Why paternity leave is just as important as maternity leave to our workforce, our families, the future of our economy

A few weeks ago, on Mother’s Day, John Oliver delivered a trenchant takedown of America’s hypocritical celebration of moms, given our retrograde maternity leave policies. As Father’s Day now approaches, it’s time to turn to another critically important issue for today’s families: the dismal state of paternity leave in America.

Almost half the nations in the world provide new fathers with at least some period of leave following the birth of a child. While the U.S. is not one of those nations, it’s safe to say that other countries do this because the benefits are clear.

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Paternity leave is an especially important issue to me right now because my husband and I are expecting our first child, as I mentioned in my last blogpost. However, when we discuss his upcoming paternity leave, it’s really not about him. (Sorry, honey.) The time a dad devotes to his newborn has broad and long-term benefits for his whole family. I’d posit that his four weeks at home confer more economic and societal benefit on a local economy than any four weeks in the office.

Let’s look at why that is.

  1. Paternity leave equalizes spousal partnerships. Women are participating in the workforce in growing numbers, both by choice and by economic necessity. The ability to keep working while raising children, and the consequent need for our spouses to share in parenting duties, should not be undercut by policies based on a 1950s economic model of one male breadwinner per family. Paternity leave sets up patterns to boost fathers’ share of childcare duties and household responsibilities. What’s more, it yields a healthy cyclical effect: new dads who take time off destigmatize the idea for other new dads to take time off. And so on.
  2. Paternity leave reaps long-term benefits for children. In a survey by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, fathering habits formed during a baby’s first year of life held on throughout the child’s upbringing. As children grew, dads’ duties in infant care were linked to more educational involvement later; American fathers who took paternity leave were fifty percent more likely to read books with their two- and three-year-olds than fathers who took no leave. A study in Norway found that paternity leave correlates to a child that performs better in high school. The Economist noted that daughters especially thrived.
  3. Paternity leave levels the economic playing field. As bad as American norms are for maternity leave, they’re even worse for paternity leave. The result? Dads who are offered time off tend already to be from the better-educated, better-paid group in our economy. Greater access to paid paternity leave – and its demonstrated benefits to children – is a no-brainer when it comes to giving kids a fair shot in an increasingly economically-stratified nation.

Speaking of great dads, I cannot sign off without extending a special thanks to my own father, Sherrod Brown. He not only raised me to believe in the importance of economic justice, but he now stands on the front lines of the fight for progress on this issue in the United States Senate, as one of the cosponsors of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. The FAMILY Act would, if enacted, help bring the U.S. closer to much of the rest of the world’s policies on paid family leave.

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IMG_2766So, this Father’s Day, let’s not limit ourselves just to the routine of buying our dads home tools at sale prices. I’m going to celebrate my dad by pushing forward the real conversation about how our nation can honor families and fathers every day. We need to do much more to invest in a healthy next generation – and it starts with maternity and paternity leave.