Boston College Expert: New Dad Survey on Paternity Leave
Center for Work & Family
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Harrington’s research and teaching focuses on career management and work-life integration, the changing role of fathers, contemporary workforce management strategies and the leadership of organizational change. He is the lead author of The New Dad: Exploring Fathers in a Career Context and The New Dad: Caring, Committed and Conflicted, and principal investigator on three major studies on how fathers manage their career and parenting responsibilities.
A new study by Boston College reveals more and more dads want to be present and involved from the first days of their child’s life, and they’d like their employers to provide it through parental leave, flexibility, and a culture that respects their desire to be hands-on caregivers.
“The United States is such an outlier on this issue, you can’t even imagine,” says Brad Harrington, executive director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family. “If you saw the list of countries, both developed countries and developing countries that offer paid parental leave for moms and dads, the list is enormous. For fathers, about 70 countries have some kind of paid paternity leave, and we don’t. When you compare the United States to all the other developed countries in the world, we are an absolute outlier and very much standing alone.”
The New Dad: Take Your Leave (www.bc.edu/cwf), a product of the Boston College Center for Work & Family, takes on the much-debated topic of paternity leave. It includes a survey of more than 1,000 fathers from nearly 300 different organizations (primarily well-educated professionals); data and insights to better understand the needs and desires of fathers and inform organizational policies and legislative initiatives; a benchmarking study of paternity leave policies at leading organizations; and a review of global paternity leave policies and practices, as well as U.S. states that have enacted laws to provide paid parental leave.
“We talk a lot about gender equality in the United States and we talk about advancing women and certainly a lot of the companies we work with are very concerned about advancing women in the workplace,” says Harrington, the principal investigator on three major studies on how fathers manage their career and parenting responsibilities. “When we have men taking a day of leave for every month that their spouse is taking, you automatically get into a scenario where the wife is defacto the primary caregiver and the father gets less of an opportunity to immerse himself in the caregiving than the mother does. As a result, from the beginning of the child’s life, the mother is cast in the role of the primary caregiver and the father is sort of a supporting player. And because they don’t have any time to bond with their kids either with their wife or solo, what happens is their confidence in terms or carrying out the day-to-day tasks of child care is lower, the competence is lower, and the child is much more likely obviously to defer to the mom because that’s who they are most familiar with.”
As for how much paid time is fair, the study shows most dads think two weeks is appropriate.
“That’s partly around concerns about how do I spend a sufficient amount of time with my family and the new addition to my family but it’s also about saying what do I think is going to be accepted and appropriate in the workplace,” says Harrington, a father of three. “A father might say, ‘I don’t want to take four or six weeks off and then come back to a mountain of work and unhappy co-workers because I took what was seen to be an inordinate amount of time.’ So two weeks seemed to be a sweet spot.”
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