Why Are Men Afraid to Use Paternity Leave?

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164201040After celebrating with their newborns this Father’s Day, most new dads will return to work on Monday.

Dads barely take any time off after the birth of a child, according to a study of working fathers by the Center for Work and Family at Boston College. Three quarters of men who don’t receive paternity leave take off work for a week or less after the birth of a child, and 16% are unable to take any days off.

Only 13% of employers offer paid paternity leave, according to benefits consulting firm Aon Hewitt. In April, Yahoo made a splash with their announcement that men will be offered a full eight weeks of paid parental leave, half of what the company offers new moms and a generous policy by U.S. standards.

RELATED: Maternity Leave: Why American Mothers Have It So Bad

But even when offered paternity leave, studies show most men won’t take it. A 2012 study of tenured track college professors found that only 12% of fathers took paid parental leave when it was offered compared with 69% of mothers. When new dads in the study did take paternity leave, many were still involved in projects at the office.

Academia is different than other fields, but the question remains: Why are men still less likely to take all the time offered to them by their employers after the birth of a child?

We asked five dads who have taken leave for a new child to explain their decisions and share their anxiety about the time off.

RELATED: Are Dads Pulling Their Own Weight Around the Home?

Unspoken Pressure on the Job

The stigma of being the guy in the office who takes the maximum amount of leave haunts many dads. It’s not the fear of losing a job exactly, but the unspoken disapproval—and questions about dedication—that can come with a long leave.

“I could have taken the whole week off after my son, Lyle, was born, but they said they really needed me, and they did, because it was the end of the fiscal year,” says Joseph, a corporate accountant in Kansas City. “I could tell they weren’t going to look kindly on my taking the whole week, so I didn’t.”

“But the truth is, they could have hired a temp without taking too much of a loss, and I would have been happy to put in some extra time when I got back,” he says.

Instead, he only took two days because he felt guilty and was afraid his firm would put him “on the top of the list for layoffs,” he admits. “But that was probably me overthinking it. I should have taken the leave, and if we have another baby, I am not going to pass it up this time. It was foolish.”

RELATED: 20 Father’s Day Gifts for Every Dad (at Every Price)

  • Gillian

    I realize this is an American article and I find it very interesting that here in Canada things are a bit different. Men are entitled to 36 weeks of parental leave, mothers are entitled to 16 weeks maternity leave and then flip into parental for the remaining 36 to equal 52 weeks (1year). The 52 weeks can be divided into either parent as long as 52 weeks is the total.

    Maternity/parental leave is paid out in a similar fashion as employment insurance (66% of gross wages) which works out to approximately 90-95% of your net so in the scheme of things you really don’t lose anything. You are also allowed to make an additional 25% of your net wages while on leave should you wish with no consequences to your leave payments.

    Your job is protected during this time as long as you have been with your employer for 3 months or greater (off workplace probation – during this time either party can walk with no contract consequences). When you return to work it is for the same rate of pay that you had and you are entitled to all raises that occurred during your leave. Should your ‘position’ no longer be available a job of similar attributes is designated and you still retain all benefits and rate of pay in accordance with your past position.

    My husband has taken the entire parental leave with both our children. I work in healthcare as a Registered Massage Therapist and feel that if I took a year off there would not be patients to return to as healthcare is time sensitive so I can appreciate the comments made by the men in this article responding to pressure of the job. I find that since my husband was home and was able to witness and be part of so many firsts we have a stronger parenting bond and our boys are able to easily flip between parents for all their needs (emotional and otherwise) that normally would be delegated to one over another. As a mother working with a newborn I didn’t feel that I was missing out on anything because we were able to still raise them the way we had always intended which included a breastmilk exclusive diet.

    I do hope with added attention from the media and workplaces that further use of parental leave can be obtained by all especially since the idea of primary and secondary caregivers in any household has evolved rapidly over the last decade!

    • Mara

      Thanks for the information, Gillian! It’s sometimes quite maddening for me to hear about such generous PTO for new parents in non-US countries. My husband and I have been waiting to have children for a few years now. We’re just not sure how to balance all of the costs associate with having a baby since the cost of infant care is quite prohibitive where we live. ($1500+/month!)

      It’s extremely frustrating that in the US, although FMLA laws entitle a woman to have their job after taking 12 weeks off from having a baby, companies are not required to compensate any time off. Fortunately some companies will compensate new parents but this is not the rule. It seems funny to me that some women receive short-term disability to cover having a baby. As if having a child is a disability!

      Things need to change! It shouldn’t be so difficult to have a family for middle income workers!

      • Edie

        FMLA also entitles Fathers to take 12 weeks. When I had my first child, my husband and each took back-to-back 12 week FMLA leaves. (Granted, being entitled to take the time is not the same as being paid for it!)

  • Jordan

    Though I’m generally committed to not passing on my genes, this article makes me grateful that I’m a Canadian. I guess the boredom of living here pays off, sometimes, anyway.

  • rubymer

    I’m jealous of these Canadians!

  • Steve

    Men who don’t take their paternity leave are sending a much worse message to their bosses than if they take it — and to their wives, too. And to their other kids, if this isn’t their first. As the comments from Canada point out, this is just one more area, like health insurance, per capita fossil fuel consumption, and capital punishment, where the absence of any kind of cultural values lag behind the developed, and even much of the undeveloped world.