Is A Long Paternity Leave A Good Idea?

paternity leave necessary fathers dads

In the U.K., there's a proposal afoot to allow either parent to get a parental allowance for most of the first year of a child's life. Currently, (if I'm reading the U.K.'s literature right) mothers get the first 6 weeks at 90 percent pay, and then can take the next 33 weeks at a state allowance (that's the equivalent of about $200 to $250 per week, depending on the exchange rate). They can transfer the allowance to fathers after 6 months. The new rules would fit more into the Marissa Mayer model of modern motherhood. If mom only wants to take a few weeks off, and dad is doing primary parent duty, why can't he collect the parental allowance right away?

It seems like a straightforward bit of revising laws to be gender neutral, with some safeguards. In response to concerns from various non-profits that work with single mothers, the mother will have to actively assign the benefits to the father. (You don't get benefits just for having fathered a child; you have to actually be caring for the baby.)

Interestingly, David Cameron is promoting shared parental leave partly to combat the most obvious side effect of the burden that long maternity leaves put on employers: You just don't hire women in their 20s and 30s. In talking about the idea, Cameron termed this employment discrimination "completely unacceptable and one of the ways to make it not only morally, but economically, unacceptable is to have more shared parental leave." While you might be able to avoid hiring young women, it gets difficult to avoid hiring men who might father children.

More: Can You Get A Job When You're Pregnant?

If one is going to have long parental leaves, I have no quibble with offering them to either parent. But what seldom gets discussed in articles on this topic is that long parental leaves are not an unmitigated positive for parents of either gender. The data are pretty clear in the U.S. that when women take even a few years out of the workforce, they suffer quite a penalty upon return. Part of this is because they have trouble finding an equivalent job, which would not be a problem in a parental leave situation (like in the U.K.), where the job is protected. But part of that penalty is also that your skills and network start to decline the longer you are out of the workforce. If you have two children two years apart, and take a year off with each, that's two years during a three-year period that you could be out. Why wouldn't this have an effect on your career trajectory? And indeed, while some folks see Sweden, with its long maternity leaves, as a feminist utopia, the proportion of female managers in the private sector is lower there than in the U.S.

Splitting leaves between parents might be one way to mitigate the damage. Each parent takes three to four months, which would not only lead to more equitable parenting, it would reduce the burden on any given business (covering a long leave is often tricky for small employers). But a father taking much of a year off for paternity leave would likely see similar effects to his career as a mother would to hers.

Some folks will find that trade-off worthwhile. But in the long run, more flexible thinking about combining work and family might make the whole question of the exact length of leave less relevant for at least some portion of women and men. By working from home, I've been able to nurse my three kids for the first year of life. By setting my own hours, I've been able to spend lots of time with them while still working close to full-time after the first six weeks or so. Not all jobs can be done from home, of course, or at any particular time, but many more can be done that way than are. And as they are, certain notions of what it means to be at work, or at home, start to change -- for parents of either gender.





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9 Comments

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Kevin

I think their should be an allowance for people who choose to be single and have no children. There should be "singles leave." We get the short end of the stick all the way around. I just don't understand it. We use less resources, but pay higher income taxes

November 06 2012 at 1:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
LauraD

I worked full time with both children and nursed both of them into their 3rd year of life. It can be done, it simply takes planning and at times, not letting your boss know you are nursing. Why should they know what you are doing in the bathroom? Took me 15 minutes flat 3 times a day with practice, and I went back to work with both children when they were each 7 weeks old.

And to those who say "you must tell your employer that you are nursing", I did tell the first, which resulted in yelling at me to hurry up outside the bathroom door and charges of "not getting my full 40 hours out of you." At the same time, men in my office would take 5-6 smoke breaks per day in addition to their lunch breaks, each lasting 10-15 minutes. At least my time was spent preventing my son from getting sick (passing on my immunities) so that I would not be out of work, instead of insuring that I would become more and more sick as time went on.

Perhaps this does not happen as much today. It was 15 and 11 years ago this year. But based on my current workplace, my boss would act THE EXACT SAME WAY.

October 22 2012 at 12:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
lklex

If child-rearing leave is offered to women, to deny men that option/benefit is rank sex discrimination -- plain and simple.

October 19 2012 at 4:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gigolost

One should also then ask how much higher their taxes will be to support this. It is higher than here. You will find the tax rates are significantly higher in those countries....the benefit will come with a price.

October 19 2012 at 12:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
qaqs9000

We are the only country in the developed world that does not have it. We have become a third world country because the republicans want it that way. Power over the people is the cry of the rich and uber wealthy.

October 19 2012 at 3:56 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to qaqs9000's comment
J's Damsel

Calm down. We are not a third world country and Republicans don't want us to be. "Power over the people" is the democrat government, not Republican. There are plenty of rich democrats, too.

October 19 2012 at 9:29 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Hitmanblues

No it i not, it is an excuse for people wanting to be paid for staying at home more than working.

October 18 2012 at 8:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
phpoling

It's up to moms who had babies if they wanted to have a long paternity leave. It sure give moms a time to lose weight and bonding with their babies and husbands. I know one mom who came back after four weeks looked like she didn't have baby back to normal body lucky her!

October 18 2012 at 7:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
lklex

Distilled to its essence, not allowing men child-rearing leave on the SAME basis as women is flagrant sex discrimination against men...And, it should be recognized and condemned as such.

October 18 2012 at 3:51 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

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