Modern families need a push for paternity leave
Nov 29, 2015
The question “Can women have it all?” comes up more frequently in public discussion. Women are gaining equal footing with men in the workplace, yet the onus is still on them for childcare and housework. Balancing responsibilities at work and home is a herculean task. Yet the question seems to forget men. It assumes that even as women enter the workforce, they are still responsible for the majority of housework. This idea just reinforces gender roles that expect women to be homemakers and men breadwinners. Men should be able to take up more of the role of homemakers, but men who attempt to do so face massive stigma.
In the workplace, men who try to take bigger role in childcare have to deal with judgments from the colleagues and bosses. Many companies do not even offer paternity leave, so whatever leave fathers may take is a mishmash of sick days and vacation days. Even with companies that offer paternity leave, men face a corporate culture that severely discourages taking time off for family. Men who asked for family leave were perceived as more feminine and were more likely to suffer negative career consequences. Corporate attitudes towards parental leave also reinforce traditional gender roles. Fathers make on average 6 percent more than their childless male colleagues, and mothers make on average 4 percent less than their childless female colleagues. Researchers credit this to the expectation that the fathers would work harder to provide for the family while mothers would take more time off to take care of the families. For example, when fathers ask for family leave, they suffer even greater wage losses than mothers who ask for family leave. These outdated expectations result in fathers not utilizing the family leave they are offered, often taking less than a week of paternity leave.
Yet when men take long paternity leaves, they are more likely to take an equitable share of household duties and child care. They are also much more involved with their children throughout their life and longer paternity leave correlates with better outcomes for children. The University of Oslo has shown early fatherly involvement leads to high performance in secondary school, particularly among girls. Furthermore, girls whose fathers were more involved with housework and childcare are more ambitious in their careers and less afraid of going into male dominated industries. And women whose husbands take long paternity leaves have a reduced risk of postpartum depression and higher career earnings.
Greater involvement in the family by fathers lead to better outcomes for everyone involved. It challenges gender norms and passes on important lessons about equality to children. True gender equality is unattainable until the stigma against men taking on traditionally feminine roles stops.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 30 print edition. Email Shiva Darshan at [email protected]