New work-life balances were struck during the pandemic, especially for parents of young children. As schools and daycare centers closed to control the spread of COVID-19, working parents rearranged regular workday routines to tackle childcare at home. More dads shared in the primary caregiver duties, some taking paternity leave for the first time in their careers.
COVID-19's Impact on Parental Leave
With an all-hands-on-deck response to childcare during the pandemic around the world, more dads engaged in home life and childcare duties than ever before. While more than 3.5 million mothers left active work to care for children, dads pitched in so partners could continue working.
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The National Institutes of Health reported an 11 percent increase in shared childcare activities among full-time working parents. According to Pew Research Center, 50 percent of mothers and 30 percent of fathers reduced their workday to manage childcare responsibilities during lockdown.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) increased paid parental leave up to an additional 10 weeks. The FFCRA, coupled with flexible work-from-home arrangements, allowed more fathers to split family responsibilities with their partners.
Paid Paternity Leave in the U.S.
While the U.S. has long lagged behind other countries in offering paid paternity leave, the tides may be turning, albeit slowly. As of fall 2020, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and Oxford Economics found that 45 percent of U.S. employers now offer paid paternity leave.
But, according to Paid Leave for the United States (PL+US), only 51 percent of men feel supported by their employer to take paternity leave, and 29 percent felt taking parental leave might negatively affect their career. SHRM reports that men tend to take less than half the time for paternity leave to take care of a new baby than new mothers do postpartum. But the outlook for dads may be improving.
Paid Leave for the United States surveyed full-time working dads and found 84 percent of new fathers want to take parental leave. Some high-profile American companies promote leave benefits for all working parents and acknowledge diverse family structures.
Microsoft and American Express offer all parents 20 weeks of paid leave, regardless of gender, including adoptive, surrogate and foster parents. Spotify provides six months of fully paid parental leave.
Developments like these and the normalization of shared familial responsibilities may help more families reap the benefits of paid paternity leave.
Benefits of Paternity Leave for Families
McKinsey & Company reports families gains when a father takes advantage of his paid parental leave. There are many trickle-down benefits from partners sharing childcare responsibilities, starting with reducing a new mom's stress.
According to a study published by Cambridge University Press, when fathers take parental leave, they are more invested in family life, strengthening the partner relationship and family stability,. Paternity leave may allow a partner to advance their career goals, thus advancing the family.
Perhaps most importantly, paternity leave increases the bond between a dad and his new child and can lead to improved health and development of the child, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Consider also: One More Reason Moms Leave Their Jobs
What About Dad's Career?
A 2021 McKinsey & Company study of working fathers who took parental leave found the positivity of the experience overshadowed the perceived risk. Many fathers also discovered improved time management and prioritization skills after focusing on those same skills as a new parent.
Another exciting development among new fathers was a renewed sense of motivation for their work and dedication to encouraging other parents – and their employers – to undertake steps to create a father-friendly work culture.
However, workplace bias against women taking maternity leave has been well-documented, so dads taking paternity leave have to be proactive in addressing any issues before, during and after leave.
Consider also: The Real Connections Between Parenthood and Promotions
The Future of Parental Leave
The U.S. still has a long way to go. Across all occupational groups, about 90 percent of time off for new parents, including that granted by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), is unpaid leave. Most of the paid leave benefits offered go to management and professionals, leaving many Americans without those additional familial advantages of parental leave.
Until the U.S. catches up with other countries in establishing federal leave laws, see if your state has mandated family leave laws. To clear up any confusion, find out the amount of time – and pay – your employer offers for parental leave and address upfront any impact it may have on your career goals.
Fortunately, more employers are recognizing the benefits of all forms of parental leave. High-profile companies are leading the way to equal benefits, parental leave, reintegration policies and a culture that embraces family-friendly policy for all parents.
Consider also: Why We Need Equality in Workplace Praise
- BBC: Paternity Leave: The Hidden Barriers Keeping Men at Work
- McKinsey & Company: Paternity Leave Benefits Extend Beyond the Personal
- Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute: What Helps and What Hinders? Exploring the Role of Workplace Characteristics for Parental Leave Use and Its Career Consequences
- Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM):Availability, Use of Paternity Leave Remains Rare in U.S.
- The Harvard Review of Psychiatry: https://journals.lww.com/hrpjournal/Abstract/2020/03000/The_Impact_of_Paid_Maternity_Leave_on_the_Mental.5.aspx#:~:text=We%20found%20that%20paid%20maternity,health%20of%20mothers%20and%20children%2C
- U.S. Department of Labor: Why Parental Leave For Fathers Is So Important For Working Families
- Zippia: Paternity Leave Statistics (Jan. 13, 2022)
- PL+US: Dads Research Project: Executive Summary
- United States Census: Moms, Work and the Pandemic: Tracking Job Losses...
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health: Fathers, Childcare and COVID-19