Take Your Paternity Leave — For Your Marriage, Family and Finances
Many men don’t, and likely suffer for it later on
Between the workplace stigma, the unfairness of leave policies, and the lack of role models, it’s hardly surprising that 70% of men took 10 days or fewer of leave around the birth or adoption of a child, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Only 14% of all fathers, according to the journal Community, Work and Family, took more than two weeks.
True, many men simply don’t have the option. Some parental leave programs don’t include fathers. But even in states in which all parents have access to paid leave, like Rhode Island or New Jersey, men lagged behind: 74% of workers in California who took leave were women.
Let’s be clear: The stigma is real. A Deloitte survey found that 57% of men felt taking family leave would be perceived as a lack of commitment to the job. A 2013 study published in the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues found that men who requested family leave were viewed as poor workers and judged to be exhibiting negative feminine qualities, with Black men penalized significantly more than their white peers. Surprisingly, female co-workers took a harsher view of men taking paternity leave than male co-workers.
So, making the decision to take leave requires real strength of character, not to mention a supportive employer and some forward financial planning. But I want to make the case that it’s worth doing despite these costs — for the good of your relationship with your partner and children, and your family finances.
—A forthcoming study in the Journal of Social Policy finds married couples in which fathers take paternity leave, whether for one week or four, have 32% lower odds of splitting up. Admittedly, there’s contextual information missing from this picture. Men who take paternity leave are likely to be more financially secure, removing one common stressor from the relationship with their partner.
But research has shown that women are more likely to initiate divorce than men, particularly if they feel like there is an unfair division of household labor. Taking paternity leave, even for a week, is a show of support and solidarity in an often vulnerable time.
—There’s a wealth of data on how taking paternity leave makes fathers more invested in their families and more engaged in their children’s lives. Studies in the United States, Denmark, Austria and the United Kingdom all come to the same conclusion: Taking a couple of weeks of paternity leave early in a child’s life later affects how involved fathers are in tasks ranging from feeding to getting up in the night even nine months later.
—Women whose partners are involved prenatally experience lighter workloads and are less likely to have postpartum depression, according to a study sponsored by the gender equality organization Promundo.
—In homes where fathers are more involved, children have better developmental outcomes. One paper, published in the journal Acta Paediatrica, found that father engagement “reduces the frequency of behavioural problems in boys and psychological problems in young women.” In poorer families, it had an even greater effect, “enhancing cognitive development while decreasing criminality and economic disadvantage.”
—Research shows that men who take an active role in their children’s lives are happier and healthier, with a relationship that pays dividends for both parties.
The long-term effect on your finances
Quite apart from making the costs of divorce less likely, taking paternity leave may have a positive impact on your finances as a couple. Though there’s a wage penalty associated with leaving work altogether to be a father, the same doesn’t seem to apply to taking a few weeks of leave. At the same time, when men do take paternity leave, it seems to make it easier for their female partners to re-enter the labor force sooner.
This is the real clincher, financially speaking. My colleague Carla Fried lays out the penalty for women of being outside of the labor force for five years. It’s an eye-watering $900,000 over a woman’s lifetime. But a more equitable division of labor makes it easier for women to return to work — ultimately boosting your combined household income.
What you can do
You might agree with everything I’ve said here, but still struggle to muster the courage to be a trailblazing father in your office. My advice? Find a workplace that wants you to be a great parent. As my colleague Wade Tyler Millward has written, we all should be looking continuously for work.
When looking, adjust your criteria and seek out employers that make it easy for everyone to be an involved parent. (Many working women have done some version of this for decades, of course, both in choosing an employer and focusing on a field that allows for some flexibility.) When asking about benefits, don’t just ask how much paternity leave is offered — ask how many men take it.
An often promising clue? Workplaces that offer equal parental leave, regardless of gender.