Men & Paid Family Leave: Will Fathers' Days Off Ever Catch Up?
One gift that most fathers in the U.S. did not get on Father’s Day? Paid paternity or family leave. Read about the current state of paternity leave and find out where men, women and policies stand on caregiving.
New Dads: U.S. Lags in Paid Paternity Leave
When it comes to paid time off for new fathers, the U.S. is way behind. Out of 195 countries, we’re one of 92 without a national policy that allows dads to take paid time off work to care for their newborns. And only seven other countries have no national law that guarantees paid parental leave for either mothers or fathers.1 The Family Medical Leave Act just guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new parents — and that protection doesn’t apply to 41% of workers.2
Compare the lack of paternity leave in the U.S. with some of the world’s leaders:
- Germany — up to 14 months with 65% of salary3
- Finland — 8 paid weeks4
- Sweden — 480 days at 80% of salary, split between parents, with 90 days reserved for dads4
What’s more, European fathers actually use their leave. In Sweden, 88% of dads took an average of 91 days of parental leave. And in Iceland, 96% of fathers took paid leave an average of 99 days.2
Nine out of 10 American dads do manage to squeeze in some time off following the birth of a child, even if it’s unpaid.2 But about seven-in-10 fathers who take paternity leave return to work within two weeks. In contrast — the median length of maternity leave was 11 weeks.5
Paternity Leave Isn’t a Luxury — It’s Essential
The birth of a child is one of life’s biggest milestones — and the first few weeks following birth are crucial for parent-baby bonding. Both moms and dads need that time to connect and build their new-parent skills, from diaper changes to sharing their baby’s first experiences.
Plus, dads who take parental leave are more likely to be involved in parenting for the long run. They also experience measurable benefits, ranging from better relationships with their partners to a healthier heart and longer life.2 And when dads take leave, their children tend to be healthier and their partners have less depression and higher earnings.6
Pressure and Commitment to Work
A study on “The New Dad” revealed that many men feel a “tug of commitment” that makes it hard to break away from work projects and deadlines to take time off with a new baby.7 In another survey, more people said that employers put greater pressure on fathers to return to work quickly than they do on mothers.5 Other key findings:
- 59% of fathers say they wish they’d taken more time off from work following the birth or adoption of their child.5
- A majority of Americans (71%) think it’s important for new babies to have equal time to bond with their mothers and their fathers.5
Policies Are Changing — One State and One Employer at a Time
Overall, the research shows there’s still a big disconnect between public opinion, policies and personal choices. But some companies and states do have policies and legislation in place — or in the works — to provide paid protected time for new fathers.
Dads are also winning in court by speaking up. This case settled in May 2019 is a great example. One new father sued after his employer said that men aren’t primary caregivers. He won, and a class-action settlement followed. Now more companies are updating their policies to match federal law that requires equal paid parental leave for men and women.8
Transitions in Caregiving and Attitudes About Family Leave
An increasing number of infants live in homes where all parents are working — growing from just 20% in 1976 to 50% in 2016. That’s due to the long-term rise in U.S. women who work, especially among mothers.5
This shift means that caregiving responsibilities now extend to both women and men — although time spent caring for children is far from equal yet. Fathers now spend about seven hours a week, while moms spend 15. In contrast, women and men are almost equally likely to be providing care for older adults.5
Attitudes about paid leave are evolving, too, although significant differences remain based on factors such as gender, age and political values. For example, 78% of people who say that mothers and fathers do an equally good job caring for a new baby express support for paid paternity leave. And half say universal paid leave would have a very positive impact on men.
In general, people with more gender-balanced views on caregiving are far more supportive of both paid paternity leave and universal paid leave for men.5
Broader Support for Universal Paid Leave for Caregiving
Compared to paternity leave, there’s more agreement about the impact of universal paid leave for men: 88% of Americans say it would be at least somewhat positive. And 59% say men and women would do an equally good job caring for a family member with a serious health condition.5
What’s Next for Men, Women and Everyone?
Recently passed and proposed state and federal legislation is trending towards universal paid leave for caregiving, as well as paid sick leave. That makes increasing sense — based on workforce and generational trends. The need and desire to care for loved ones is universal and ongoing, from birth to our final years.
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