Perhaps no work-life topic has garnered more attention recently than paternity leave. As professional sports teams and many employers began to offer paid paternity leave, a public debate ensued about the validity of giving fathers time to provide caregiving to their new children. But as time has progressed it has become increasingly clear that more and more fathers want and need paid time off following the birth or adoption of a new child, and the issue of paternity leave has gained public support.
Research conducted by BCCWF in 2014 looked at more than 1,000 fathers from 286 different organizations in the U.S. and found that paternity leave is important to them: a full 89% of dads surveyed believed it is important that an employer provide paid paternity leave. Our research found that 99% of men studied felt that employers should offer paid paternity leave, with 74% of respondents suggesting that 2 to 4 weeks is an appropriate amount. It also revealed that 86% of respondents would not make use of paid paternity leave unless it covered at least 70% of their salaries.
According to a study reported in The Economist in May, 2015, fathers who had taken paternity leave in the U.S., Australia, Britain and Denmark were more likely to feed, dress, bathe and play with their child long after the period of leave had ended. Our 2014 study showed that most fathers we surveyed were indeed involved in these types of activities.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 12 percent of private-sector workers are covered by formal paid leave policies. Most fathers need to combine vacation time, holiday time and personal absence days to take the one to two weeks off that is typical for fathers following the birth of their children. There has been a flurry of activity concerning paid paternity leave at major corporations. Companies like Intel and Johnson & Johnson have increased their parental leave policies to allow for bonding time for both mothers and fathers. And other companies that have never offered paid paternity leave are now considering adding this as a benefit to meet the expectations of today’s new fathers and to demonstrate a commitment to gender equity.
The International Leave Network has studied 34 developed countries and only two fail to offer some form of paid leave to fathers – the United States and Switzerland. Over the past year, many countries have been more actively encouraging men to utilize paternity leave. This is true in countries as disparate and varied as the U.K., Kenya and Japan. In the U.S., California, Rhode Island and New Jersey have enacted paid paternity leave programs, and several large cities (Boston, Seattle, Austin and others) have provided paternity leave for their city workers.
In order for parents to truly be equal partners in child care, it is essential that fathers be actively involved in child care beginning when their children are born. Researchers in countries where paid paternity and parental leave are readily available have found that there is a great benefit to having men take more time off when their children are born in order to develop their parenting skills and be better prepared to accept the responsibility that facilitates shared parenting. When a pattern of “dad at work” and “mom at home” is set in place following the birth of a child, it is difficult to reverse this pattern. It is important for dads to establish themselves as involved caregivers from the very beginning.
A study at the University of Oslo found that early paternal interaction has longer term benefits for children as well. They found that paternity leave improved children’s performance at secondary school, and that daughters especially seem to flourish if their dads had taken time off (Cools, Fiva & Kirkebøen, 2014).