The Ripple Effects Of Mark Zuckerberg’s Two-Month Paternity Leave

CREDIT: Peter Barreras/Invision/AP

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced late last week that he’ll take two months of paternity leave when his daughter is born.

His company offers employees up to four months of leave for to all new parents — mothers, fathers, and adoptive parents alike — that they can take throughout the first year. That makes Zuckerberg and other Facebook employees relatively lucky. While tech companies have been in a bit of an arms race to offer generous leave benefits, just 12 percent of American employees say their employer offers such a benefit.

Despite the universality of Facebook’s leave, Zuckerberg’s decision to only take half of that, at least at the beginning of his daughter’s life, is typical in the company’s gender split. Fathers at the company take just a bit more than two months on average, while the majority of mothers take all four.

But there is plenty of evidence that offering paid leave to fathers encourages them to take more time off, which in turn fosters more gender equality at home.

In a study published on Monday at NBER, Ann Bartel, Maya Rossin-Slater, Christopher Ruhm, Jenna Stearns, and Jane Waldfogel looked at the United States’s first paid leave program in California. They found that the introduction of paid leave increased the share of fathers who took time off by 46 percent. An earlier look at the state’s program found that the number of fathers taking leave doubled after it was implemented and they took more time off. While few American men get paid leave through work, a survey of men found that those who are offered paid leave tend to take the full amount available to them, usually about two weeks.

Men’s choice to take leave has important effects for both their partners and their children. The new study on California’s program found that it increased the share of fathers taking leave while mothers were at work by 50 percent and the share of fathers taking leave at the same time as mothers by 28 percent, alleviating the burden on women to be the only ones taking time off of work. The effect is even stronger in other countries with guaranteed family leave, particularly those that require men to take at least a portion of the time off. Quebec’s program, which sets aside five weeks of paid leave only fathers can take, increased the amount of time fathers spent on household duties while also increasing the time mothers were able to spend in paid employment, even boosting mothers’ incomes by 25 percent. Sweden’s program, which requires fathers to take at least two months, had led to a 7 percent increase in a mother’s income for every month of leave her husband takes. Other cross-country studies have found that fathers spend more time on child care in countries with generous paternity leave.

Taking time off to be with a child also improves their parenting later on. Fathers who take two or more weeks are more involved in their children’s physical care nine months later, and men who take leave end up being more committed and competent fathers.

Men who are open and public about their decision, like Zuckerberg, can also have an impact beyond their own families. A study in Norway found that when one man takes paid paternity leave, his male coworkers become much more likely to do the same when they have children. Normalizing the idea that men, not just women, take leave can also help reduce the stigma mothers face at work.