It is heartening to see the number of paternity leave programs increase across the U.S. and, as as recent study out of the University of California Santa Barbara reports, it is having a meaningful impact. In California, where paid-family leave was sanctioned by law in 2004, fathers are 46 percent more likely to take advantage of the option than before the law was enacted. However, researchers also discovered that men are significantly more inclined to take paternity leave if their child is male.
According to Quartz, “the effect of the new policy was 50 percent larger for fathers of sons, compared to fathers of daughters.”
Save your side-eye; it gets worse.
The study also reveals that “when the sample is limited to fathers married to employed mothers these gender effects become even stronger—fathers of girls do not respond to the policy at all...[Moreover,] the new leave policy increases joint parental leave by 58 percent if the infant is male, but not at all if the infant is female.”
If I could imitate Kermit the Frog’s face when his upper lip presses down out of irritation, I would be making that face right now.
The Santa Barbara researchers, led by Maya Rossin-Slater, posit a couple of viable explanations for these frustrating discrepancies: “First, it may be that fathers get more utility from spending time with their sons then daughters. Second, it may be that the parents perceive that paternal time spent caring for boys is relatively more productive than time caring for girls.”
Paternal leave is also more common in offices predominately staffed by women, suggesting that “the power of example” may be relevant to these trends. The more common—and “socially acceptable”—it seems, the more likely fathers will be to participate. As Quartz notes, “that’s why Mark Zuckerberg was smart to make a big deal about his decision to take two months of paternity leave. His example means that as Facebook employees have children they might feel it’s ok to take time off to do that.”
Of course, Quartz also reminds its readers of yet another unpleasant reality. As men begin to feel more comfortable taking leave, working women continue to be ungenerously scrutinized for the decisions they make after having a child.
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