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New Research Finds Most Fathers Taking Paternity Leave

Most fathers take at least some leave from work to help care for their newborn children, according to a study by two Columbia University Social Work professors.

The researchers also found that when fathers took longer leaves, the men were more involved with their children’s care after nine months. The study provides some of the first evidence on paternity leave in the nation.

New analyses of a nationally representative sample of families with newborns find that most fathers are taking at least some leave after a birth. In addition, fathers who take longer leaves also are more involved in their children’s care nine months later. 

Providing some of the first evidence on paternity leave in the U.S., the study shows that an overwhelming majority of fathers take some leave after a birth, a substantial minority take a leave of two or more weeks, and that those who take two or more weeks are more involved with child care-taking tasks when interviewed nine months later.

Lenna Nepomnyaschy and Jane Waldfogel
Lenna Nepomnyaschy and Jane Waldfogel

The study, conducted by Dr. Lenna Nepomnyaschy and Dr. Jane Waldfogel at the Columbia University School of Social Work, used data on over 4,500 two-parent families from the “Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Birth Cohort,” a new nationally representative study that is following a large sample of children born in 2001.  The national study interviewed mothers and fathers nine months after the birth, gathering detailed data about their involvement with the child and also asking whether they took any leave after the birth and, if so, how much leave they took.   

When asked if fathers took any leave after the birth, the vast majority (89%) of families report that fathers take some time off work after the birth of their child.  “This is the first time we have had national data on fathers’ leave-taking and this percentage is much higher than any of us would have expected,” said Dr. Waldfogel.

However, the analysis also indicated that these leaves are quite short, with most fathers taking just one week or less and only a third of fathers taking two weeks or more leave.  Fathers who are more highly educated and working in higher-prestige occupations are more likely to take leave and tend to take longer leaves than those who are less advantaged on those indicators.  This result is consistent with prior evidence that higher-paying jobs are more likely to offer leave and to offer longer periods of leave.

Taking advantage of interviews with the fathers about their involvement with the children nine months after the birth, the study sheds new light on how taking leave after the birth relates to subsequent involvement.  “We wanted to know not just whether fathers are taking leave, but how that translates into later involvement with their children.  Are fathers who take leave more involved with their children subsequently?  Our analyses suggest the answer is clearly yes,” said Dr. Nepomnyaschy.  “We find that fathers who take 2 or more weeks off work after the birth of their child are much more likely to participate in a range of child-care tasks when interviewed at nine months post birth, than otherwise comparable fathers who did not take that much leave.”  This finding confirms predictions that if fathers are home right after the birth, they will be more involved in caring for children not just right after the birth but later in childhood as well.  The child-care activities examined at nine months include diapering, feeding, dressing, and bathing children.

The full study, entitled “Paternity Leave and Fathers’ Involvement with Their Young Children: Evidence from the American ECLS-B,” will be published in the November issue of Community, Work, and Families.  For more information or to interview Dr. Nepomnyaschy or Dr. Waldfogel, please contact Jeannie Hii at 212-851-2327 or jy2223@columbia.edu.

Published: June 15, 2007
Last modified: Jul 02, 2007