Should You Take More Time Off? The Changing State Of Paternity Leave

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Every year since 2009, Boston College’s Center For Work And Family has issued a report as part of an on-going series called The New Dad, which is all about the changing roles and expectations for you-know-who. The 2014 report is a deep dive into the state of paternity leave in the U.S. workplace, but since you probably don’t have time to read the whole thing from your U.S. workplace, here are the key takeaways.

What They Found
Over 40 percent of respondents said that work-related pressure affected how much time they would take.Guys care about paternity leave: 89 percent of the report’s 1,029 respondents consider it at least somewhat important, and 60 percent consider it very or extremely important. The majority believe that leave should be between 2 and 4 weeks, and will only take it if it’s at least 70-percent paid (because that kid isn’t going to pay for its own baby food). Over 40 percent of respondents said that work-related pressure – from pending deadlines to an unenlightened boss – affected how much time they would take, regardless of their company’s policy.

The report surveyed 30 companies and found that 60 percent of them offered paid leave, but all those companies are partners of CWF, which has already guilted them into progressive policies. Compare that to a 2013 Society For Human Resource Management study of more than 500 companies, which found just 15 percent offered paid leave to new fathers.

Why It Matters
Countries with paternity leave laws find plenty of evidence that laws pay social and economic dividends. There are 70 countries with national paternity leave laws, and most of them find plenty of evidence that the laws pay social and economic dividends. In the U.K., there’s strong correlation between paternity leave and a mother’s overall health at 3 months, postpartum; in Norway, paternity leave reduces missed work days for mothers by 5-10 percent; in France, it reduces postpartum depression, and in Sweden it increases the mother’s earnings by 6.7 percent.

Despite all that, 85 percent of the surveyed companies with policies had no “business case” for them – their rationales basically boil down to talent retention or a vague desire to keep up with changing cultural norms. The report does highlight two industries that have stumbled into a pretty compelling reasons for good leave policies: In the accounting and tech sectors, these policies have become standard recruitment tools, particularly among the coveted Millennial demographic, where attitudes toward fatherhood and paternity veer decidedly toward equality between the genders.

What You Can Do
The report urges men who have paternity leave to use it, which helps normalize the idea of fathers as equal providers of childcare.The CWF is effusive in its support for men embracing their role as change agents in U.S. corporate culture, which explains the exclamation point in the report subtitle: “Take Your Leave!” That pretty much sums up its advice to fathers; the report makes the case that, by taking whatever leave is available to you and encouraging your peers to do the same, you’re doing your part to normalize society’s idea of fathers as equal providers of childcare.

This, and the report’s insistence on being “a supportive leader” and “an advocate” might seem like so much cheerleading, but there’s hard evidence to support that peer pressure works. In 1993, Norway passed a law requiring companies to offer 4 weeks paternity leave; since then, research shows that male workers are clearly influenced to take leave when their co-workers are already doing so.

So, there you have it. If your company offers paternity leave, take it and make your friends feel like the monsters they are if they don’t take theirs. And if your company doesn’t offer any, become a software engineer or an accountant.

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