Changing The Stigma of Paternity Leave, One Dad At A Time

father with baby

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made headlines recently for taking extended paternity leave after the birth of his daughter. However, most American men do not take more than a few days. A study found that ninety-six percent of American men are back to work within two weeks of a baby's birth.

A new study by Gordon Dahl, an economist at The University of California looked at the paternity leave trends in Norway where fathers take much more paternity leave than fathers in America. The researchers looked at the possible stigma attached to taking time off from work. "What if I take paternity leave, will I not get the next promotion? Or will people think I'm not as connected to the workplace? Am I kind of signaling that I don't care about work enough?' "

Researchers studied paternity leave policies in Norway, where a generation ago men took long paternity leave at the same rate as American men. Then, in 1993, Norway changed the law. After every birth, working parents still got eight months of paid leave to split among themselves, but four weeks were added just for dad. Overnight, paternity leave take-up went from about 3 percent to 35 percent of fathers. Then an even more surprising thing happened. Gradually, the number of men taking paternity leave grew up 70 percent. 

The study found that if a new father had a co-worker would take leave, then he was 11 percentage points more likely to take leave himself. If he had a brother who took leave, a new father was 15 percentage points more likely to take leave.

America's paternity and maternity leave policies are way behind the rest of the world. Currently, 41 states in the United States follow the federal guidelines for unpaid leave, which applies to private companies with at least 50 employees. This law offers 12 weeks of leave per year to care for a family member or the employee's own health. Six states and D.C. expanded the amount of unpaid family leave and the classes of family members whose care is covered under the leave law. Only three states offer paid family leave and expanded unpaid leave. The paid leave programs in these three states are funded through employee-paid payroll taxes.

There is still hope for America! Something similar to Norway may be brewing in California, where paid leave has been available to working parents since 2004. Facebook may be starting a trend where men will start taking more leave when they see their fellow coworkers doing so. 

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