Dads Want To Spend Time With Their New Children, If Only We’d Give Them Paid Leave

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Father baby

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When companies make paid paternity leave available to new fathers, they take it, according to findings of a new survey from the Boston College Center for Work & Family.

“The percentage of fathers who took a particular amount of leave relatively closely mirrored the amount of paid leave available to them,” Professor Brad Harrington said on a call with reporters. About half of new fathers who were given one week took a week, the vast majority with two weeks of paternity leave took two weeks, most who got four weeks took that amount of time, and the same held true for six weeks. “This data strongly supports the idea that fathers will take advantage of the policies made available to them,” the report notes.

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CREDIT: Boston College Center for Work & Family

Those who got zero weeks were more spread out — more than half took a week or less, while 11 percent didn’t take time off. The researchers asked those who didn’t have access to paid leave if they would have taken more time off if they did, and 91 percent said they would.

Pay also matters for fathers taking time off. “[T]here was an extremely strong correlation between pay and the amount of time off taken,” the report notes. More than 85 percent of the fathers said they wouldn’t take leave unless they were paid at least 70 percent of their salaries, while 45 percent said they had to be paid their full salary. This held true for those who do have leave through their employers and those who don’t.

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CREDIT: Boston College Center for Work & Family

Respondents also noted that a workplace culture that supports men taking leave helped them do so. “On average, the greater the support for fathers taking time off after the birth of their children, the more time that fathers took off,” the report states.

There’s evidence that paid leave is becoming increasingly important to today’s working men. Millennial and Generation X fathers took more time off than Baby Boomers. And in a survey of 30 of the Center for Work & Family’s partner companies, nearly half said they had seen more men use or request paid leave.

In considering a new job, if the men in the survey were thinking of having another child, nearly 90 percent said it would be important for a new employer to provide paid leave, with 60 percent saying it’s extremely or very important. Having access to leave may shape these views, as those who had it felt more strongly about the importance of it. And the survey overall is slanted in that direction, as 67 percent of respondents had access to paid leave, compared to about 15 percent of American men generally. The 1,029 fathers who responded to the survey were also much more likely to be white, well educated, and in professional occupations than the general population. The small number of salaried workers in the survey indicated that they were less likely to take time off.

The leave isn’t just taken to slack off, either. More than 90 percent of fathers said they spent their leave time caring for new children, while over 80 percent took care of household tasks like cleaning, shopping, cooking, and laundry. At the same time, however, 82 percent did some work for their jobs while on leave.

The report notes that in a study of 34 developed countries, the United States is one of just two that doesn’t ensure all fathers can access paid family leave. Here, both parents are only guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the arrival of a new child, but even that only covers about half of all workers thanks to restrictions. Only 12 percent of workers get paid leave through their employers, although three states — California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island — have instituted paid family leave programs for everyone. This past December, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced a bill that would give all workers access to paid family leave.

A past study from the Center for Work & Family found that 85 percent of fathers still take time off when their child arrives, but three-quarters take a week or less. California’s experience, meanwhile, backs up the most recent survey’s finding that paid leave increases leave taking. Just 35 percent of fathers took leave before the program began, but now three-quarters do, taking an average of three weeks.

This doesn’t just benefit fathers who want to spend more time with their children. It also benefits their kids. Fathers who take two or more weeks off when their child arrives are more involved in their direct care nine months later, and those who can take paternity lave are more competent and committed later in their children’s lives.