Dads want paid leave too — and they use it when they get it

It’s not just the employees who want paid family leave; employers consistently back family leave as well

Published June 17, 2018 8:00AM (EDT)

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Paid family leave is one of the few issues these days that most of us can agree is a good idea. As numerous studies have shown, providing time for a working mother to bond with and nurture her child has innumerable benefits for the child, mother and employers. But on this Father’s Day, we have a message for policymakers considering a national leave law: Dads want paid leave too.

The United States is one of the few industrialized nations that doesn’t provide paid family leave. What’s worse, in a country where an estimated 40 percent of workers do not have access to any job-protected leave at all, paternity leave often takes a back seat to maternity leave.

The lack of paid family leave policies at the federal and state levels is a peculiar oversight: Public opinion polling shows that Americans strongly support paid family leave and, importantly, that younger Americans strongly back paternity leave. Politicians appear to be getting the message, as President Donald Trump, his daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump, and elected officials from both parties have offered plans to make paid leave more widely available. But beyond public opinion and political support, there are more definitive signs that paid family leave will succeed.

First, fathers of all income levels will seize the opportunity to take time away from work to bond with their newborn or newly adopted children. We analyzed the first decade of California’s first-in-the-nation gender-neutral paid leave policy, which was introduced in 2004. The law, which offers up to six weeks of paid leave with a modest wage replacement rate of 55 percent, resulted in a 46 percent increase in fathers' taking a week of leave over the law’s first 10 years.

Fathers make up a growing share of all California leave claims. Over the first decade of the policy, research found that the share of California men making paid family leave claims increased from 19.6 percent of claims in 2005 to about 30 percent of claims by 2013. California fathers also take more leave than fathers in other states. One finding that surprised us: A significant percentage of California fathers took leave while mothers returned to work. Among households with two married and employed parents, about half of increased claims were driven by fathers taking leave at the same time as the child’s mother and the other half by fathers who take leave on their own, while the mother is at work.

Second, it’s not just the employees who want paid family leave. Employers of all sizes consistently back family leave as well. California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York are the first four states to provide paid family leave to employees, and our findings in three of those states show strong support among employers. Beyond parental leave, these laws also cover situations when a worker misses time to care for a seriously ill child, spouse or parent, because family responsibilities don’t end with maternity and paternity.

Rhode Island, whose Temporary Caregiver Insurance policy became law in 2014, provides up to four weeks of wages to employees who require time away from work to care for a seriously ill family member. We surveyed small- and medium-size food services and manufacturing employers in Rhode Island about the impacts of the TCI on profitability and employee productivity. We expected that if any employers would be adversely affected, it would be small firms in these fast-paced environments. But we found that a solid majority — 61 percent — favored or strongly favored the program (with just under 25 percent opposed and about 15 percent neutral).

We’ve also surveyed more than 1,200 small- and medium-size employers in New Jersey, which has had its law in place since 2009, and another 1,200 in New York, where a new law went into effect earlier this year. This survey included businesses across all industries and the findings echoed the results of the Rhode Island survey. In New Jersey, 63 percent of small- and medium-size employers were very or somewhat supportive of their state’s program. New York employers were equally supportive, with 63 percent either strongly or somewhat supportive of their upcoming program. Interestingly, in both states there were no significant differences across firms of different sizes, nor between firms with different proportions of part-time or female employees. Another team of researchers looking at California employers found largely positive attitudes toward the law.

An estimated 12 percent of private-sector workers have access to paid family leave through their employers. That number will go up in 2020 when Washington state and Washington, D.C., implement programs as well. Based on our research, we expect that a sincere and honest attempt to enact paid family leave will likely draw wide support. As we work as a nation to have this important conversation, it’s vital we make sure that all parents have the ability and time to nurture their kids. Our future, and theirs, depends on it.

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By Ann Bartel

Ann Bartel is the Merrill Lynch Professor of Workforce Transformation at Columbia Business School; Maya Rossin-Slater is an Assistant Professor at Stanford University; Christopher Ruhm is a Professor of Public Policy and Economics at the University of Virginia; Jenna Stearns is an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of California, Davis; and Jane Waldfogel is a Professor of Social Work and Public Affairs at Columbia School of Social Work.

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