Here’s a sad fact: When a new dad doesn’t get paid paternity leave to spend time with his baby in the first few months because he’s too busy putting in hours at the office, he’s relegated to “the role of supporting actor,” according to research from the Boston College Center for Work & Family. And no one wants to play that part when they could instead costar alongside an adored leading lady—a.k.a. mom.
The problem is that, historically, Americans have not seemed to care very much about paid paternity leave. In our grandparents’ day, the men made the money and the women took care of the babies. Currently, the U.S. offers zero weeks of federally required paid parental leave. That's right, zero.
Research suggests that paid paternity leave offers a host of benefits for the entire family. Fathers are more likely to take an active role in their baby's life after paternity leave has ended, children of dads who have taken paternity leave do better in school, and the help with childcare has a positive effect on the mother's career.
Amidst the research, the times are a-changin’…kinda. A Pew Research study released in March found that a vast majority of people between the ages of 18 and 49 thought dads should be able to take off from work with pay following the birth or adoption of their child. However, the nation is still divided when it comes to the way we think about gender roles and caregiving, with 53 percent of people surveyed agreeing that women do a better job at childcare than men. The researchers stated, "Attitudes about gender roles and caregiving are linked, at least in part, to views about the impact of paid leave on men," and that 53 percent of all adults believe American society values the contribution men make at work more than contributions they make at home.
Although 61 percent of the people who believe women rank above men in childcare supported paternity leave and almost every participant conceded that if paid paternal leave were offered, individuals, families, and the economy would all be positively impacted—employers (and the country as a whole) haven’t jumped on the bandwagon. Only 17 percent of employers offered any type of paid parental leave in 2016, reports the Society for Human Resource Management. Among them, unsurprisingly, are some of the more progressive companies in the country, such as Apple, Google, and American Express.
Families have changed a lot in the last couple of generations, says Jennifer Sabatini Fraone, the director of corporate partnerships at Boston College Center for Work & Family, and the number of single parents and families with two moms or two dads has certainly grown. Plus, many couples have shifted away from those traditional gender roles that pegged mom as the caregiver and dad as the breadwinner.
“The old policies that we have don’t really work for today’s families,” she says. “There’s a lot of opportunity for improvement across the board and for many different industries and businesses that are small and large to be thinking about this.”
Paternity leave as its own thing is going by the wayside in favor of gender-neutral leave plans, Fraone says. These are popping up in private companies, but some states, including California, Rhode Island, and New Jersey, have already adopted these policies. “Under these new parental-leave policies, what they’re trying to do is treat both of the parents equally," she says. "It acknowledges that both parents play a role in caregiving and that they both need time to bond with their child, and it shouldn’t depend on parents’ gender how much time they get.”
“Should it really depend on who your employer is, whether you get this kind of support or not? Or should we as a society and as a country care enough about the well-being of our families to make sure that everyone has access to this type of benefit?” Fraone says. “It’s oftentimes the people in the lower income bracket who don’t have access because their employer doesn’t offer this who need it the most.”
When fathers can take leave to spend time with their new babies, the whole family benefits: The baby will be healthier both mentally and physically, mom is more likely to go back to work and earn necessary income, and Dad is more likely to be more involved and a better hands-on caregiver in the long run. Paid parental leave is a win-win for everyone.
For more (and a cute video!), turn to Catfish's Nev Schulman and (then-pregnant) fiancée Laura Perlongo as they make a poolside plea to the public to get on board with paid paternity leave in the video below!