Dads say they deserve parental leave, even if they don't take it

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(Bloomberg) – A lot of dads say they support paid leave for fathers to care for newborn children – but maybe they mean other fathers. The vast majority of men don’t take more than a week off, and they’re less likely to take time for a second child, according to new research from Ball State University.

Only 14% of fathers who take leave use more than two weeks, said Richard Petts, a father of two and a sociology professor at Ball State. He analyzed several sets of data on who uses parental leave and how. In one study, first-time dads were 77% more likely to take leave than a dad who had two or more children; Another study found the newbies were 44% more likely to use time off.

“If you’re doing it for the first time, you’re extra excited, you don’t necessarily have the ‘This is going to be much harder than I thought’ idea,” said Petts, who became interested in the topic after he learned he had few options for paid leave after the birth of his son, 5, and daughter, 4.

The reluctance -- or inability -- of men to take child-care leave is often considered harmful to women, who miss opportunities for promotion when they are out of the work force for longer periods than men. When men take longer leave, two things happen: women return to work sooner, and men become more attuned to, and less tolerant of, those opportunity costs. What’s more, Petts said, dads who take longer leave also tend be more involved in their child’s life and care overall.

About 24% of companies offer parental leave, according to the latest survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. The benefit averages about 41 days for maternity leave and 22 days for paternity leave -- and where 66% of women use the total available leave, only 36% of men do the same, SHRM found. The U.S. is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t have federal parental leave.

The study also points out that dads who are more established and have higher incomes are more likely to take leave and take it for longer than fathers who earn less or are earlier in their career, Petts said.

“The vast majority of companies offer no paid leave for having a kid,” said Petts. “If only the ‘haves’ have access, it’s only exacerbating the inequality.”

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