As Men Do More Unpaid Work, Policies Lag Behind

A global fatherhood advocacy group pushes for policies that help men help their families

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Modern dads take more responsibility for their family’s care, but as long as national policies remain unchanged they’re unlikely to measure up to women in the home, according to a new report. The just-released State of the World’s Fathers report from global fatherhood advocacy group MenCare suggests that even as strides are being made, gender parity in both paid and unpaid care work will never be a reality as long as countries fail to take measures on solid parental leave policies and government support programs for both parents.

The cultural idea of parenting as “women’s work” has steadily crumbled over the past 20 years, according to the MenCare report. But they note the social shifts are often accidental. That’s based on research that discovered a global trend in men being pushed into unpaid care roles due to “situations that presented no alternative but to adopt a radical new way of being” such as loss of work, divorce, or spousal illness. Like those fathers, MenCare suggests, countries need to rise to the challenge by supporting the social shifts with solid policy changes that can amplify their effect.

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The MenCare report notes that even with social shifts, men still only take on 37 percent of the unpaid care work that women do day-to-day around the world. In order to reach the ultimate goal of finding the 50/50 ratio, MenCare suggests a huge push in parental leave policies. They note that when men are allowed to spend more time at home with children from the outset, sharing household care duties with a partner becomes more normalized and healthy patterns of shared responsibility are established.

That’s an idea supported by actual data. The report shows that shifts towards liberal parental leave policy boost the ratio of unpaid care work from men. When countries offer 100 or more days maternity leave and just five or more days paternity leave, men take on twice the amount care than countries that have no unpaid leave for men or women. That said, even in the countries with paid leave the daily average time women spend on unpaid work is still 2.0 times that of men.

The report calls for some very specific parental leave characteristics to maximize the move to the equality. They stress that leave policies should be equal for both men and women and be treated as individual entitlements that are non-transferable and not bankable to encourage use. They also suggest it cover 100 percent of a parent’s salary through social security and last up to 16 weeks. And finally that it be “enshrined and enforced in national law and in
international agreement.”

The leave policy championed by MenCare has little in common, it seems, from the most bipartisan parental leave plan recently formed through a collaboration between the Brooking Institute and the American Enterprise Institute. The recommendations of the joint think tank working group suggests just eight weeks of paid leave capped at a 70 percent wage replacement rate. It’s important to note, however, that the Brookings/AEI recommendations are aimed at uniting liberals and conservatives. It’s almost certain the ideal MenCare parental leave would fail to gain political support necessary to become the law of the land in the states.

That said, any shift towards paid parental leave would be a huge boon to equality both inside and outside the home. With an adequate global push from advocacy groups like MenCare, it could be that a woman’s work will in fact eventually be done.

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