in which she discusses the impact of extended maternity leave on mothers. Much of the article is anecdote about mothers, who have high flying compensation packages and don't hesitate to exploit them to the full (while simultaneously complaining about welfare scroungers). The one piece of data though is "studies show three female doctors have to be trained to produce the same 'work time output' as two men."
We're constantly told that there is a pay gap between men and women - there are a number of reasons for this, and it's certainly not as simple as plain sexual discrimination. According to the NSO, there were 28.9 million people in employment in the UK last year. Let's assume that 15 million of those are men.
Wayne Rooney, John Terry and Frank Lampard between them earn over 400k a week - or alternatively, three footballers earn 20 million a year between them as a base salary (before bonuses or other endorsements). I make that those three men alone add £1.33 to the average male salary in the UK. When you include the rest of the Premier League - that suddenly adds a lot to the gap. But the fact that Premier League footballers earn a lot is hardly news - nor does it really make that much difference to what the man on the street earns. The reality is that the really well paid entertainment stars up the rate, and it does seem the bulk of them are men (women's football is not as well paid, and girl groups don't appear to have the staying power of boys groups - see the X Factor voting patterns).
But even when you bring it down to the level of somewhere like the NHS, where salaries are set according to bands which you have to work your way up through. The overall cost of hiring a man of 25 on 25k a year is less than that of hiring a woman of 25k. This is because the cost of hiring the woman is increased by her maternity benefits - this does carry a cost, in terms of paying her for the nine months she might not be working as well as paying her replacement. In addition, this is exacerbated by the pension costs - many women are entitled to receive pensions at 60, whereas men have to wait 65. As women tend to live longer, the cost of supplying a pension of X to a woman is more than it is for a man of the same age, never mind how much more it is if you allow the woman to claim the amount five years earlier.
None of this is to suggest that sex discrimination doesn't happen - but it's to point out that there are often hidden financial costs to legislation that is meant to level the playing field. As has been pointed out elsewhere (and in much fruitier language - don't read if easily offended) if the results of the legislation you pass creates perverse and unintended incentives, why then express surprise that people act on those incentives?
As for the idiotic idea that childless women should somehow be entitled to "maternity" leave, words fail me.