When dads take paternity leave


(ALAMY)

The most important finding from a new study on paternity leave is probably also the least surprising: New dads tend to take off the exact amount of time they'll get paid to take.

On Monday, the same day the White House is hosting an event on the state of working fathers, Boston College's Center for Work & Family (CWF) released its fifth annual study on working dads. This year, the research focused on paternity leave — how much leave fathers take, how important the benefit is to new dads, and how much paid time off they receive after the birth of a child.

The study, said Brad Harrington, CWF's executive director and a professor at Boston College's Carroll School of Management, found a strong correlation between how much paid paternity leave men receive as an employee benefit and the length of time off they actually took. For instance, among respondents that received two weeks of paid paternity leave, the largest share of those fathers (64 percent) took off exactly two weeks. The same went for those new dads who got one week of paid leave (34 percent, the largest ratio, took one week), as well as those who got four weeks (41 percent of those dads, again the largest group, took off the full four weeks). 

The vast majority of respondents — 86 percent — said they wouldn't use paternity leave or parental leave unless they were paid at least 70 percent of their normal salaries. Roughly 45 percent said they wouldn't use it unless they received all of their regular pay.

Much of the explanation for those numbers is likely an economic one, as many of these fathers may be the primary breadwinner in their families. Yet the figures are also telling about the cultural norms around paternity leave in the United States, one of the few developed economies that does not offer some kind of statutory paid leave. Most U.S. fathers are allowed to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act if they have been in their jobs for 12 months, but paid leave is wholly at the discretion of employers.

While some companies, particularly in Silicon Valley, are starting to offer generous benefits fathers can use — Facebook offers new dads four months of paid leave, while Yahoo offers eight weeks — just 14 percent of U.S. employers offer paid leave for new dads at all, according to a recent study by the Families and Work Institute.

The new CWF research, meanwhile, surveyed 1,029 fathers who work at 286 organizations. Harrington cautioned that 58 percent of the respondents came from nine companies that are part of CWF's member network, which he said means they tend to have a more progressive approach to employee benefits than other firms do. They also employ highly educated salaried professionals who may be more apt to use the benefit.

Yet even given the demographics of these fathers, who appear to be in a better position to take time off, the majority (64 percent) still only took between one and two weeks off after the birth of a child. They also still cited barriers, such as workplace stigmas against men who take paternity leave. "There is still the expectation in many minds that taking more than a week would not be appropriate," Harrington said.

Read also:

Paternity leave isn't just about dads

Why pay equity and work-life balance aren't just a women's issue

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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