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Paternity Leave

It can improve career prospects for women

The definition of family structure changes every generation. Though certain elements are rooted in biological elements, it is also a cultural phenomenon.

While the so-called “traditional” structure — husband and wife, with the man working and the woman staying home — has been fluid for decades. Research from Spain, Denmark and Norway reveal a potentially game-changing shift in how children are raised and whether or not they’ll even be born.

Despite decades of social progress in the workplace, women still have to contend with the lion’s share of child-care. While most countries allow up to three months of maternity leave, only around half a dozen countries offer fathers more than two weeks paternity leave.

In Denmark, 90% of dads take more than a fortnight’s leave. In 2007, Spain introduced two weeks of paternity leave for fathers. Through that national program, qualified men were fully paid for their time off. It was so popular that in 2018 it was expanded to five weeks. Officials expect that duration to extend to 16 weeks by 2021.

Before paternity leave legislation was passed, Spanish men wanted more children than women but a recent study of paternity leave in Spain demonstrates the powerful effects of empathy. Spanish men taking paid paternity leave are now less likely to want more children in the future because they become more aware of the overall costs of raising children.

What are the benefits of paternity leave?

Research suggests that enabling fathers to look after their newborn children has positive knock-on effects such as women being able to re-enter the workforce more quickly after giving birth. When childcare responsibilities fall exclusively on the mother, the effect is to depress women’s wages. Time out of the labour force deprives them of experience and promotions. When men shoulder more of the childcare burden, the effect is lessened.

Fathers who had taken paternity leave were more likely to feed, dress, bathe and play with their child long after the period of leave had ended and in some studies, dads who took time off at birth were almost a third more likely to read books with their toddlers than those who hadn’t.

This this early interaction has longer-term benefits for a child’s learning abilities. A study by the University of Oslo found that paternity leave improved children’s performance at secondary school; daughters, especially, seem to flourish if their dads had taken time off. But this tends to benefit children whose dads come from more advantaged backgrounds. Most paternity leave tends to be short and poorly paid so richer dads are more likely to take the time off.

For years the priority for women’s’ rights campaigners has been to increase the provision of maternity leave. These days, more governments are starting to believe that the best way to improve women’s career prospects is instead to turn to the dads.

The Economist – May 15th 2015

DEREK BERES, 12 June, 2019