Jobs and the Future of Work

5 things to know about new fathers and paternity leave

A man with his son on his shoulders.

New mothers are less likely to be depressed if the father takes paternity leave. Image: Unsplash/Kelly Sikkema

Sean Fleming
Senior Writer, Formative Content
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  • Parental leave is a good thing, according to 90% of men who take it.
  • Each month of paternity leave can increase a mother’s earnings by 6.7%.
  • Billions of dollars in economic output is lost every year because women shoulder the burden of childcare.

In many parts of the world 20 June is Father’s Day. It’s a day when children are encouraged to celebrate their fathers. It could also be a day to reflect on the role fathers play in the lives of their children, including how hands-on they are with childcare responsibilities.

Setting aside any considerations of absentee fathers, one of the biggest determinants of how much time a father spends with his children – especially in their early years – is money. In particular, the provision of paid paternity leave.


While extended paid leave for new mothers is a fairly standard feature in most developed economies, the same cannot be said where paternity leave is concerned. A point of interest here is that in the US, new mothers are entitled to 12 weeks’ maternity leave – but they do not get paid during that time. The US also scores badly where new fathers are concerned. It currently has no national regulation or law giving dad time off to bond with his newborn.

Here are five more facts about paternity leave around the world.

1. Father’s don’t always take it

When the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) looked at data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and European countries offering paid time off for fathers, it found that take-up rates are low in some places.

Japan offers at least six months’ fully paid leave for fathers, but in 2017 only 1 in 20 took it. It’s a similar story in South Korea, where fathers account for just 1 in 6 of all people who take parental leave.


2. Men who take time off are glad they did

Management consulting firm McKinsey interviewed a group of new fathers and asked them about their experiences of taking paternity leave. The responses were resoundingly positive – 90% said they’d “noticed an improvement in their relationship with their partner.”

A separate study, reviewed by McKinsey, found that 60% of men described time spent looking after their children as very meaningful. A fifth of them were concerned about what paternity leave may mean for career development, though – a point likely to resonate with the many women who have stepped away from their careers to raise children.

9 out of 10 men who took it said paternity leave is a good thing.
9 out of 10 men who took it said paternity leave is a good thing. Image: McKinsey

3. Paternity leave is good for mothers too

A report from the Boston College Center for Work and Family highlights the benefits to mothers when more fathers take time off from work. This includes a study in Norway that found a drop of about 5-10% in mothers taking sick leave where fathers take longer paternity leave. Meanwhile, findings in France and the UK suggest new mothers are less likely to be depressed and have higher levels of wellbeing if the father takes paternity leave.

There could even be a financial bonus too. Research carried out in Sweden has estimated that each additional month of paternity leave taken by a father can increase a mother’s earnings by 6.7%.


What's the World Economic Forum doing about the gender gap?

4. There is a significant cost to not making paternity care possible

If fathers aren’t able to take time off from work to look after their children, who will? The mothers, most likely. It’s a situation that was exacerbated by the pandemic, according to the Center for American Progress. The demands of childcare mean many women drop out of the workforce altogether, or reduce their working hours, the Center writes in a recent report. The result of which amounts to around “$64.5 billion per year in lost wages and economic activity.”

“This is a crushing loss to families and communities that are still reeling from the pandemic-induced economic collapse. Furthermore, without a significant public response, these consequences will have additional ripple effects that will continue to hurt communities and stifle the economic recovery,” the Center writes.

Have you read?

5. Calls for more equal parental leave are growing louder

In the US, there is a growing sense that paternity leave is needed. Although the strength of feeling on this issue depends on who you ask. Workers with no managerial responsibilities are “the most likely (75%) to say that companies should offer leave to both mothers and fathers,” according to survey data from YouGov.

Of those in middle management roles, 68% agree that both parents should be offered time off. By comparison, 29% of CEOs said only mothers should be allowed time off. YouGov also found that 1 in 5 fathers think parental leave should only be available to mothers, while just 11% of mothers hold that view.


Gender dynamics and the personal dimension

Last year, Ryan Bonnici, who is chief marketing officer at a software business, wrote about his experiences as a new father on the London School of Economics’ blog. When he let it be known he was taking paternity leave, he said: “I’ve been getting much more than congratulations. I’ve been praised, and even thanked, for taking this leave.”

“I’ve never seen women be inundated with gratitude and praise for taking leave after having a baby,” he continued. “While I’m grateful for the positivity and support people have offered, this difference speaks to larger issues of gender expectations in the workplace.”

Other stories have highlighted the prevalence of depression among new parents. It affects around 10% to 12% of new mothers and at least 8% of new fathers, with as many as 1 in 5 new fathers describing “troublesome” depressive symptoms.

For more context, here are links to further reading from the World Economic Forum's Strategic Intelligence platform:

  • Paternity leave as COVID-19 casualty – according to this report, many new fathers fearful of losing their jobs amid the disruption caused by the pandemic may opt to not take any leave at all. (Raconteur)
  • When the author of this piece announced he’d be taking all the paternity leave he’s entitled to, he was both widely congratulated and left wondering why women are never so warmly praised for taking leave after giving birth. (LSE Business Review)
  • Last year the UAE changed its laws to grant five days of paternity leave to workers in the private sector, marking a first for the Arab world, according to this report. (Al Monitor)
  • “I was one of those strange people who wanted to be locked down.” The author of this piece found that fatherhood coupled with pandemic restrictions reminded him that security is not just about personal safety from violence. (The Atlantic)
  • Depression affects about 10% to 12% of new mothers and at least 8% of new fathers, according to this study, and as many as one in five new fathers experience “troublesome” depressive symptoms. (Science Daily)
  • Sure, “Papa“ Hemingway thought a man was a “fool” to allow family to interrupt his work, but according to this analysis we can see the depth of his paternal feeling in his writing, and the domestic moments that inspired him in his letters. (The Conversation)
  • COVID-19 is freaking out fathers and there are reasons to be concerned, according to this piece – which argues that public health surveillance should expand beyond mothers and children to focus on subgroups of fathers at higher risk. (STAT)
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