Why Aren't Dads Taking Paternity Leave?

It's common (and somewhat shameful) knowledge that the United States is the only rich nation without a national paid parental leave policy. But for the fathers who do have access to paid leave after they grow their families, the political roadblocks fall away and the societal ones set in. The good news is that, at top companies, dad have access to paternity leave at rising and impressive rates, according to new data from Still, many of them aren't taking advantage of this precious time to bond with their children and establish themselves as an equal caregiver with their partners. Long story short: Blame the patriarchy and its toxic masculinity.

First, the upside. In its third annual "50 Best Places To Work For New Dads" ranking, Fatherly found that the average paid paternity leave among for-profit companies with at least 1,000 employees shot up from four weeks in 2015 to 11 in 2017. Pretty good, right? Especially because some of these companies — which included elite tech giants like Twitter and Spotify — also offer perks like flex time, on-site or subsidized daycare, and fatherhood groups, in their competitive quests to secure Millennial talent.

And in some of these companies, the more generous leave arrangements aren't reserved for the white collar few: Warehouse workers are included in Amazon's paid parental leave program; Starbucks covers its baristas (though their struggle to get the same amount of paid leave as their corporate counterparts — 18 weeks, rather than a mere six — is ongoing); and IKEA's hourly workers get eight weeks of fully paid leave just like everyone else.

And even though the United States is the only industrialized country that does not offer its workers any paid time off, dads are assuming more responsibility for child care than ever before, according to Pew. It naturally follows that many of them would be after the comparatively stunning paid leave plans that top companies voluntarily offer — and that they would fully embrace the any time off they do get.

Perplexingly, that's not necessarily so. One 2012 study of tenured track college professors found that, when paid leave was offered to them, only 12 percent of new dads accepted it, according to Forbes. That's compared to 69 percent of new moms.

The New York Times reported in 2014 that dads who take paternity leave when they have a child tend to be more involved in their kids' lives long-term, and that the kids are healthier. What's more, having a partner who takes time off from work when a baby is born reduces a new mom's risk of developing postpartum depression. But doing this could mean that a man will make less money over time and that he may be passed over for promotions. (Sound familiar, ladies?)

"[I’ve heard] so many stories of men who took time off and were punished for it," Josh Levs, who wrote the book All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families and, Businesses—And How We Can Fix It Together, told Vogue last year. "They were demoted or even fired for breaking from that macho norm."

This phenomenon is borne from the commonly held societal belief that women are always the primary caregivers — a "norm" that hurts gender equality in the workplace and totally disregards same-sex and adoptive parents. And in denying the chance to take paternity leave on the rare occasion it's offered to them (less than 20 percent of employers offered it in 2016), men are often working to avoid the professional pitfalls that have long plagued women.

That, of course, works to everyone's detriment. It's imperative that we work toward cultivating a society in which both paid paternity and maternity leave are available to those who need it — but also one in which parents feel comfortable and confident taking it.