Jun 18, 2023 - Economy

America’s paternity leave patchwork

Status of paid family leave laws, by state
Data: Bipartisan Policy Center; Map: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

The U.S. lags behind other nations when it comes to giving fathers time off to care for new babies.

Why it matters: Limited access to paid paternity leave has consequences for kids, parents and companies.

By the numbers: 11 states in the U.S. have paid parental leave — which is gender neutral and applies to all parents, regardless of their status as primary or secondary caregiver. Six more states have passed laws that haven't yet taken effect.

  • Minnesota is the most recent state to put paid leave in its law books, with a bill that passed last month. Many companies offer paid leave, but coverage is still sparse.
  • In four of these states, leave is not a mandatory offering, meaning workers can choose to purchase paid family leave insurance as an add-on.

Only 25% of all workers have access to paid family leave. And 11% of workers don’t even have the opportunity to take unpaid leave, according to the recruiting platform Zippia.

“Workers will cobble together paid sick time or vacation to get leave after welcoming a new child,” says Ben Gitis, associate director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

  • But that means most will head back to work shortly thereafter — especially dads. 76% of fathers return to work, full time, in less than a week, Zippia notes.
  • Compare that to the average 6.3 weeks of paid leave offered to fathers in the European Union.

The stakes: Lack of paid leave for dads has wide-ranging effects on families and companies alike, experts say.

  • Studies show that the longer mothers are away from work, the less likely they are to be promoted or receive a pay raise after returning from leave, Harvard Business Review reports.
  • Often it's just moms who are taking extended time away to care for babies. "Having both parents take leave helps ensure more equity in labor market outcomes," Gitis notes.

Those early weeks of a child's life — which some dads miss out on — are also crucial for development and building bonds, research shows.

  • And married fathers who take paternity leave are less likely to get divorced, The New York Times reports.

What to watch: Paternity leave is gaining ground as an employee benefit at tech and finance companies that are looking to attract highly-skilled, professional workers, says Gitis.

  • But workers in other industries — like transportation or logistics — have far lower rates of coverage.

Go deeper: Listen to the Axios Today podcast, where host Niala Boodhoo and Erica Pandey talk about how accessible paternity leave is for men in the U.S.

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