Assessing the Impact of Paid (Paternity) Leave

The amount of publicly-funded, paid family leave in the United States is significantly lower than that of other countries. Currently, only three US states finance some kind of paid parental leave: New Jersey, Rhode Island, and California. The California Paid Family Leave (CA-PFL) program, the first of its kind in the US, provides paid parental leave, for up to six weeks after the birth of a child, to every father and mother who has been employed for over 12 months in his or her current job.

Although most literature focuses on maternity leave and its impact on the labor market for women, recent studies show that men struggle with work-family balance as much as women do, or even more. The discussion around paternity leave is open, with figures such as Mark Zuckerberg publicly announcing their leave when their sons and daughters are born. A new NBER paper by Ann Bartel and colleagues provides insight into the effects of parental leave programs on fathers of newly born or recently adopted children. The findings show that fathers are more likely to take time off to care for their children when they have access to parental leave programs such as CA-PFL.

According to the study, prior to CA-PFL being implemented, only 1.99 percent of dads in California chose to take time off of work to share in the first weeks of their child’s life. Research shows that fathers who take leave and participate in childcare activities tend to be more involved in childcare in the future. Similarly, other studies show that the availability of PFL has a positive effect on long-term parental involvement. Policymakers have been looking for ways to promote leave among fathers when their children are born, and the implementation of gender-neutral family policies may help to reach that goal. At the same time, these policies may provide important benefits for women in labor market outcomes, particularly by addressing the gender wage gap.

The study by Bartel et al. seeks to explain whether policies like CA-PFL accomplish their goal of increasing fathers’ participation in family leave. The authors use data from the 2000 US census and two iterations of the American Community Survey, from 2000 and 2013. The study compares the leave-taking of fathers in California before and after CA-PFL, and compares fathers in California to fathers in other states without a paternity leave program. Through this difference-in-difference approach, the authors aim to describe a possible causal relationship between CA-PFL and the leave-taking of fathers.

When comparing recent fathers in California who were eligible for CA-PFL with fathers who had children before CA-PFL, the authors find a statistically significant 46 percent increase in the share of fathers who took time off of work, relative to the average leave-taking rate before the program was implemented. Half of the increase in leave-taking rates consists of fathers who are taking leave at the same time as mothers; the other half of the increase comes from cases in which only the father is taking leave, while the mother is still at work. These results show that leave-taking among fathers increases when programs such as the CA-PFL are offered.

Additionally, fathers appear to be much more likely to take leave when their first child is born than when their other children are born. The authors also note that fathers take more paternity leave when their work colleagues are predominantly women, probably because in female-dominated occupations, there is less stigma associated with taking leave.

The study suggests that programs like the CA-PFL succeed in their goal of increasing the number of fathers who take leave when their children are born. However, the study also suggests that the absolute number of leave-taking fathers is still very low. Therefore, promoting paternity leave may be more difficult than it seems, as the reason for fathers not taking leave may include not only monetary factors but also the societal stereotypes associated with childcare. Policies promoting paternal leave may not be enough to change societal norms regarding leave-taking shares between mothers and fathers—the Mark Zuckerburgs of the world may be better able to shape public opinion and people’s understanding of paid paternity leave—but policy changes can lay a necessary foundation for increased paternal leave.

Article Source: Bartel, Ann, Maya Rossin-Slater, Christopher Ruhm, Jenna Stearns, and Jane Waldfogel. “Paid Family Leave, Fathers’ Leave-Taking, and Leave-Sharing in Dual-Earner Households.” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 21747, 2015.

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Adelaida Correa Miranda
Adelaida ('17) is a staff writer for Child & Family. She is interested in family affairs and international development.

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