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Cynthia Ramnarace

Paternity Leave by the Numbers

Fascinating facts you didn’t know about new dads taking time off work. Plus, how your guy can get the leave he wants.

89: Percent of men who say it’s important for employers to offer paid paternity leave

A couple generations ago, men weren’t even allowed in the delivery room, but now a huge majority of men — yep, 89 percent according to a Boston College study called “The New Dad” — want to take time off from work after their babies are born and think it should be paid. This stat reflects the fact that dads want to be more involved than ever, and having paternity leave can help establish his role from the get-go.

Many men said they want to spend more time with their children than they currently do, and two-thirds of dads said child rearing should be a shared responsibility by both parents.

“If fathers have paternity leave, they can be there to help not only with the children, but also help the spouse while she’s recovering from whatever difficulties she might have had after birth,” says Fred Van Deusen, senior research associate with the Boston College Center for Work and Family. “And those fathers can establish themselves as active caregivers.”

75+: Percent of men who think the paternity leave should be flexible

Only 20 percent of men surveyed believe paternity leave should coincide with their baby’s birth. Instead, most of them believed the time off should be taken when it is most needed within a certain time frame, such as six months. This could give parents more flexibility with child care — dad could take his leave once mom returns to work, which means less time spent at a day care or with a nanny.

79: Number of countries that have laws requiring paternity leave

That includes 29 countries in Africa, seven in Asia, five in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 12 in Latin America, two in the Middle East and 24 in the Developed Economies. In the US, we have the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows for parents to take up to 12 weeks off following the birth of baby, but there’s no rule requiring that the leave be paid, and companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempt. Several states — California, New Jersey and Rhode Island — do have paid paternity leave policies.

Globally, nearly all countries with a paternity leave policy (70 out of 79) require some level of paid leave. In most of them, the leave is provided as a benefit and funded by both the company and through a federal program, often through income taxes.

“The amount paid varies dramatically by country,” Van Deusen says. “But they’ve found the same sort of thing: If you don’t pay at least two-thirds of the salary, people aren’t going to use it.”

9: Percentage of American companies that offer paid paternity leave for all their employees

Not that many, huh? “The fact that the FMLA is unpaid severely limits its use by fathers,” Van Deusen says. In fact, 86 percent of study respondents said they would not take paternity leave unless at least 70 percent of their salary was paid.

90: Days of paid leave new dads get in Iceland and Slovenia

In Kenya, men can take two weeks paid paternity leave. In Chile, Portugal and Italy, paternity leave is not optional — men must take time off when their babies are born. Not every country is as generous — Tunisia and Mozambique only offer one day. The majority paternity leaves (if actually taken!) in the US are 10 days or less, according to a US Department of Labor study.

90 (yes, again): Percentage of dads on paternity leave who care for baby

The good news is the guys who do take paternity leave are taking it seriously. Ninety percent reported spending time caring for their babies and changing diapers. More than 80 percent did household tasks such as shopping, cleaning and meal preparation. Probably most importantly, dads are spending time bonding with their babies.

"The first diaper I ever changed was the day he was born,” says James Chisum of Orange, California, whose employer allowed him to take two paid weeks off after the birth of his son Micah. “I was terrified. I had no idea what I was doing. But then I realized it’s intuitive. My wife was shocked I was able to take on so much responsibility."

1: Number of days a dad typically takes off to bond with baby for every month a mom does

Nope, guys aren’t taking the time off that many believe they should. Paternity leave helps men to develop parenting skills and a sense of responsibility that turns them into co-parents, as opposed to just “helpers,” according to a study by the International Labour Organization.

For Chisum, being home with his newborn son helped him better understand the challenges his wife would be up against once she was home alone with Micah. “I got to see what the daily grind looks like for her,” he said. “I can't imagine how frustrating it is for mom when dad comes home after eight hours and the house is a wreck, dishes in sink, and the dad doesn't understand that you were chained to the couch with a baby on your breast. It was good for me to see how much time is required of you from a newborn.”

6.7: Percentage a woman’s earnings went up when her partner took paternity leave

The benefits aren’t just for dad and baby. When dads take paternity leave, moms are healthier, less likely to be depressed and have an increased earning potential, according to the Boston College study. A study in Sweden showed that each additional month of leave taken by the father increases the mother’s earnings by 6.7 percent. Paternity leave can benefit the whole family.

“While I was home, I tried to create an environment where things were in their place and mom was happy,” says Chisum. “If mom is completely overwhelmed. I was able to say, ‘Keep trying; you’re doing a good job.’”

40: Percentage of dads with paternity leave who felt pressure to go back to work early

For men with generous leave policies, having the option of taking more time off doesn’t always mean he will. The most common length of time men spent away from the office was two weeks. In the Boston College study, roughly 30 percent of men who had the option to take four to six weeks leave only took two. When asked how they decided when to return to work, 40 percent of men said pressures at work, deadlines and current projects spurred them to return earlier than required.

“The simplest way to overcome the stigmatization around using paternity leave is for all men to be supportive of both their male and female colleagues utilizing parental leave or seeking support for alternative work arrangements,” says China Gorman, CEO of Great Place to Work. “The more supportive everyone can be, the less we’ll see stigmatization of anyone, whether male or female, for taking advantage of family leave programs.”

Plus, More from The Bump:

10 Things Every New Dad Should Know

Dads Biggest Fears

Talking About Parenting Before Baby Arrives