Thursday, April 19, 2018
Business

Paternity leave key to helping women in workplace

If you want to create policies that promote women's labor-force participation without curbing their career achievements, you also have to address why family-friendly policies (parental leave, flex work, telecommuting, etc.) aren't being used by men.

True, women earn less than men in most countries, meaning that there's less of an incentive for women to stick with their jobs.

To a large extent, though, those nebulous things known as social norms are probably to blame for the trivial rates at which men take advantage of leave and flex-work policies. These norms are enforced both by workers and their employers, who might look askance at a father who wants to take time off for a birth or a ballet recital.

So, how do you change norms?

In a word (economists' favorite word, to be precise): incentives! And it looks as if the most promising place to dangle those incentives is in paternity leave, as some other countries are discovering.

Sweden and Norway, for example, have recently set aside some weeks of paid parental leave that are available only to fathers. In Germany and Portugal, a mother gets bonus weeks of maternity leave if the child's father takes a minimum amount of paternity leave.

The share of men who choose to go on leave has grown sharply in these countries.

The birth of a newborn is a crucial time for renegotiating a couple's division of labor. Having men spend some time at home after the birth seems to alter (1) expectations and habits; (2) fathers' comfort and skill level with taking care of a child (economists would say there's a "fixed cost" to learning how to change diapers); and (3) potentially the bond between father and baby.

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