Paternal politics

By Jeremy Adam Smith | January 3, 2008 | 0 comments

One recent study by a conservative British think-tank questioned whether men would ever use extended paternity leave, because their study revealed that professional British men seldom cut back on their hours after becoming dads. "It seems that fathers don't want to work fewer hours," said lead author Esther Dermott–not taking into account larger cultural factors and penalties fathers might face at work if they took advantage of leave policies.

But men's behavior will evolve in response to changing conditions, and so will workplaces. The social democracies of northern Europe have offered generous family leave benefits for quite some time, but recently Germany started offering a hefty subsidy to stay-at-home parents of both genders. "A parent taking time off work to care for a newborn is paid two-thirds of his or her net monthly salary, up to a maximum of 1,800 euros, tax-free for 12 months. The other parent can take a further two months off to extend the benefit to 14 months," reports Reuters. The article continues:

German fathers are staying home with their newborn babies in unexpectedly high numbers in the first year of a generous government subsidy meant to boost the country's low birth rate, officials said on Friday…

Fathers accounted for about 10 percent of subsidy beneficiaries in the third quarter of this year, a major shift in the attitude of German men taking time off work for their children, officials said…

"It's becoming much more acceptable for someone just starting out in his career to take some time off to be with his kids," Families Minister Ursula von der Leyen said…

The unexpected surge in fathers seeking benefits could signal a significant change in the way Germans divide the labour of childrearing, said Nicola Huelskamp, consultant for the German Economic Institute in Cologne.

"This arrangement could mean not only women are held accountable," Huelskamp said.

This is good news, for Germany at least: Many studies have revealed the benefits of early father involvement to both babies and mothers. Many other studies show that kids do better if a parent stays home at least part-time in the first year–and the parent does not have to be the mother. And yet here U.S. public policy lags far behind: Only workers in California have any kind of automatic paid family leave and wage replacement; nationwide, only one in five jobs provide any kind of family leave, and that's often restricted to mothers. We can do better.

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About The Author

Jeremy Adam Smith edits the GGSC’s online magazine, Greater Good. He is also the author or coeditor of four books, including The Daddy Shift, Are We Born Racist?, and The Compassionate Instinct. Before joining the GGSC, Jeremy was a 2010-11 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University. You can follow him on Twitter!


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