Almost 40% of fathers in the UK are unable to spend enough time with their children and would take a pay cut to improve their work-life balance, according to new research.

For dads aged under 30, nearly 50% would sacrifice part of their wage to be more involved in domestic life. Experts are describing the phenomenon whereby men are forced to trade off their careers against their families as the "fatherhood penalty".

The survey by charity Working Families suggests that, as they become more actively involved in childcare, fathers are increasingly forced to make compromises similar to those faced by mothers. Some 70% of dads agreed they would consider the impact on time spent with their children before taking a new job; 80% of mothers answered that they would.

Sarah Jackson, chief executive of Working Families, said: "To prevent a 'fatherhood penalty' emerging in the UK – and to help tackle the motherhood penalty – employers need to ensure that work is designed in a way that helps women and men find a good work-life fit. Making roles flexible by default and a healthy dose of realism when it comes to what can be done in the hours available are absolutely vital.

Fathers told researchers that they wanted to spend more time with their children but that they were burdened by excessive workloads that required significant overtime and office cultures where they had to be seen to be working long hours.

The research also found that 41% of parents are relying on grandparental care as they try to negotiate the challenges of work and family life. Over 10% of parents said their employers made absolutely no allowances for their parental responsibilities.

Jackson said: "A game-changing first step would be government creating a new, properly paid, extended period of paternity leave – sending clear signal that government recognises the aspirations of modern fathers and is serious about tackling the motherhood penalty that blights the working lives of so many women."

Maria Miller MP, chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, said: "We are now launching a new inquiry into fathers and the workplace to look at whether fathers are getting the support they need in the workplace to fulfil their caring responsibilities. We look forward to hearing from Working Families and others as we conduct this inquiry."

US President Barack Obama with children
President Obama greets nine-month-old Josephine Gronniger, whose father, Tim Gronniger, brought his family by the Oval Office for a family photo Official White House Photo by Pete Souza