THE BLOG
10/25/2013 12:37 pm ET | Updated Dec 25, 2013

Paternity Leave Is Good for Kids, Too!

Scott Behson, Ph.D.

Paternity leave is not just good for dads, but also for kids. A new academic study finds that men who take paternity leave are more likely to be involved in childcare activities later on, and that their kids do better on some cognitive ability tests.

Fathers' work-family concerns are an important part of National Work and Family Month. I recently came across some news on this crucial topic. According to this article, Dr. Jennifer Baxter, Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, will soon be presenting research in which she found:

1. A strong relationship between fathers' taking paternity leave and their subsequent involvement in their children's lives.

Baxter states, "Father's leave is linked to more involvement in childcare activities such as helping a baby to eat, changing nappies, getting up in the night, bathing and reading to a child, compared to fathers who took no leave."

2. Some evidence of better cognitive outcomes for kids whose fathers took paternity leave.

Baxter states, "The children of fathers who take long leave after their birth are more likely to perform better in cognitive development tests and are more likely to be prepared for school at the ages of four and five."

These research results haven't yet been published (so I cannot fully vouch for their validity), but this initial report makes a lot of sense to me. The first few weeks of a child's life should be an intense bonding experience for dad and baby. It is also an opportunity to take care of one's wife and other kids during a physically and emotionally draining time. Being able to take time to care for a newborn can give unconfident dads the experience they need for future childcare and parental involvement. In short, the whole family benefits -- dad, mom and baby.

Further, if paternity leave is linked to greater paternal involvement later on in life, there's an entire library of research that shows that in almost any way a child can be better off, they are better off for having an involved father in their lives (kids stay in school, do better in school, get into less trouble, get arrested less, get divorced less, have better health -- just to name a few).

So, paternity leave doesn't just help the family, it also helps our society.

For these reasons, we need to continue to advocate for greater availability and use of paternity leave (joining 1MFWF is one way you can help). Sadly, the U.S. lags behind the rest of the world in parental leave policy. The U.S. is one of only four countries in the world that does not mandate paid maternity leave. U.S. law only requires that a new parent can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, and have their job held for them, through the Family and Medical Leave Act. Only three states-- California, New Jersey and Rhode Island -- have mandated paid parental leave.

The situation is worse for dads. Over 50 countries require paid paternity leave; the U.S., not so much. For example, in both Australia and the UK, new dads are legally entitled to two weeks' paid paternity leave. (On the upside, U.S. dads are eligible for leave under the FMLA and in the three states mentioned above).

As a result of our inadequate national policy, very few dads take paternity leave. In fact, according to Boston College's Center for Work and Family's 2011 study of US working dads:

75% of our sample took off one week or less and 16% did not take any time off at all following the birth of their most recent child. While government and corporate policies (or lack of policies) often make if difficult and financially challenging for fathers to spend any significant time off with their newborn children, it is nonetheless a clear opportunity missed for the fathers to spend time bonding with their new offspring and caring for their needs

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There are a number of supportive workplaces, and some prominent companies that offer paid paternity leave. However, many new dads choose not to use available policies for fear of being stigmatized as uncommitted, and of negative career consequences.

Considering that dads' time with children benefits everyone -- kids, moms, dads, families, society -- we need more support for working dads. Our kids will thank us for it.

What do you think about paternity leave? The benefits of involved fathers? Any ideas on how we can improve the situation? Any stories to share? Let's discuss in the comments.

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