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.
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.
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.”