If a male employee sees his coworker take paternity leave for the arrival of a new baby, he is 11 percent more likely to take leave himself when he has a kid, according to a study by Gordon B. Dahl, Katrine V. Løken, and Magne Mogstad published this month in the American Economic Review.
The researchers looked at the case study of Norway, which changed its paternity leave program in 1993. Before the reform, mothers and fathers shared a certain period of paid leave, but in practice most mothers took all of the time off. The reform changed it so that an extra month of paid leave could only be taken by fathers. The authors note that the share of fathers taking leave shot up afterward, from 3 percent before the change to 35 percent afterward. They took advantage of this change to look at the impact of fathers who were newly induced to take leave on their coworkers and brothers.
The influence of a coworker’s leave on his male peers is even bigger when he is a senior manager, they find. It’s also more significant in an environment with less job security. This suggests that when a peer takes paid leave and shares information about how it went, that reduces his coworkers’ uncertainty about taking it themselves and makes risk-averse workers more likely to take time off. Survey data from before Norway’s 1993 reform found that many fathers were reluctant to take leave because they didn’t know how their employers and colleagues would react.
The researchers also found a “snowball effect” whereby the impact of taking leave keeps getting passed from coworker to coworker as more and more take leave. They find that this rolling phenomenon accounts for over 50 percent of the peer influence of those impacted further down the chain.
Besides the influence of coworkers, the researchers also found that the brothers of men taking the new month of paternity leave were 15 percent more likely to take leave themselves when they had their first child.
In the United States, we don’t guarantee that fathers can take paid leave, unlike 70 other countries, and just 14 percent of men get it through their employers. Many of them still take leave for the arrival of a new child, but three-quarters take a week or less off. Dads who get paid leave, however, are very likely to take it. The vast majority of new fathers take the amount of paid leave offered to them by their employers. And here as in Norway, if fathers feel that they have greater support at work for taking time off, more of them will do it.
This peer effect may be operating in the states that have paid family leave: California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. In California, just 35 percent of fathers took leave before the program was in place, but three-quarters now take it and they take more time, an average of three weeks.
Taking leave isn’t just helpful for fathers who increasingly want to spend more time with their children, but also for their children. A father who takes two or more weeks off for a new baby ends up more involved in his child’s care later on and is more likely to be a competent and committed dad.