Fathers in France will now get double the paid paternity leave, President Emmanuel Macron announced this week. Starting next summer, dads will receive 28 days paid leave, up from the previous 14. “When a baby arrives in the world, there is no reason it should be just the mother who takes care of it,” Macron said in the announcement. Amen.
The extension falls short of a recommendation from French researchers that fathers be given up to nine weeks leave, according to the New York Times, but it is still one of the best paternity leave plans in Europe. It stands in stark contrast to the dire state of paternity leave in the U.S., one of the wealthiest countries in the world, where there is no federal paid parental leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) grants some mothers and fathers the ability to take 12 weeks unpaid leave and return to a protected job, depending on the size and type of the company. But the law leaves many parents at the mercy of the state in which they live (only three, California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, grant paid leave) or their employers’ individual plans.
This is a gamble, at best, for fathers: Only 9 percent of U.S. companies offer paid paternity leave to all male employees, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families. Some companies offer more paid leave for mothers and less for fathers (the Walt Disney Company, for one, gives new moms 12 weeks and new dads three), essentially codifying that taking care of a new child is a woman’s responsibility.
Even when paternity leave is an option, many fathers don’t take it, due to a “looming stigma and fear of losing their standing—or, even worse, their job,” Reddit cofounder and paternity leave advocate Alexis Ohanian recently wrote for Fast Company (he took four months paid leave from Reddit after his wife, Serena Williams, nearly died in childbirth). “Unfortunately, those fears are not unfounded and that stigma is very real.” Ohanian noted in a 2019 New York Times op-ed that “76 percent of fathers are back to work within a week after the birth or adoption of a child.”
Studies have shown that paternity leave can set the tone for fathers’ long-term relationships with their children and families. Children whose fathers took at least two weeks of paternity leave reported feeling closer to their dads even nine years later, according to a joint study of sociology professors at Ball State University and Ohio State University, which also found that paternity leave is linked to lower divorce rates. In Europe, data found that fathers are “more likely to remain involved in parenting and to equitably divide household chores with their partners if they take time off after their children arrive.”
“The implication that paternity leave is unimportant sets a dangerous precedent, one that suggests fathers are not an integral part of the child-care unit, and perpetuates the antiquated belief that mothers alone should be the primary caregivers,” Ohanian wrote in Fast Company. “Worse, explicitly (or implicitly) telling a male employee that they’re less of a man for taking time to be with their family after their child’s birth is as stupid as it is outdated. Showing up is exactly what fathers should be doing for their families. Now is the time to eliminate the stigma associated with paternity leave, once and for all.”