SocietySpiegeloog 409: Conflict

Paternity Leave: Shared Childcare Responsibility

By January 25, 2021February 3rd, 2021No Comments

To this day, many more mothers than fathers limit or end their work involvement after having a child and become their child’s primary caregiver. Encouraging fathers to become more involved in childcare has positive outcomes for everyone involved and is an important step on the way to achieving gender equality.

To this day, many more mothers than fathers limit or end their work involvement after having a child and become their child’s primary caregiver. Encouraging fathers to become more involved in childcare has positive outcomes for everyone involved and is an important step on the way to achieving gender equality.

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova
Photo by  Tatiana Syrikova

Among the most crucial aspects of adult life are work and family involvement. Often, both domains are not only compatible but even complement each other (Barnett & Hyde, 2001). Nonetheless, not too seldom people need to choose between the two. Favoring one over the other, for example, withdrawing from work to care for children, is by all means not a bad thing per se. However, it can become problematic when such compromises in favor of childcare are almost always made by exclusively one group, namely by mothers rather than fathers in most cases (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2019). There are several reasons for why this can be problematic, including a depressing effect on the lifetime earnings of women, perpetuating women’s unequal share of work within the household, a likelihood of discrimination against women in hiring and promotion decisions and a perpetuating effect on outdated gender ideologies (Gheaus & Robeyns, 2011).

In recent decades, the labor market and society as a whole have undergone drastic changes. Not only have women entered the workforce, but there also has been a sharp increase in dual-earning families and single working parents. Given these changes, policies to make work and family more compatible, including job-protected parental leave, early childhood education and care, and opportunities to work part-time have become increasingly important (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2019). Almost all working parents in the European Union are entitled to at least some form of parental leave now, even though there are large differences between the member states and between leave options for mothers versus fathers (Ray, Gornick & Schmitt, 2010).

As mentioned before, when taking a look at who uses the numerous policies employed by the EU, a striking pattern is immediately seen in all countries: The great majority of parental leave takers are women, with women accounting for as much as 99% of parental leave takers in Poland (Kurowska, Michoń, & Godlewska-Bujok, 2018, cited in European Institute for Gender Equality, 2019) and 95,6% in France (Boyer & Fagnani, 2018, cited in European Institute for Gender Equality, 2019). 

“popular beliefs in a ‘unique’ mother-child bond, might not be as accurate as many people think”

One can find many explanations as to why so many more mothers than fathers take up parental leave, ranging from social to evolutionary perspectives, but some standpoints, especially regarding popular beliefs in a ‘unique’ mother-child bond, might not be as accurate as many people think. Research has shown that highly involved fathers are as nurturant and caring as mothers (Coltrane, 1996, Greif, 1992, Risman 1986 all cited in Barnett & Hyde, 2001) and are as responsive to their child’s cries (Hewlett, 1991, cited in Barnett & Hyde, 2001). When dropping off their children at daycare, they also experience as much separation-anxiety as mothers, an experience that includes feelings of distress when being separated or thinking about being separated from one’s child (Deater-Deckard, Scarr, McCartney & Eisenberg, 1994). These findings suggest that fathers can be as involved with their children as mothers.

Encouraging fathers to take up parental leave can lead to numerous positive outcomes. For instance, fathers’ involvement in childcare has a positive effect on mothers’ full-time employment (Fagan & Norman, 2016, cited in Van Belle, 2016) which in turn can lead to reduced gender gaps in employment rate and pay (Van Belle, 2016). But the benefits do not end there: Fathers who take up paternity leave dedicate more time to household chores and childcare even after returning to work, leading to a decreased gender gap in time spent doing housework as well (Tamm, 2019).

Furthermore, some countries, including Sweden, Finland, and Norway, already have relatively egalitarian leave policies and increased paternity leaves by means such as a father’s quota and public campaigns (Ray, Gornick & Schmitt, 2010). Such measures and an additional de-stigmatization of fathers highly involved in childcare and housework can promote gender equality and reduce conflict between work and family for women. 

“same-sex male couples receive markedly less leave than both different-sex and same-sex female couples”

More egalitarian leave policies could also benefit same-sex couples. Due to leave policies that allow mothers more generous leaves than fathers in a majority of countries, same-sex male couples receive markedly less leave than both different-sex and same-sex female couples (Wong, Raub & Heymann, 2020). This seriously disadvantages same-sex male couples and takes away their opportunity to use the same amount of parental leave as different-sex couples. Additionally, policies that limit some portion of parental leave to fathers, for example in Portugal, Greece, Italy, and Japan, leave same-sex female couples with a less generous amount of leave than different-sex couples (Wong, Raub & Heymann, 2020).

