Paternity Leave is Good For Kids!

Paternity leave is not just good for dads, but also for kids. A new academic study finds that men who take paternity leave are more likely to be involved in childcare activities later on, and that their kids do better on some cognitive ability tests.

I'm so glad I got to be home with Nick when he was born! I wish every dad had the same opportunity
I’m so glad I got to be home with Nick when he was born! I wish every dad had the same opportunity

According to this article, Dr. Jennifer Baxter, Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, will soon be presenting research in which she found:

1. A strong relationship between fathers’ taking paternity leave and their subsequent involvement in their children’s lives.

Baxter states, “Father’s leave is linked to more involvement in childcare activities such as helping a baby to eat, changing nappies, getting up in the night, bathing and reading to a child, compared to fathers who took no leave.”

2. Some evidence of better cognitive outcomes for kids whose fathers took paternity leave.

Baxter states, “The children of fathers who take long leave after their birth are more likely to perform better in cognitive development tests and are more likely to be prepared for school at the ages of four and five.”

These research results haven’t yet been published (so I cannot fully vouch for their validity), but this initial report makes a lot of sense to me. The first few weeks of a child’s life should be an intense bonding experience for dad and baby. It is also an opportunity to take care of one’s wife and other kids during a physically and emotionally draining time. Being able to take time to care for a newborn can give unconfident dads the experience they need for future childcare and parental involvement. In short, the whole family benefits- dad, mom and baby.

Further, if paternity leave is linked to greater paternal involvement later on in life, there’s an entire library of research that shows that in almost any way a child can be better off, they are better off for having an involved father in their lives (kids stay in school, do better in school, get into less trouble, get arrested less, get divorced less, have better health- just to name a few).

So, paternity leave doesn’t just help the family, it also helps our society.

For these reasons, we need to continue to advocate for greater availability and use of paternity leave (joining 1MFWF is one way you can help). Sadly, the US lags behind the rest of the world in parental leave policy. The US is one of only 4 countries in the world that does not mandate paid maternity leave. US law only requires that a new parent can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, and have their job held for them, through the Family and Medical Leave Act. Only three states– California, New Jersey and Rhode Island- have mandated paid parental leave.

The situation is worse for dads. Over 50 countries require paid paternity leave; the US, not so much. For example, in both Australia and the UK new dads are legally entitled to 2 weeks paid paternity leave. (On the upside, US dads are eligible for leave under the FMLA and in the 3 states mentioned above).

From the "New Dads" study. Dads don't get (or take) enough paternity leave
From the “New Dads” study. Dads don’t get (or take) enough paternity leave

As a result of our inadequate national policy, very few dads take paternity leave. In fact, according to Boston College’s Center for Work and Family’s 2011 study of US working dads:

75% of our sample took off one week or less and 16% did not take any time off at all following the birth of their most recent child. While government and corporate policies (or lack of policies) often make if difficult and financially challenging for fathers to spend any significant time off with their newborn children, it is nonetheless a clear opportunity missed for the fathers to spend time bonding with their new offspring and caring for their needs

There are a number of supportive workplaces, and some prominent companies that offer paid paternity leave. However, many new dads choose not to use available policies for fear of being stigmatized as uncommitted, and of negative career consequences.

Considering that dads’ time with children benefits everyone- kids, moms, dads, families, society- we need more support for working dads. Our kids will thank us for it.

What do you think about paternity leave? The benefits of involved fathers? Any ideas on how we can improve the situation? Any stories to share? Let’s discuss in the comments.

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Thanks to Elise Bair Jones for alerting me to this research!

19 thoughts on “Paternity Leave is Good For Kids!

  1. Great post Scott! Living in the UK and having become a dad for the first time in April of this year, I feel that I really benefited from being able to take my two weeks of paternity leave. Like you say, this is something that is beneficial for the dad, the mum, the baby and the family as a whole. It certainly wasn’t a holiday by any stretch of the imagination but it was a fortnight where we had time and space to start getting used to being a family.

    Since doing a couple of blog posts about paternity leave myself, I’ve had quite a few discussions with fellow dad bloggers about this issue. I’m shocked at the lack of paternity leave in the US and the fact that women can only take off 12 weeks as leave. Given that there is so much writing on parenting that comes out of the US, I don’t understand why there hasn’t been greater demand for changes to the paternity and maternity leave provision in order to create a more family-friendly society, I realise that I’m commenting as a perhaps naive outsider looking in, so I’d love to hear views on why there hasn’t been a greater demand for a change to the status quo regarding maternity and paternity leave in the US.

    • Hi Jonathan- I agree that US public policy stinks in this regard. However, many employers do pick up the slack by offering benefits beyond federal mandates. Legal requirements would be most useful for ;ess economically privledged dads, for whom taking time off could be a real economic hardship.

  2. Thanks for this post Scott. I have recently gone back to work (part-time) following the birth of my third daughter three weeks ago (and wrote about how much going back to work sucks). I live in Canada and parents who have not given birth – fathers, same-sex parents adoptive parents, etc. are entitled to up to 35 weeks of protected parental leave. It is compensated through our employment insurance system, which is crap compensation. It is however better than nothing. I had the good fortune when my first two were born to be working for an employer that topped up that coverage to 93% of my salary and as such I was able to take two months off with my first and seven months off with my second. I am certainly a better father for it. My wife and I are truly co-parents because we learned the job at the same time and in the same way – by doing. We traded tips on things we had learned changing diapers, changing clothes, getting spit-up and baby-poo out stains out of clothes in the wash. We have continued that pattern and when I compare my comfort and that of others I know who took time with our kids to other dads who did not take that parental leave time I can see a difference in their parenting style and comfort. They aren’t as interactive. They aren’t as comfortable being left alone with their kids and letting their partner get out of the house. Parenting is not a natural ability that only mothers get, it is a learned skill that we learn by doing and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to take advantage of it with our first two kids. It also gave me the knowledge and desire to organize myself sufficiently this time to be able to take a bit of time off and arrange for a couple of months of part-time flexible work so I could be home with my newest daughter more often.

    • Hi- what a great comment. Thank you!

      I think you make a great point about paternity leave helping men feel more confident and develop their skill and comfort level. But what I like best is your notion that having the whoile family together during the first few weeks helps build a collaborative parenting relationship between mom and dad. In this way, dads are seen as equally important parents and rise to that role.

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