They May Get a Day, but for Many Fathers, Paternity Leave Is Still Hard to Take

They May Get a Day, but for Many Fathers, Paternity Leave Is Still Hard to Take

With Father’s Day just around the corner, a handful of new studies came out this week highlighting the challenges dads often face when it comes to taking time off to nurture their newborn children. While employees in many countries have come to expect maternity leave as a standard benefit, the availability, amount, and acceptance of paid paternity leave still lags. Looking at the government policy level, according to a new analysis from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), there are still 92 countries—including the United States—where there is no national policy mandating paid paternity leave for fathers, affecting an estimated two thirds of the world’s children under the age of one.

The paternity leave data came from the World Policy Analysis Center, which has published an interactive map and chart where it can sorted by region and national income level, as well as compared against maternity leave data. Not surprisingly, the gender gap between paid parental leave policies is significant, as very few countries—including the US— don’t mandate paid maternity leave.

Most organizations do offer both maternity and paternity leave, however, and typically more than the amount required by law. Gender-neutral parental leave policies are becoming more popular as well, as are lawsuits accusing organizations of discriminating against men when it comes to unequal parental leave benefits. But when paternity leave is available, men often perceive a stigma around taking it. A new survey from Promundo and Dove Men+Care of more than 1,700 US adults has highlighted this dynamic, finding that while men and women say they want to be equally involved in raising their children, men don’t feel comfortable taking paternity leave because they are worried about how prioritizing their children will be perceived by others, particularly at work:

73% of dads agree there is little workplace support for fathers, and one in five men (21%) stated they were afraid of losing their job if they took the full amount of paternity leave offered. They would change jobs to spend more time with their children (69% of fathers). They want parental leave. They want to take parental leave. They want the best for their children. They are more satisfied with their lives (87% vs. 50%), including their sex lives (77% vs. 44%), when they can be the caregivers they want to be. What holds them back? They worry what others will think if they prioritize their children over work (76% of fathers say they would have to work at least a little during any parental leave). They worry that their income, and their family’s income, will suffer if they take parental leave.

Among the respondents, the fathers who took more leave were the ones who reported having more control over their work lives and worked for employers that offered parental leave programs. (But fathers who managed other employees took less leave.) And most men and women assumed that fathers would be somehow stigmatized, and not just by managers and coworkers, but by friends and parents too. When it comes to the evolution of American fatherhood, the survey indicates there is still much work to be done in addressing these assumptions.

Promundo’s findings also line up with recent research out of Scotland, where fathers are allowed two weeks of paid paternity leave, but less than one in five takes much more than that, as study author Alison Koslowski explains in the Harvard Business Review:

78% of Scottish fathers take some leave after the birth of a child, but only 18% take more than a couple of weeks. And that means 22% do not take any time at all. Low-income fathers are even less likely to take meaningful time off, fearing how deeply unpaid or reduced-pay time off would impact their family’s financial survival. We estimate that only 43% of those in the bottom income quintile take any leave after their child is born.

Men’s use of the UK’s Shared Parental Leave policy, which allows mothers or “lead parents” to divide up to a year of parental leave between them and their partners, has also been low across the three years it has been in effect. (A UK government report in February found that take up of Shared Parental Leave was as low as two percent.) Critics blame the low participation on a lack of awareness of the policy, on the stigma against fathers being more devoted to their children than work, and on fathers being financially disincentivized to use the program.

There are incentives for organizations, however. The Scottish study concluded, as others have, that fathers who felt their parenting was supported by their employers were more engaged employees and easier to retain, possibly balancing out the costs of offering more paid family leave, as well as helping to reduce the “motherhood penalty” women face when they have children. To make sure fathers use their benefits, Koslowski says employers should have systems in place to cover fathers’ job responsibilities when they take leave, offer flexible work programs, and ensure that managers are supportive of work-life balance efforts.

Our research at CEB, now Gartner, has also found that employees are less likely to use their parental leave benefits if they don’t see middle and upper management using them. In addition, our research has found that increasing paternity leave benefits, which are less expected, has a slightly greater impact on employees’ perceptions of rewards than increasing maternity leave ones. Paternity leave is, however, a more expected benefit among millennials—who care about it 35 percent more than other employees.

CEB Total Rewards Leadership Council members can view our detailed data on parental leave and rewards perceptions here.