When Dad Takes Parental Leave, or Not: The Gender Story

chris short

The latest topic to fuel the omnipresent back-to-work after baby conversation and one that has been dominating the headlines: do dads take more time off work if they have a son?

According to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the answer is YES. New fathers in California are more likely to take paternity leave if they have sons.

At the It’s Working Project, we connect with parents heading back to work – we gather insights with an ear for what is the true state of back-to-work with baby in the US.  Our Portrait Project has collected over 200 stories about what the reality of this challenge is for men and women, as well as for those they work for, those who for them, and so on. It’s a rich mosaic of individual stories: the good, the bad, and the starkly honest.  Most of the conversations focus on the similar and yet intensely personal and unique struggles new parents face when on-ramping back to work.

Our goal is to take our insights and use them to actively support the private sector as they seek to successfully bring families back to work with ease, as a matter of course and with a sense of pride. This work affords us the opportunity to turn our insights into policy that speaks to the next generation of family in the workplace.

So we were excited to dig deep with our dads and ask, did gender play a role in taking time off for you? Here’s what they had to say:

“I find the notion of a child’s gender playing any role in this decision to be puzzling.”–Matthew Swanson, father of 3

“I actually took more time off when my daughter was born. I have been very fortunate in my career to become a father while working at companies that value and support working parents, from human resources to direct managers. Gender of the baby has absolutely no impact of my parental leave planning.”–Mike Schaffer, father of 2 with one on the way.

“Obviously, this wasn’t an issue for us since we had two little girls but I can’t imagine it having been any different if I had a son. I read that study and I still can’t wrap my head around it. How can a father’s time with a tiny (non-sports-playing/tool-wielding) infant be any more important or “functional” than his time spent bonding with his infant daughter? The good news is, in my personal experience, my friends who are fathers of daughters love them just as much and work just as hard to spend time with them as they would have if they had been born boys.”–Chris Short, father of 2

“I find the results of the study very distressing if not. It’s distressing and unbelievable to me that men would value caring for a boy more than a girl.”–Brett Pipitone, father of 2

“I firmly believe that I would not have taken additional time off for paternity leave if my children were male, but that is solely conjecture at this point. In my gut, I do believe that society is more likely to (unfairly) show preferential treatment to boys – so why would male offspring deserve other treatment. The article itself though does not do a good job backing that emotion up.  I would love to see what the study says in terms of absolute percentages as opposed to relative percentages and how the samples break down socio-economically or racially/culturally.  How does this study tie into birth defects or other birth related issues.  There are several unanswered questions and unknowns.  I can understand the concept that men may be partial to taking time off for a boy; however the study doesn’t have enough data or analysis to be convincing.”–Samir Kulkarni, father of 3

While the dads we’ve spoken to were incredulous that fathers would take more time off for their sons, through our Portrait Project we have seen time and again that dads are less likely to talk about their leave and the stress they may be experiencing as a new parent.

As Lydia Dishman mentions in her Fast Company article, “What Marissa Mayer’s Maternity Leave Decision Means for Working Parents at Yahoo:”

In recent research, some fathers revealed that after having children, trading anecdotes about kids around the water cooler was fine, but talking about achieving work/life balance, not so much. “People don’t want to give away that they are feeling stressed out,” one participant said.

At the It’s Working Project, we hear that dads are taking into consideration the fullest spectrum of factors at play when it comes to paternity leave–the needs of their job, the needs of their spouse, and the needs of their children–regardless of gender. We also hear all the things they’re not sharing around the water cooler, about how being a new working dad is hard, stressful, and of course, rewarding. By telling their stories on our Portrait Project, we hope to create a space in which dads can share more of their experiences about going back to work after baby, and that we can continue showing the private sector the specific ways in which they can better support mothers and fathers as they support their families. To do that, we need to hear from more working parents. So share our outrage in the California study that suggests some dads are more inclined to take paternity leave for male children, and then share your story of back-to-work after baby!

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