Why dads should take parental leave

Being able to witness the birth and early stages of your child’s life seems like a no brainer. Yet, according to TheBump.com, dads are only taking one day off work for every month of the mother's maternity leave. Even when paid leave is offered, over 95% of dad's aren't taking it.

Woodward Family-14_b&w.jpg

Reasons why corporate dads should take parental leave

Recent research has provided a compelling case for why men should take parental leave.

Dads who take parental leave:

  1. Are happier 
  2. Experience increased level of engagement and bonding and are more satisfied with time spent with their child
  3.  Are more satisfied with their jobs, experience less work-family conflict and greater work - family enrichment
  4. Can develop similar child caring skills and capability for parenting as mothers, and have similarly positive effects on children and family functioning
  5. Are more likely to be an 'involved father', taking on tasks such as feeding, dressing, bathing and playing with their children
  6. Are likely to continue being more involved with children and child raising tasks in years to come (where the length of leave taken is greater than 2 weeks)
  7. Generally report greater life satisfaction and better physical and mental health than those who care for and interact less with their children.

Kids of dads who take parental leave:

  1. See their dads participating in more activities as they grow up. Paternity leave affects the evolution of household roles in the longer run, with these dads more likely to continue being involved in future child rearing activities like helping with schoolwork.
  2. Have stronger cognitive development and test scores
  3. Benefit from lower parenting stress in the household and lower depression in their mothers (Fisher et al, 2006)
  4. Have infant mortality reduced by as much as 10% 

Women who have a spouse who takes extended parental leave:

  1. Return to work full time faster and experience less long-term negative career and retirement income impacts
  2. Experience an increase in earnings of 6.7% for each additional month that the father stays on parental leave
  3. Avoid the typical 4.5% reduction in wage if a dad doesn't take parental leave (for fathers, there is no effect on earnings from their partner taking parental leave)
  4. Increasing female employment, bolstering the economy and subsequently reducing the family’s poverty risk
  5. Reducing discrimination in the workplace, particularly regarding hiring decisions (if men and women are equally likely to take parental leave, this will reduce the reluctance to hire women of childbearing age) 
  6. Potentially decreasing the gender pay gap, which is largest among married parents with a minor child in the home.
  7. Experience a 5-10% reduction in workplace absences due to children being sick  (Norway study, Bratberg and Nat, 2009)
  8. Recover from pregnancy and childbirth faster and have healthier children.

By taking parental leave, dads can have a positive impact not only on their own lives but the health and wellbeing of their families as a whole.


Try not to become a man of success, but rather a man of value.
— Albert Eintein

Reasons why corporate dads don't take parental leave

Even though there are so many personal and broader benefits of taking parental leave, 95% of Australian dads still don't take more than 2 weeks leave. Sadly there are many factors influencing corporate dads against taking extended forms of parental leave. Some of these may include:

  • Financial cost to the dad/family if paid parental leave is not offered or is inadequate to meet the financial cost of taking time out (e.g. if the difference between current salary and the government's Parental Leave Pay Scheme at minimum wage is too significant).
  • Dad's feeling like they need to be or should be the primary bread-winner. But this is changing, particularly among the new generation of Millennials that are now entering parenthood. 70% of parents are now likely to have a partner that works full time. This statistic jumps up to 78% when referring to Millennials. Earlier last year (2017), Roy Morgan Research revealed that 57% of women living with their partner and no kids claim that they are the primary earner. While 85% of men with partners and no kids claim the same, it does suggest that women may be earning more than men realise or want to admit. For women living with their partner and with kids, only 33% claim to be the household's main earner (86% for men). While this trend does align with the wage penalties and deceleration of careers for mothers, these figures suggest that the next generation of parents will likely consist of significantly more 'primary breadwinner mums' for whom it will make more financial sense for their partners to be taking longer periods of primary carer leave.
  • Negative impact on the Dad’s career progression if he takes primary carer leave e.g. dad no longer seen as taking career seriously, being passed up for promotion etc.
A study by Deloitte found that one in three men claim their role would be in jeopardy for taking parental leave. Of those surveyed, 54% also thought that men were judged more by their colleagues for taking the same amount of parental leave as women.
  • A workplace culture that does not support support dads taking parental leave, even if parental leave is offered.
E.g. According to data submitted to WGEA, all six of Australia's largest law firms (>1,000 employees) offer primary carer leave of 14-18 weeks for men and women. However, the percentage of male employees actually taking primary carer leave averages just 4% across these firms, with the highest uptake being 8.9% at Herbert Smith Freehills. Clayton Utz and Slater & Gordon Ltd both recorded 0% of male employees taking this leave. This suggests that cultural issues across these firms (and many others) could be one of the significant factors deterring dads from taking leave, even when it is offered to them.
In an extreme but perhaps relatable example in the USA, A Boston sports talk show host said on air what most people fear is whispered about dads who take leave. The talk show host criticised his colleague, calling him “soft” for taking two weeks off upon the birth of his son, while claiming that it was “insane” that major league baseball players could “can take a week so they can stay home and tickle the baby”.
  • Dads fearing that taking parental leave may negatively impact future career prospects such as promotions, pay rises or being assigned desireable projects.
  • Dads having a lack of confidence in looking after a baby for a sustained period of time.
  • Dads or their broader family holding traditional views of family roles (i.e. that parental leave is the role of the mother while the dad’s role is of the primary breadwinner).

At the end of the day, if corporate dads are going to play a bigger role in the lives of their children, they need to desire parental leave more than the alternative of staying at work during this time. It also needs to be financially affordable for them to do so. Much can still be done to educate dads on the importance of spending time with their children to encourage them to take any or all parental leave that might be accessible to them.

The fact that large organisations in Australia (e.g. those employing over 1,000 people) are able to either:

  1. refuse offer equal parental leave to both mothers and fathers, or
  2. refuse to offer paid parental leave at all (forcing employees to rely on the government's 18 weeks pay at minimum wage)

are clear signs of a broken system that does not support equality for fathers. Employers also appear to need educating on the benefits of offering paid parental leave including economic benefits and how embedding a diversity and inclusion that promotes equality for fathers can have a greater social impact in supporting careers for women and decreasing the gender pay gap.  

Government legislators and policy makers should also consider whether the current approach to the Parental Leave Pay Scheme is effective. While general awareness of the scheme can definitely be improved, the government should also question whether a single approach for all organisations regardless of size or profitability is effective or equitable. While it is understandable that enforcing minimum standards for paid parental leave for mothers and fathers would be too burdensome for many small and medium size businesses, the fact that large and highly profitable organisations are able to get away with not providing any paid parental leave to mothers or fathers fathers while forcing their employees to take tax-payer funded Parental Leave Pay is appalling in this day and age.