Relationships Can Really Benefit From Paternity Leave, Study Says

“For the full benefits of parental leave policies to be realized, U.S. culture needs to be more accepting of fathers taking leave.”
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By Nehal Aggarwal, Editor
Updated January 22, 2020
dad holding and bonding with his newborn baby daughter in bed

Parental leave in the United States needs some work—and not just for moms. According to experts, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the traditional role of dads as the “bread-winners” in heterosexual couples isn’t necessarily good for his family or for society as a whole. Of course, each family is different in what works and doesn’t work for them. But, according to a new study, taking paternity leave could actually play an important role in the health of a marriage or relationship.

The study, conducted by researchers from Ball State University and published in the November 2019 issue of Journal of Social Policy found that dads who take the leave are associated with more stable parental relationships.

More specifically, fathers who take one week of paternity leave to spend time with their newborn are 25 percent less likely to see their marriage or relationships fail within the first six years after baby, whereas fathers who take two weeks of leave or less are 29 percent less likely to see their relationship dissolve. Surprisingly, researchers found that taking three weeks or more of leave didn’t affect the stability of the relationship.

“Results suggest that increasing access to parental leave for fathers—and encouraging fathers to take this leave—may help to increase family stability,” Richard Petts, the study’s lead author and Ball State sociology professor, stated in a press release. “If taking leave provides fathers with time to learn to be an engaged parent, and parents time to establish equitable co-parenting relationships, it seems logical that more time on leave would be better for parents and help to strengthen parental relationships. However, it is important to consider the cultural norms surrounding parental leave and the implications of taking more time off than is expected, or accepted, within a society.”

The data for the study was taken from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort. It contained samples of approximately 14,000 children born in the US in 2001. This study narrowed down the sample based on two-parent families in which the fathers were employed both at the time of and following baby’s birth, leaving a sample size of approximately 6,000 heterosexual couples.

According to Petts, in America, most dads take a short period of time off work when baby is born, as societal norm dictates. However, it is out of the norm for a father to take more than a couple of weeks off work following the birth, as this leads to career penalties and stigmas, Petts states.

“Given the numerous benefits of parental leave, the increased attention on expanding parental leave policies in the U.S. is warranted. American parents need greater access to paid parental leave in order to take advantage of the benefits that parental leave provides, such as more stable parental relationships,” Petts stated in the release. “For the full benefits of parental leave policies to be realized, U.S. culture needs to be more accepting of fathers taking leave. By doing so, we may be able to work towards greater gender equality by encouraging—and providing opportunities for—mothers and fathers to share more equally in childcare.”

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