Even when they get paid time off, new dads don’t use it. Here’s why they should.
Jason Klein* works for one of the biggest tech companies in the world—a company with a generous paternity leave policy, where employees are actually encouraged to take advantage of their paid time off. And yet, he returned to work with almost two weeks of paid paternity leave remaining. “I had a biggish project coming together that I didn't want to miss,” he confesses. "And as a leader, I felt a responsibility to my team, and I didn't want to be absent when I was asking them to do a final push."
Jason is one of the lucky ones. At his office, men typically take 4-6 weeks of paid leave to welcome a new baby into the world. Yet many end up using less than the full 12 weeks they’re entitled to.
It’s a puzzling pattern that happens across the globe: Even when men are given generous paid paternity leave, they don’t use it.
Take Norway, for example. Fathers are eligible for 14 weeks of paid leave, yet only about 18 percent take it. In nearby Sweden, it’s a similar story. Dads get three months, and only a quarter of them use it to spend time with their families. In Iceland, where they get five months, a third of dads stay home.
In the United States, paid paternity leave is uncommon. Only 13 percent of men collect a paycheck when they take time off after the birth of a child, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, which means most new dads end up using a few days of sick or vacation leave. When mom heads home from the hospital, they head back to work. And when they do get paid leave, like Jason, they often leave some of it (or all of it) on the table.
Some men fear falling behind at work, or looking like they’re not a team player. According to a survey by Deloitte, 36% said they would not use their paid parental leave benefits because they're afraid it might jeopardize their position at work. And 54% of respondents said that their colleagues would judge a man more than a woman for taking the same amount of parental leave.
That’s due in part, no doubt, to cultural norms that ascribe baby care to women. A recent episode of ABC’s Blackish, aptly titled Manternity, illustrates the point perfectly. When Dre announces to his male colleagues that he plans to take paternity leave, they erupt in dubious laughter. Dre’s boss delivers one of the scene’s most on-the-nose jokes: “What’s a man going to do with a baby? Hold it?”
The answer is, of course, yes. New moms would love some help holding that baby. But it’s just one reason why men should take paternity leave when they get it. There are plenty of other important ones, too:
1. You’ll help end inequality. The motherhood penalty is real. Moms are less likely to get hired and promoted than non-mothers, and they make less money, too. And it begins when they take maternity leave. Imagine a boss has a big project to assign. He can give it to expectant-mom Jane, who will be taking 12 weeks of leave in a few months, or he can give it expectant-dad Joe, who will be taking 5 days of paid leave. We all know how this story ends: Joe gets the big project, which puts him on track for a promotion and a raise next year. But if Joe also takes 12 weeks, it’s a nonissue.
2. Women want to be team players, too. You know those fears you have that you’ll look like a less dedicated employee? Your wife has the same concerns when it comes to her career. If your wife needs to head back early to take care of a big project, tell her to go for it.
3. You’ll be proof that men can take care of babies, too. This is crucial because “women’s work” is consistently undervalued. If more men start taking care of babies, it shows the world that it’s an important job that deserves to be recognized, financially and otherwise.
4. Longer leaves mean more father-kid bonding. According to a Department of Labor policy brief, one study of working fathers in the U.S. found that those who took leaves of two weeks or more were much more likely to be actively involved in their child’s care nine months after birth—including feeding, changing diapers, and getting up in the night.
5. It makes you happier. The same brief notes that studies from other countries have confirmed that fathers who take more paternity leave have higher satisfaction with parenting and increased engagement in caring for their children.
6. It makes your kid smarter. Another nugget from the brief: A study of four developed countries, including the United States, found that kids whose dads took longer paternity leaves and spent more time caring for them as young children had higher cognitive test scores.
7. It makes you a better partner. Canadian researchers found that dads who took a full paternity leave devoted 23 percent more of their time to household chores—even one to three years after their leave ended (perhaps because they have first-hand experience with just how challenging managing both a home and baby can be).
8. It makes your wife happier. I have no scientific evidence to back up this statement, but please see No. 4 and No. 7 for proof.
So Dads, we’re begging you: If you get paid paternity leave, take it. All of it. You’ll be doing a good thing for your baby, your partner—and for equality.
*name changed for anonymity
Written by Audrey Goodson Kingo for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.