Men who take paternity leave are more likely to have longer relationships with their partner, according to a new study.
Researchers examined data from a previous longitudinal study on 14,000 children and their families in the U.S., which followed the families from the time of their child’s birth in 2001 through to kindergarten.
The study, originally published in the Journal of Social Policy in November 2019, found that fathers who take paternity leave have greater relationship stability — even if the leave is shorter than two weeks.
In fact, men who took time off from work after the birth of their child were 25 per cent less likely to see their relationship end in the next six years.
Researchers determined that paternity leave strengthened both a father’s relationship with his newborn child and his relationship with his partner.
“Workplace culture and gender norms emphasize the importance of always being available to work, leaving many people (men especially) to feel that they cannot take (or cannot take a long period) of time off when their child is born,” Dr. Richard Petts said in a statement.
He’s a co-author of the study and a professor of sociology at Ball State University in Indiana.
“Workplaces need to become more supportive of men taking leave (especially if they offer paternity leave), as evidence suggests that offering and using paid leave increases worker productivity and loyalty.”
Petts hopes the study will urge U.S. policymakers to reconsider rules regarding paternal leave.
“Everyone has an adult lifetime to work, but only one opportunity to spend time with a newborn child,” he said.
The U.S. is one of three countries in the world that doesn’t offer statutory paid maternity leave, according to the International Labour Organization. Currently, new mothers are only offered up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, and new fathers aren’t allowed any.
The policy is slightly better in Canada. New parents — mothers and fathers — are allowed up to 78 weeks of parental leave, and the limit expands to 86 weeks when the leave is shared between both parents.
The new rules, known as the “use-it-or-lose-it” policy, were instituted in March 2019 in an effort to encourage more fathers to take paternity leave.
The policy allows the “other parent” in two-parent families to take an extra five to eight weeks of parental leave, and it applies to both the 35-week and the 61-week parental leave options. (This includes heterosexual, adoptive and same-sex couples.)
However, rates of dads taking paternity leave remain relatively low.
A 2019 report involving nearly 12,000 people in seven countries found fewer than half of men took the full time offered after birth or adoption. Canadian men were the most likely to take no time off, citing financial worries.
Maternity leave can hurt a woman’s career
According to Tammy Schirle, a professor of economics at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., there is evidence that motherhood affects women’s paycheques.
“There’s been a large number of studies showing that having a child has long-term negative implications for women’s earnings,” Schirle previously told Global News.
Time taken away from work may mean “giving up opportunities for training and promotion,” Schirle said. This, in turn, can impact a woman’s earnings.
“In some workplaces, a maternity or parental leave might be frowned upon,” she said. “That is a reality for many parents that might affect their chances for promotion.”
Research backs this up. Another recent study out of Wilfrid Laurier University iN Waterloo, Ont. found extended parental leave can hurt women’s careers.
The study found women who take mat leave for longer than 12 months are often seen by managers as less ambitious or dedicated to their job. (It’s also important to note that extended parental leave can pose financial problems for parents, too.)
The “motherhood penalty” is one of many factors related to the gender pay gap, according to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, and it’s important to note that women of colour, Indigenous women, new Canadians and women with a disability may be affected even more.
Schirle also points out that women view motherhood and their careers differently. Not every woman wants to return to the workforce after giving birth, whereas some professionals want to return as soon as possible.
“While it used to be the case that women generally worked to supplement the family income, women now build their own careers and are often the higher earner in the family,” Schirle explained.
“I tend to think about maternity leave in the context of women building careers, but it’s important to consider women with less attachment to the labour force as well. In the latter group, some will have very precarious employment prospects, while others have stable options they are quite happy with.”
Gender equality in the workplace
The recent policy change was intended to “promote greater gender equality,” according to a press release by Employment and Social Development Canada.
“Encouraging all parents to be engaged in full-time caregiving for their infants will help to create greater financial security for women and stronger bonds between fathers or second parents and their babies,” said Maryam Monsef, minister of women and gender equality.
According to a report by the Globe and Mail, it seems to be working.
Between March and October 2018, 81,480 men took parental leave. After the new policy went into effect, the number increased to 96,940 for the same period in 2019.
— With files from Laura Hensley