Economic Barriers Are A Major Factor In Men Not Taking Family Leave

Supermajority Education Fund

December 16, 2019

A new study on men taking family leave released on Dec. 4 by New America, a public policy think tank, sheds light on what prevents men from spending more time on caregiving responsibilities. The study found that although masculine ideals around caregiving affect men’s decisions to take family leave, workplace cultures and practices, economic factors, and family support also factored into men’s decisions. 

Haley Swenson, the editorial and innovation manager for the Better Life Lab at New America and one of the report’s authors, told Supermajority News that while normalizing fathers’ involvement in caregiving generally is important, ”the much bigger barriers here are financial limitations and workplace cultures that punish them for being involved caregivers. These are structural issues. We can’t demand that men take family leave when they don’t actually have a workable policy available to them.”

The study found that when they do take family leave, whether to care for a child or family member, 71 percent of fathers were at least partially paid by an employer and 57 percent said they had fully-paid leave. In contrast, 52 percent of mothers said they received partially paid leave and only 33 percent said they had fully paid leave.

But despite being more likely to be paid during their leave, men said long-term economic precarity influenced their decision. James, a 48-year-old father of three and an analyst for a vehicle manufacturer, told New America that while he would use paid leave if it was available and needed, “My only worry is with my long-term job, even if the policy allowed for it, would it be used against me during a down-size/layoffs?” 

The study also showed that lower-income parents, those who earned less than $30,000 a year, were least likely to say they’d taken any leave. Two in five of the lowest wage earners took leave to care for a new child compared to more than half of parents who earned more.

Swenson noted that the study’s data shows families are paying for leave out of their savings, borrowing money, signing up for public assistance, and not paying bills. 

There were not enough LGBTQ people included in the study to be nationally representative, and therefore it’s unclear how their decisions may differ.

The U.S. is one of the few developed, high-income countries that doesn’t offer publicly funded maternity leave. Swenson said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)’s paid family leave proposal is the only one that would adequately cover the leaves Americans say they will need in the future, including taking care of family members who are elderly, have illnesses, or are people with disabilities.

“Implementing a new program in the U.S. takes political momentum, because it’s not simple or cost-free,” Swenson said. “But as our study shows, doing nothing is costing us immensely right now, both financially and emotionally. We have to ask ourselves what kind of society we want to live in and how much we value family time and care.”