New fathers take under a week of paid parental leave if any at all

While a majority of Americans support fathers receiving paid parental leave, few men take advantage of such programs, and those who do take only one week or less, according to a new study from Ball State University. “Paid Paternity Leave-Taking in the United States,” a study led by Ball State sociology professor Richard Petts, found current U.S. paternity leave policies seem to limit access and contribute to inequality between men and women.

“Paternity leave is especially important to study because it represents a version of family leave-taking that is rare in comparison to maternity leave, yet it offers substantial possibilities for alleviating work-family conflicts and encouraging increased father involvement, mothers’ well-being, and gender equity in the divisions of domestic and paid labor responsibilities,” Petts said. “This study expands prior research on paternity leave as well as confirms previous findings.”

National data used.

The Ball State research findings are based on data taken from three national studies, including the 2012 General Social Survey (GSS), which contains reports on attitudes about family leave. In addition, two national longitudinal studies offer information on paid paternity leave-taking: the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCW) and the National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1997 (NLSY97).

Key findings.

The research includes these key findings:

  • A majority support paid parental leave for fathers: 54 percent of all GSS respondents, including 47 percent of male respondents.
  • Among fathers who take paid leave, most take one week or less. Only 14 percent of fathers who take leave use more than two weeks.
  • Men with higher levels of income are more likely to take paid leave and spend longer periods of time with newborns.
  • Fathers who work part-time are less likely to take paid leave and take shorter leaves.
  • Fathers who engaged in parenting activities prior to the child’s birth were more likely to take paid leave, and longer periods of leave, than fathers who were not involved prenatally.

“Fathers with higher incomes are more likely to be in a financial position that allows them to take time off work when a new child is born,” Petts said. “This privileged position may suggest that the opportunity cost of taking leave is higher for fathers with high incomes than for fathers with lower incomes—especially if wage replacement is less than 100 percent. Alternatively, higher incomes may be linked to greater benefits and autonomy in one’s career.”

Workplace leave benefits.

All high-income countries, except the U.S., have national policies mandating paid maternity leave. The only U.S. policy that includes provisions for parental leave is the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave after childbirth or other family or medical reasons. Petts observed that because the U.S. does not offer statutory paid paternity leave, access is overwhelmingly dependent on workplace policies.

“This structure exacerbates the diverging destinies of families because more advantaged fathers have greater access and abilities to take paid leave than less advantaged fathers,” Petts said. “Future research should further assess the consequences of these disparities and examine the ways in which paternity leave-taking may influence families. Such knowledge will be important as policymakers seek to determine how changes in family leave policies may benefit American families.”

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