Maternity leave: Great Idea, but what about daddy?

Both President Donald Trump and his daughter, Ivanka, have proposed a national maternity leave program. While we enthusiastically support this wonderful idea, the President and first daughter overlooked a vital component: fathers. Dozens of studies show conclusively that paternity leave provides a number of unique benefits to children, women, businesses, and men themselves. Here are just a few examples:


{mosads}It improves parent-child bonding. Columbia University researchers Lenna Nepomnyaschy and Jane Waldfogel found that when fathers take two or more weeks off after their baby is born, they’re more involved in basic childcare—bathing, dressing, feeding, and playing—for years after they return to work. Other researchers have found that dads who take time off after a birth are almost a third more likely to read books with their toddlers than those who don’t. And 6-month olds who share regular playtime with dad have bigger vocabularies by age 3 than those who play only with mom.

Dad’s paternity leave improves his children’s—especially daughters’—performance in high school. Those kids also have fewer behavioral problems and better mental health outcomes. Overall, children with involved fathers have higher cognitive test scores, better grades, and are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol or become teen parents.

It fights gender stereotypes. When dad takes leave, he’ll spend part of that time doing housework, which sets a great example for kids, who naturally want to emulate dad. Alyssa Croft and her colleagues at the University of British Columbia found that “while mothers’ gender and work equality beliefs were key factors, the strongest predictor of daughters’ own professional ambitions was their fathers’ approach to household chores.”


It improves mood. New moms whose husbands take time off right away are less likely to be depressed three months post-birth. And a 2014 study from the National Academy of Sciences found that having a partner at home boosts levels of hormones that facilitate breastfeeding.

It increases women’s income. A study in Sweden showed that for every month a new father took for paternity leave, the mother’s earnings increased by 7 percent. Similarly, a study of Quebec’s family leave program found that when dad takes leave, mothers are more likely to be employed full-time—and their earnings increased by 25 percent.


It boosts retention. In a survey of 1,000 working fathers, nine out of ten said that they would consider the existence of a paternity leave policy as an important reason to choose a new employer. Recruiting, hiring, and training new workers costs companies billions each year and reduces productivity.

It increases workplace safety. New dads who have to juggle work and parenting are 36 percent more likely to have a near miss at work and 26 percent more likely to have one on the road due to fatigue. In Australia, tired parents cost employers approximately $5 billion per year With a U.S. population 13 times greater than Australia’s (323 million vs. 24 million), that translates to $65 billion.


Dads who take paternity leave learn to be better- and more-confident parents. As a result, they’re more satisfied with parenting and more engaged in caring for their children as they grow.

American dads really want paternity leave. In studies by the Boston College Center for Work and Family, 89 percent of respondents (93 percent of Millennials) thought getting paternity leave was an important issue; 86 percent of working dads say their children are their number one priority, and 64 percent say that being a father makes them a better employee. A Harvard study found that 70 percent of fathers would give up some pay to be able to spend more time with their family.

Dads who are actively engaged in their child’s life have more successful careers, longer-lasting marriages, and are physically healthier than less-involved dads.


Unfortunately, thanks to strong cultural messages that emphasize men’s role as breadwinners over their role as caregivers, 90 percent of new dads are back to work fewer than two weeks after their child’s birth.

So the next time we have a national discussion of parenting leave for mothers, we must include dads. Leaving them out does a disservice to everyone.  As we’ve shown, paternity leave is a win-win-win, good for parents – good for employers – and especially good for children.

Jean Bonhomme, MD, MPH, is founder and President of the National Black Men’s Health Network. Armin, is the bestselling author of 10 books on fatherhood; V. Jeffrey Evans, PhD, JD retired as the Director of Intergenerational Research with the Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch of the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development, NIH S. J. Giorgianni, PharmD, is Chair Emeritus of the Men’s Health Caucus of the American Public Health Association (APHA) David Gremillion, MD, FACP, FIDSA, is Professor Emeretis of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and member, Board of Directors, Men’s Health Network

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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