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Fathers Not Taking Advantage of Parental Leave

"Current U.S. paternity leave policies seem to limit access and contribute to inequality between men and women," said Richard Petts of Ball State University.

While most companies offer paid parental leave, fathers aren’t signing up for this particular benefit, according to a recent study from Ball State University.

“Paid Paternity Leave-Taking in the United States”, a study led by Ball State sociology professor Richard Petts, found current U.S. paternity leave policies seem to limit access and contribute to inequality between men and women."

“Paternity leave is especially important to study because it represents a version of family leave-taking that is rare in comparison to maternity leave, yet it offers substantial possibilities for alleviating work-family conflicts and encouraging increased father involvement, mothers’ well-being, and gender equity in the divisions of domestic and paid labor responsibilities,” Petts added.

But the problem isn’t that men don’t agree with the policy; research found  47%  of the male respondents one of the survey sources of the study, were in favor of the policy.  For those who do use this program, they take one week or less. Only 14% of fathers who take leave use more than two weeks.

And there is an income angle to this situation. Men with higher levels of income are more likely to paid leave and spend longer periods of time with newborns. Fathers who work part-time are less likely to take paid leave and take shorter leaves, Petts said.

“Fathers with higher incomes are more likely to be in a financial position that allows them to take time off work when a new child is born,” Petts said. “This privileged position may suggest that the opportunity cost of taking leave is higher for fathers with high incomes than for fathers with lower incomes—especially if wage replacement is less than 100%. Alternatively, higher incomes may be linked to greater benefits and autonomy in one’s career.”

The study also found that fathers who engaged in parenting activities prior to the child’s birth were more likely to take paid leave, and longer periods of leave, than fathers who were not involved prenatally.

“These fathers may have embraced caretaking father identities early and sought out ways to enact fathering roles,” Petts said. “Father identities may also be more salient for men making the transition to fatherhood as they actively seek ways to develop parenting skills. Indeed, we find that first-time fathers are more likely to take paid leave, and longer periods of leave, than fathers with other children. Finally, positive attitudes towards fathering are associated with longer periods of paid leave-taking. “

All high-income countries, except the U.S., have national policies mandating paid maternity leave. The only U.S. policy that includes provisions for parental leave is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave after childbirth or other family or medical reasons.

Petts said that because the U.S. does not offer statutory paid paternity leave, access is overwhelmingly dependent on workplace policies.

“This structure exacerbates the diverging destinies of families because more advantaged fathers have greater access and abilities to take paid leave than less advantaged fathers,” Petts said. “Future research should further assess the consequences of these disparities and examine the ways in which paternity leave-taking may influence families. Such knowledge will be important as policymakers seek to determine how changes in family leave policies may benefit American families.”

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