Father and son

(WOMENSENEWS)– For Father’s Day this year, let’s reconsider paid parental leave and paid sick leave policies that could enable fathers to do the child care work many want to do.

This is essential for women’s advancement in the workplace and the overall well-being of many families.

About 8-in-10 mothers bear primary responsibility for choosing their child’s doctor, taking them to appointments and making sure they receive follow up care, finds a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation that surveyed more than 2,000 women. Working mothers are also more than 10 times as likely as working fathers to take time off from work to care for a sick child.

A lot has been written and said about how women’s pivotal role in family caregiving takes a toll on their economic well-being and careers.

The United States is the only developed nation not to guarantee paid maternity leave, and only a small portion of employers voluntarily provide paid parental leave to both mothers and fathers. In addition, while three states, the District of Columbia and a number of smaller localities have implemented paid sick leave policies, there is no federal law guaranteeing workers paid sick days and most states have not closed this gap. (In a fourth state, a paid sick days bill has passed the state legislature and is awaiting the governor’s signature.)

Many women lose pay, or even their jobs, when they have to stay home to care for a sick child or relative.

The unequal division of child care responsibilities may also hurt women’s careers in another way: women are sometimes passed over for raises or promotions because of the perception that their family care responsibilities will take precedence over their jobs.

Shifting Perception

Shifting this perception–and the imbalance of these responsibilities–is in women’s economic interests. Many men are recognizing that it’s also in their best interests because it allows them to participate more fully in their children’s care.

Economically and culturally, however, the status quo is incentivized. Because women earn less than men on average–just 78 cents on the dollar in 2013–it often makes financial sense (given that parental leave and sick leave to care for children are often unpaid) for women to assume the bulk of the caregiving responsibilities.

It is cheaper for them to make whatever sacrifices at work. And culturally, although we’ve made progress, we still haven’t completely accepted the notion that men can be more than just secondary parents.

A recent study on paid parental leave yields insight into how men’s greater use of a paid leave policy might help overturn these gender roles and expectations. The study examined the Quebec Parental Insurance Program, a parental leave system that has increased benefits for all parents and, even more importantly, set aside five weeks of nontransferable leave for fathers. The program has set the wage replacement rate for this paternity leave at 70 percent and increased the rate from 55 to 70 percent for maternity leave and the first seven weeks of parental leave. (An alternative plan is available that offers a slightly higher replacement rate for a shorter duration.)

When the "daddy quota" was added–when the nontransferable leave was set aside for fathers–the percentage of men who took paternity leave increased by more than three-fold. Moreover, men who participated in the program spent 23 percent more time on household work and child care even after the leave program had ended, while women whose husbands used the leave spent more time in paid work than those whose husbands did not participate.

‘Daddy Only’ Might Work

The designation of some parental leave as "daddy only"–versus one that leaves parents with a shared amount of time to divvy up–may do more to overturn traditional gender roles than a gender neutral paid leave system. But what does this mean for paid sick days?

Enacting a national paid sick leave policy and similar statewide policies would no doubt provide substantial help to women, especially single mothers, by enabling them to care for their families without having to sacrifice a day’s wages or their jobs.

But would these policies also incentivize more fathers to take time off to care for their children by reducing the economic disincentive for them to do so? Little research is available to answer this question, although one evaluation by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research of a 2007 paid sick leave ordinance enacted in San Francisco may hold some clues.

In a one-year period following the implementation of the policy, female workers were more likely than male workers to use paid sick days to care for a child. But the gap was much narrower than in the Kaiser study (about 52 percent of fathers reported taking paid leave to care for their sick children compared with 68 percent of mothers).

Many people argue that a paid sick leave policy is likely to be abused by workers and have negative effects for employers. But in the San Francisco study, the typical worker with paid sick days used only three days of sick leave during the previous year, and employer profitability did not suffer.

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