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NextGen Magazine


More Companies Offering Paternity Leave, But Struggle to Get New Dads to Take It

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Jul 11, 2018

Recognizing that dads want to spend time with their babies too, more companies are offering paternity leave to new fathers, but despite the introduction of these policies, only a small minority actually take advantage of them, according to the Wall Street Journal. While companies like Facebook, American Express and Twitter all encourage new fathers to take leave, academic research says that only about 14 percent of men actually do when it is available to them.

Many, it seems, are concerned about what taking leave will do to their careers: in a survey of 1,000 workers, a third said they were worried that taking time off to care for a newborn would negatively impact their career advancement and more than half were afraid it showed a lack of commitment to their jobs. This is apparently a global phenomena, as research in other parts of the country have shown similar results. While men in Japan are allowed a full 12 months of paternity leave only 2 to 3 percent of men actually take it, with new fathers citing both potentially negative career impacts as well as perceived cultural sanction as reasons why. Similarly, of Australian men who have access to paternal leave (just 19 percent of companies offer it), 54 percent were afraid it would have a negative impact on their finances while 34 believe it would signal they were less committed to their jobs, leading just 28 percent of men taking the full amount. In the UK, it was found that only 10 percent of new dads take more than two weeks off for leave, and that many men find it embarrassing to ask for such time off. 

This could be because they see what happens to women when they take maternity leave. A UK study based on interviews with 3,034 employers and 3,254 mothers found that 11 percent of mothers reported that they were either dismissed, made compulsorily redundant where others in their workplace were not, or were treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job. One in five said that they experienced harassment or negative comments from either their employers or their colleagues related to pregnancy or flexible working. One in ten said their employer discouraged them from attending medical appointments during pregnancy. The same study also found that a third of employers believe that women who become pregnant, as well as new mothers, are generally less interested in career progression, and 41 percent of employers agreed that pregnancy in the workplace puts an unnecessary cost burden on the company.

Another study found that the more maternity leave a woman takes, the less her earning power over her lifetime: women who take more than two years off for leave over the course of their lifetimes will lose 18 percent of their earning power, and if they take three years off that figure increases to 38 percent (taking two leaves of six months each, though, seemed to have little effect). 

This is part of the overall phenomena known as the "motherhood penalty." A recent University of Massachusetts study found that mothers with three or more children make 18 percent less than women with no children; mothers with two children make 13 percent less; and mothers with one child make 14 percent less. Conversely, there is a matching "fatherhood bonus," as another study has found that men generally tend to get a pay bump after becoming parents, sometimes as high as nine percent. 

Given this bonus, one might think that men should not fear career consequences for fatherhood. However, it would seem that the bonus only applies to certain types of fathers performing a more traditional type of parenting. The Center for WorkLife Law observed that men who take time off to perform what's seen as more masculine parenting activities, such as coaching a sports team, were viewed as good fathers and would get raises and better career opportunities, with the idea that it would make them a better breadwinner. This courtesy is not extended, however, to men who take time off for more nurturing-type parental activities like taking care of sick children or elderly parents. These men, by contrast, actually get penalized in a similar manner to women. 

This is echoed in a 2013 academic study saying that men are perceived as more feminine when asking for time off for such tasks and are more likely to be seen as poor workers. 

"Men who request a family leave are viewed as poor organizational citizens and ineligible for rewards. In addition to a poor worker stigma, we found that male leave requesters suffer femininity stigma. Compared with control targets, male leave requesters were viewed as higher on weak, feminine traits (e.g., weak and uncertain), and lower on agentic masculine traits (e.g., competitive and ambitious). Perceptions of weakness uniquely predicted greater risk for penalties (e.g., being demoted or downsized) and fully accounted for the effect of poor worker stigma on male leave requesters’ penalties," said the study abstract. 

Companies struggling to get men to take paternity leave, despite possible negative career hits, might look to Sweden. The country offers 480 days leave, which can be split between the two parents. All new fathers take at least three months of this time off, because the law requires it. The idea is that there will be less stigma around men who take leave if they do so because it's mandatory. This is the thinking behind an initiative at a Korean conglomerate, which introduced its own mandatory leave policy in 2016. Such measures might be European Union-wide in the near future, as the European Council said it wants to introduce mandatory two month minimum paternity leave in all EU countries.