Taking a different perspective, it is important to note that caring for children and working do not need to be mutually exclusive for at least one partner. In fact, engaging in both roles simultaneously can be beneficial for both men and women. Research has shown that expanded social support for both partners and multiple opportunities to experience success has a positive influence on mental well-being and marital satisfaction (Barnett & Hyde, 2001). Furthermore, the similarity in daily experiences in dual-earning families is believed to facilitate communication between spouses (Barnett & Hyde, 2001). Importantly, performing multiple roles heavily depends on access to affordable childcare. Many countries lack such access. Childcare in the United States for instance is almost unaffordable for minimum-wage workers (Cooke & Gould, 2015), but European countries face problems as well. In numerous countries, including the Netherlands, a significant gap exists between the end of parental leave and children’s entitlement to early childhood education and care. In other countries such as Germany, this gap does not exist on paper, but institutional childcare is not sufficient or easily available (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2019). Taking into consideration the above-mentioned disproportionate amount of mothers as primary caregivers, such problems predominantly hinder women from re-entering the workforce and thus pose a problem for achieving gender equality. 

In sum, equal responsibility for childcare is still far from reality with significantly more women having to choose between work and family. Promoting paternity leaves and encouraging fathers to engage in childcare can reduce gender pay gaps and help equalize household responsibilities. Egalitarian leave policies and affordable, easily available institutional childcare are important ways for achieving equality.

References

– Barnett, R. C., & Hyde, J. S. (2001). Women, men, work, and family: An expansionist theory. American Psychologist, 56(10), 781–796. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066x.56.10.781
– Cooke & Gould (2015) High Quality Childcare Is Out of Reach for Working Families, Economic Policy Institute, Issue Brief 404, https://files.epi.org/2015/child-care-is-out-of-reach.pdf.
– Deater-Deckard, K., Scarr, S., McCartney, K., & Eisenberg, M. (1994). Paternal Separation Anxiety: Relationships with Parenting Stress, Child-Rearing Attitudes, and Maternal Anxieties. Psychological Science, 5(6), 341–346. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.1994.tb00283.x
– Gheaus, A., & Robeyns, I. (2011). Equality-Promoting Parental Leave. Journal of Social Philosophy, 42(2), 173–191. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9833.2011.01525.x
– Parental-leave policies. (2019). European Institute for Gender Equality. https://eige.europa.eu/publications/gender-equality-index-2019-report/parental-leave-policies
– Ray, R., Gornick, J. C., & Schmitt, J. (2010). Who cares? Assessing Generosity and Gender Equality in Parental Leave Policy Designs in 21 Countries. Journal of European Social Policy, 20(3), 196–216. https://doi.org/10.1177/0958928710364434
– Tamm, M. (2019). Fathers’ parental leave-taking, childcare involvement and labor market participation. Labour Economics, 59, 184–197. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.labeco.2019.04.007
– Van Belle, J. (2016). Paternity and parental leave policies across the European Union. rand.
– Wong, E., Jou, J., Raub, A., & Heymann, J. (2020). Comparing the availability of paid parental leave for same-sex and different-sex couples in 34 OECD countries. Journal of Social Policy, 49(3), 525-545. doi:10.1017/S0047279419000643 

Among the most crucial aspects of adult life are work and family involvement. Often, both domains are not only compatible but even complement each other (Barnett & Hyde, 2001). Nonetheless, not too seldom people need to choose between the two. Favoring one over the other, for example, withdrawing from work to care for children, is by all means not a bad thing per se. However, it can become problematic when such compromises in favor of childcare are almost always made by exclusively one group, namely by mothers rather than fathers in most cases (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2019). There are several reasons for why this can be problematic, including a depressing effect on the lifetime earnings of women, perpetuating women’s unequal share of work within the household, a likelihood of discrimination against women in hiring and promotion decisions and a perpetuating effect on outdated gender ideologies (Gheaus & Robeyns, 2011).

In recent decades, the labor market and society as a whole have undergone drastic changes. Not only have women entered the workforce, but there also has been a sharp increase in dual-earning families and single working parents. Given these changes, policies to make work and family more compatible, including job-protected parental leave, early childhood education and care, and opportunities to work part-time have become increasingly important (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2019). Almost all working parents in the European Union are entitled to at least some form of parental leave now, even though there are large differences between the member states and between leave options for mothers versus fathers (Ray, Gornick & Schmitt, 2010).

As mentioned before, when taking a look at who uses the numerous policies employed by the EU, a striking pattern is immediately seen in all countries: The great majority of parental leave takers are women, with women accounting for as much as 99% of parental leave takers in Poland (Kurowska, Michoń, & Godlewska-Bujok, 2018, cited in European Institute for Gender Equality, 2019) and 95,6% in France (Boyer & Fagnani, 2018, cited in European Institute for Gender Equality, 2019). 

“popular beliefs in a ‘unique’ mother-child bond, might not be as accurate as many people think”

One can find many explanations as to why so many more mothers than fathers take up parental leave, ranging from social to evolutionary perspectives, but some standpoints, especially regarding popular beliefs in a ‘unique’ mother-child bond, might not be as accurate as many people think. Research has shown that highly involved fathers are as nurturant and caring as mothers (Coltrane, 1996, Greif, 1992, Risman 1986 all cited in Barnett & Hyde, 2001) and are as responsive to their child’s cries (Hewlett, 1991, cited in Barnett & Hyde, 2001). When dropping off their children at daycare, they also experience as much separation-anxiety as mothers, an experience that includes feelings of distress when being separated or thinking about being separated from one’s child (Deater-Deckard, Scarr, McCartney & Eisenberg, 1994). These findings suggest that fathers can be as involved with their children as mothers.

