Three reasons why paid paternity leave should be more common

Nov 21, 2013

For the past four weeks, I haven't been much help to my coworkers here at State of Opportunity. I've been unresponsive to emails. I've contributed nothing to the website. I haven't turned in any stories for radio. I haven't even thought about it. And yet, crazy as it sounds, I've been paid the whole time. 

I wasn't on vacation. I was on paternity leave. My wife and I had our second child exactly one month ago today. Since then, I've provided absolutely nothing of value to my employer. And, even now, I'm only working part time. 

Paid paternity leave, beyond one or two weeks, is crazy-rare in the United States. While federal law requires employers to offer 12 weeks of leave to both mothers and fathers after the birth of a child, the law doesn't say that parents have to be paid for their time away. Some employers, and some state laws, make it so more mothers can be paid during an extended leave after the birth of a child.  Estimates are hard to come by, but some data seems to indicate that less than 10 percent of new fathers take more than a few weeks of leave when their children are born

In a country where paid maternity leave is far from a given, paid paternity leave seems like quite a luxury. But here are three reasons why it should be more common:

Very few dads in the United States take more than a couple of weeks off work to help with a newborn baby.
Very few dads in the United States take more than a couple of weeks off work to help with a newborn baby.
Credit user: bradbrundage / flickr

  1. Having dads at home is good for new moms. Research has shown that women are more likely to breastfeed newborns longer if the father has a longer paternity leave (and, breastfeeding, of course, is good for newborns). When dads take no paternal leave at all, mothers are more likely to report depressive symptoms

2. Paid paternity leave encourages fathers to be more involved with their kids. This should be obvious, and it's one of the reasons paid paternity leave is good for moms. Dads who take more time off work spend more time at home, and research has shown that can set up long-term habits within families

3. Right now, paid paternity leave is a luxury afforded to highly-educated, well-off fathers, and it shouldn't be. The benefits of paid paternity leave are not distributed equally across all income groups in the United States. Highly educated fathers are much more likely to have the ability and the desire to take extended paternity leave. So the benefits of that leave add to already significant opportunity gaps between children from different types of families. Making paid paternity leave more common could help narrow the gaps.