Study: More Men Are Availing Paternity Leave, but Women Still Bear the Burden of Housework, Parenting
Another day, another study, another proof that progressive feminist policies will continue to fall short unless there is a parallel effort to change people’s mindset about gender norms. Even though more American fathers are now open to, and even eager, to take paternity leave, mothers continue to be responsible for caregiving and household tasks for all intents and purposes, researchers at the Boston College Center for Work & Family concluded after a survey of more than 1,000 new parents.
The researchers analyzed survey responses from 1,240 new parents employed at four large U.S. companies, who were eligible for at least six weeks of paid parental leave.
In the survey, 81% of the employees agreed that fathers taking parental leave had become more acceptable, and 62% of men availed the full leave available to them. Around 75% of employees said their employer was equally supportive of men and women taking parental leave, while more than 50% of employees agreed that parental leave makes employee work culture better. When respondents were asked to place themselves on a continuum between “family-centric” and “career-centric,” both men and women said they were “dual-centric,” or equally focused on family and career.
This marks a major shift from the researchers’ findings from five years ago when 76% of men said they preferred not taking all the leave available to them at once; a similar percentage thought two to four weeks of leave was sufficient for new fathers. This year’s survey aimed to investigate whether or not people had different attitudes toward paid, mandatory parental leave for new fathers.
“At present, the U.S. continues to be the only developed country in the world that does not offer a national policy for paid leave for new parents — not even maternity leave. Americans only have access to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows employees to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Even then, only 60% of U.S. employees meet the criteria for protection under FMLA, and many employees cannot afford to take unpaid time off,” the researchers write in the report collating the survey’s findings.
Slowly, some states, cities, and employers have started passing laws or enacting policies requiring paid leave coverage for new parents.
However, gender stereotypes, stubborn as they are, persist in 2019. Predictably, almost all women (93%) availed their entire maternity leave. But, here’s the interesting bit: Even though the primary motivation behind taking parental leave was the same for both men and women — wanting to be the best parent they could — more men than women took leave because they wanted to “share caregiving with their partner”: 97% of men compared with 57% of women agreed this is a reason why they take parental leave. This fact neatly summarizes the core issue: caregiving continues to be a woman’s primary role — not something to be shared — and a man’s secondary, optional, altruistic role.
And, even though as many men as women said they take parental leave so they can do best by their newborns, more than half the men admitted their partner handled the lion’s share of parenting responsibilities. “The vast majority of men (76%) and women (74%) agree that they should provide equal amounts of care, but most men (54%) and women (49%) say that women actually do provide more care,” the researchers write. Only 2% of men reported more caregiving than their partners. Similarly, the responsibility of running the house also still majorly falls on women, positive attitudes aside: While most men and women also agree that household duties should be shared equally, fewer report that these duties actually are shared equally (54% of men and 43% of women.)
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“Even in a sample in which the men took extended paid parental leave and the women were employed full-time, mothers were still far more likely to bear the majority of the responsibilities at home. While it is encouraging that mothers’ and fathers’ aspirations for shared caregiving are both high, the reality is that in the home, traditional gender roles persist,” the researchers elaborated in the report.
Returning to work after leave also panned out differently for the two genders: 36% of women and 25% of men felt that their manager had higher expectations of them after their return from leave, perhaps as a result of the backlog of work, the researchers suggest.
While men in the study report a small net increase in job satisfaction upon return, women report a substantial net decrease after returning to work. Nearly one-third of women reported a decrease in job satisfaction compared to 14% of women who reported an increase.
Only 9% of men felt their chances for a promotion decreased after they returned from leave, compared to 20% of women.
India’s Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Act, 2017, currently provides new biological mothers paid leave for 26 weeks, but just like the U.S., China, and 87 other countries in the world, there is no provision for paternity leave in the private sector; central government jobs offer two weeks of paternity leave. Japan leads the world in this regard; it is the only country that offers at least six months’ paternity leave at full pay for new fathers.
A similar trend as observed in the study can be traced in India; in the absence of a state-sponsored paternity leave policy, private organizations are stepping up to fill in the apparent demand. IKEA India rolled out a 26-week paternity policy for men in 2017; PepsiCo India declared a 12-week paternity leave for its employees in 2018; in 2019, Zomato rolled out a 26-week leave for fathers, non-birthing parents, same-sex partners, and in cases of surrogacy and adoption.
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But is India ready for paternity leave? “More than company policies or rules, the mindset of men needs to change. In my 20-year career, I have hardly seen anyone take paternity leave. Earlier, of course, there was no such concept, but even now, the situation has not changed much. Whenever required, fathers take a day or two off, but not a continuous paternity leave. Also, a sabbatical at work can mean missed opportunities and not many men are okay with this,” a Gurgaon-based banker said to Times of India in June 2019.
In India, women still do a majority of the unpaid work care work and housework — 312 minutes per day, as compared to men who average out at 29 minutes per day. (Comparatively, in the U.S., where the researchers conducted the survey, women do unpaid home labor for 243 minutes per day; men, for 150 minutes.)
According to a recent eight-city survey of 6,428 young men and women of India, half of the men said they didn’t think women could run the home and doing paid work together; half again said they’d like women to be homemakers. Only 1.5% of the men said they considered basic home duties, such as cooking and cleaning, as their responsibilities.
“But, as all genders are products or victims of the patriarchy, many of the gendered beliefs held by men were also held by women respondents,” The Swaddle had reported when the survey released. “For instance, 23.5% of women agreed women can’t run the home and do paid work at the same time. This, of course, is true as long as men refuse to share the burden of care work and housework; the time available to women to work both in and out of the house is insufficient.”
Admittedly, it will take time to bring about change from the bottom-up, that is, to change the mindsets that foster such rigid roles for men and women. But there is also scope for progress from the top-down. The first step to ensuring gender equality in the workplace is equal, gender-neutral paid parental leave. But this also needs to be supplemented with policies that make it easier for both men and women to break out of their prescribed roles, such as gradual, gender-neutral return-to-work policies, flexible work arrangements, mandatory check-ins with HR departments, new parent support groups, daycare facilities for children, changing facilities for new parents, and feeding rooms for new mothers. To fight a multi-headed beast like patriarchy, we need a multi-pronged approach.