Why Paid Paternity Leave Matters

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years as a clinical psychologist and director of The Fatherhood Project (TFP), it’s that men want to be active and emotionally engaged with their children, but they don’t always know how. Our research supports this idea, and also shows that the earlier a father is involved with his children, the more likely he is to stay involved, leading to positive emotional, social, behavioral and academic outcomes for the child.

Knowing this, TFP has been working with Massachusetts General Hospital’s Obstetrics Department to create a more father and family friendly approach to pre-natal care, while also fighting for paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers.

The United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t mandate some form of paid parental leave. Only 50% of American women receive paid leave, and 76% of men are back to work within a week of their child being born. Despite an overwhelming majority of Americans supporting some form of paid leave for fathers, only 9% of work sites in the U.S. offer paid paternity leave to all male employees, leaving most fathers with little time to bond with their babies and to form a secure attachment with their infant.

Fathers are increasingly on the frontline of childcare and need to experience the benefits of time with their baby and their baby’s mother from birth. We know that ALL family members benefit from paid leave:

  • Children of men who took at least two weeks of paternity leave reported feeling closer to their fathers than children with fathers who did not. (Petts & Knoester)
  • Children who feel close to their fathers have better social-emotional, academic and behavioral outcomes.
  • Even relatively short periods of leave caused couples’ divorce rate to drop for six years to come. (Petts & Knoester)

Several states, — including California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia — have implemented some form of mandated paid parental leave, but a national law is much needed, and overdue.

Unsurprisingly, lower income men feel the least support for taking paternity leave. Over 40% believe that there is a negative view of fathers taking leave and 29% fear that taking leave will lower their status at work and have a negative impact on their career.

The Fatherhood Project actively supports a national policy of paid parental leave for mothers and fathers, and has been involved with consulting and committee work in Massachusetts to create the state’s program, scheduled to go into effect in January, 2022. We are fortunate to live in a forward-thinking state that recognizes the urgency of early bonding and secure attachment. The movement continues with initiatives aimed at developing a similar national policy.

10 Ways Paternity Leave Helps Moms, Dads, and Families (from our partners at the National Fatherhood Initiative)

15th International Review of Leave Policies and Related Research 2019 (by Alison Koslowski, a social policy researcher at the University of Edinburgh)

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