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Why Men Don’t Take Parental Leave (Even When Available)

It is widely known that women are systematically paid less than their male counterparts. In fact, women earn just 77.9 cents for every dollar earned by men. There are numerous theories as to what causes the wage gap, as well as numerous ideas of how to level the proverbial playing field. One undeniable contributor to this disproportionate equation is parental leave.

Not only do women start out with lower pay, they also incur a penalty when returning to the workforce from an extended leave. What can be done to mitigate the income disparity?

Many have reasoned that giving men more time off could actually help women in the long term.

The old adage says it takes two to tango. Yet in traditional American society, women are almost always expected to bear the primary responsibilities and burdens of raising the resultant precious bundles of joy that come nine months later. Without a doubt, it’s beneficial for children to start life in a nurturing home, supported by a loving parental unit. However, the widespread expectation that women will simply acquiesce to their gender normative parenting role, at the expense of their career growth, is simply unfair.  

Is the Family and Medical Leave Act Enough?

The Family and Medical Leave Act mandates that employers in the U.S. provide new moms and dads to 12 weeks off work within the child’s first year. Yet, data shows that new dads in the U.S. still feel like it’s too hard to take time off.

A recent study by Ball State University demonstrated that nearly half (47 percent) of men support parental leave for fathers. However, a mere 14 percent of dads actually take more than two weeks of leave.   

Why Dads Don’t Take Parental Leave

What’s kept fathers from taking the leave that’s available to them?

Concerns about finances is a big one. Among the 42 most developed countries in the world, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents.

For families that may already be struggling financially, they often feel like they have no choice but to keep the higher wage earner in the workforce (most likely the father), perpetuating career stagnation for women.   

Corporations Say that Paid parental leave Can Change the Game

In the absence of federal mandates, high-profile, private sector businesses have announced in recent years that they were expanding parental leave. Starbucks, Spotify, Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, and the Gates Foundation, are among the companies that have fervently been trying to one-up each other by revealing new or revised parental leave policies that benefit both parents more equally.

New data from found that the average amount of paid paternity leave offered by top companies has jumped from four weeks in 2015 to 11 weeks in 2017. The rationale for introducing new or improved policies is nicely summed up by Richard Petts, the sociology professor at Ball State University who led the study we mentioned above:  

“The reluctance — or inability — of men to take child-care leave is often considered harmful to women, who miss opportunities for promotion when they are out of the workforce for longer periods than men. When men take longer leave, two things happen: women return to work sooner, and men become more attuned to, and less tolerant of, those opportunity costs. What’s more, dads who take longer leave also tend be more involved in their child’s life and care overall.”

U.S. corporations are taking a cue from Sweden. The country that gave the world ABBA and IKEA is in fact also a role model for parental equity. For every child they have, Swedish parents are legally entitled to share 480 days off from work. During this break they are paid 80 percent of their salaries in the first 390 days. However, what really sets Sweden apart is its commitment to gender equality. Three months of the 480 days must be taken by fathers. In 2017, Swedish dads took more than 27 percent of the total leave allotted to couples nationwide.

Of course, this cultural shift did not happen overnight. Policy makers began laying the foundation for “pappaledighet” (paternity leave) in the 1970s. Social campaigns promoting the concept appeared shortly thereafter. These days, it’s not uncommon to see groups of latte-pappor, or “latte dads” – the Swedish colloquial equivalent of “soccer moms” – roaming parks and sidewalks with kids in tow.

Corporation-led support for Gender-Equitable paid parental leave is a smart idea, both for employees and for business

More than one-in-three people in the American workforce are now millennials. As this digital native, tech-savvy generation slowly transitions the content of their iPad screens from Game of Thrones to Daniel Tiger, they will want to work for companies that offer perks that better align with their evolving life situations. Providing gender-equitable paid parental leave, and actively encouraging fathers to take that leave, will help foster a company culture that encourages overall workplace equity and satisfaction.  

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