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Published on May 14, 2015
Despite decades of social progress in the workplace, women still have to contend with the lion’s share of child-care. While most countries allow up to three months of maternity leave, only around half a dozen countries offer fathers more than two weeks paternity leave. In Denmark, 90% of dads take more than a fortnight’s leave.
Research suggests that enabling fathers to look after their newborn children has positive knock-on effects.
What are the benefits of paternity leave?
First, fathers who take paternity leave are more likely to take an active role in child-care tasks. According to a study of four rich countries – America, Australia, Britain and Denmark – fathers who had taken paternity leave were more likely to feed, dress, bathe and play with their child long after the period of leave had ended. Danish men were the most diligent. Seventy-seven per cent of them play with their children. And, in Britain, dads who took time off at birth were almost a third more likely to read books with their toddlers than those who hadn’t.
Second, this early interaction has longer-term benefits for a child’s learning abilities. A study by the University of Oslo found that paternity leave improved children’s performance at secondary school; daughters, especially, seem to flourish if their dads had taken time off. But this tends to benefit children whose dads come from more advantaged backgrounds. Most paternity leave tends to be short and poorly paid so richer dads are more likely to take the time off. Third, paternity leave is good for women's careers. When childcare responsibilities fall exclusively on the mother, the effect is to depress women’s wages. Time out of the labour force deprives them of experience and promotions. When men shoulder more of the childcare burden, the effect is lessened.
For years the priority for women’s’ rights campaigners has been to increase the provision of maternity leave. These days, more governments are starting to believe that the best way to improve women’s career prospects is instead to turn to the dads.