Encouraging fathers to take up parental leave can lead to numerous positive outcomes. For instance, fathers’ involvement in childcare has a positive effect on mothers’ full-time employment (Fagan & Norman, 2016, cited in Van Belle, 2016) which in turn can lead to reduced gender gaps in employment rate and pay (Van Belle, 2016). But the benefits do not end there: Fathers who take up paternity leave dedicate more time to household chores and childcare even after returning to work, leading to a decreased gender gap in time spent doing housework as well (Tamm, 2019).

Furthermore, some countries, including Sweden, Finland, and Norway, already have relatively egalitarian leave policies and increased paternity leaves by means such as a father’s quota and public campaigns (Ray, Gornick & Schmitt, 2010). Such measures and an additional de-stigmatization of fathers highly involved in childcare and housework can promote gender equality and reduce conflict between work and family for women. 

“same-sex male couples receive markedly less leave than both different-sex and same-sex female couples”

More egalitarian leave policies could also benefit same-sex couples. Due to leave policies that allow mothers more generous leaves than fathers in a majority of countries, same-sex male couples receive markedly less leave than both different-sex and same-sex female couples (Wong, Raub & Heymann, 2020). This seriously disadvantages same-sex male couples and takes away their opportunity to use the same amount of parental leave as different-sex couples. Additionally, policies that limit some portion of parental leave to fathers, for example in Portugal, Greece, Italy, and Japan, leave same-sex female couples with a less generous amount of leave than different-sex couples (Wong, Raub & Heymann, 2020).

Taking a different perspective, it is important to note that caring for children and working do not need to be mutually exclusive for at least one partner. In fact, engaging in both roles simultaneously can be beneficial for both men and women. Research has shown that expanded social support for both partners and multiple opportunities to experience success has a positive influence on mental well-being and marital satisfaction (Barnett & Hyde, 2001). Furthermore, the similarity in daily experiences in dual-earning families is believed to facilitate communication between spouses (Barnett & Hyde, 2001). Importantly, performing multiple roles heavily depends on access to affordable childcare. Many countries lack such access. Childcare in the United States for instance is almost unaffordable for minimum-wage workers (Cooke & Gould, 2015), but European countries face problems as well. In numerous countries, including the Netherlands, a significant gap exists between the end of parental leave and children’s entitlement to early childhood education and care. In other countries such as Germany, this gap does not exist on paper, but institutional childcare is not sufficient or easily available (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2019). Taking into consideration the above-mentioned disproportionate amount of mothers as primary caregivers, such problems predominantly hinder women from re-entering the workforce and thus pose a problem for achieving gender equality. 

In sum, equal responsibility for childcare is still far from reality with significantly more women having to choose between work and family. Promoting paternity leaves and encouraging fathers to engage in childcare can reduce gender pay gaps and help equalize household responsibilities. Egalitarian leave policies and affordable, easily available institutional childcare are important ways for achieving equality.

References

– Barnett, R. C., & Hyde, J. S. (2001). Women, men, work, and family: An expansionist theory. American Psychologist, 56(10), 781–796. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066x.56.10.781
– Cooke & Gould (2015) High Quality Childcare Is Out of Reach for Working Families, Economic Policy Institute, Issue Brief 404, https://files.epi.org/2015/child-care-is-out-of-reach.pdf.
– Deater-Deckard, K., Scarr, S., McCartney, K., & Eisenberg, M. (1994). Paternal Separation Anxiety: Relationships with Parenting Stress, Child-Rearing Attitudes, and Maternal Anxieties. Psychological Science, 5(6), 341–346. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.1994.tb00283.x
– Gheaus, A., & Robeyns, I. (2011). Equality-Promoting Parental Leave. Journal of Social Philosophy, 42(2), 173–191. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9833.2011.01525.x
– Parental-leave policies. (2019). European Institute for Gender Equality. https://eige.europa.eu/publications/gender-equality-index-2019-report/parental-leave-policies
– Ray, R., Gornick, J. C., & Schmitt, J. (2010). Who cares? Assessing Generosity and Gender Equality in Parental Leave Policy Designs in 21 Countries. Journal of European Social Policy, 20(3), 196–216. https://doi.org/10.1177/0958928710364434
– Tamm, M. (2019). Fathers’ parental leave-taking, childcare involvement and labor market participation. Labour Economics, 59, 184–197. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.labeco.2019.04.007
– Van Belle, J. (2016). Paternity and parental leave policies across the European Union. rand.
– Wong, E., Jou, J., Raub, A., & Heymann, J. (2020). Comparing the availability of paid parental leave for same-sex and different-sex couples in 34 OECD countries. Journal of Social Policy, 49(3), 525-545. doi:10.1017/S0047279419000643 
Amelie Jörgensen

Author Amelie Jörgensen

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