A French think tank, the Observatoire Français des Conjonctures Économique (the French Economic Monitoring Center, acronym OFCE) recently suggested that new fathers be required to take paternity leave. Their reasoning is interesting and touches on two areas. From an economic perspective, they suggest that requiring fathers to take time off would help reduce the impact maternity leave has on the careers of women. It would in effect help equalize the playing fields for men and women who become parents and take time off of work during the post-natal period. The OFCE report also suggests that forcing fathers to take paternity leave would get them more involved in child rearing, help them connect better to their children and would get them more involved in housework.
The report is in part a response to a finding from the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development), which found that only four percent of French parents who take parental leave are men. Most businesses in France do offer paternity leave, but few fathers take advantage of it. In contrast, new mothers have paid leave with job security and just about every woman takes advantage of this.
While the idea of forcing individuals to do particular activities is something of an anathema in the United States, the OFCE proposal sheds some light on some important issues. I was impressed that the report specifically addressed one way to remedy the unfair impact maternity leave can have on a woman’s career. Encouraging new fathers to engage more fully in early child care and to support their partners during the post-natal period clearly has both economic and social benefits for everyone. While we remain far behind other first world nations in providing paid secure maternity leave, it could be wise for us to open the dialogue here to include family leave more broadly.
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