The benefits of child care provided by fathers

Blog Image for article The benefits of child care provided by fathers

In the first days, weeks and months of a child’s life, it’s important that both parents bond with their bundle of joy and take a hands-on approach to child care. 

For many new dads, this means cuddles after work and precious moments on weekends, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Although Australia doesn’t have the most generous Paid Parental Leave scheme in the world, our system does provide opportunities for new fathers to foster positive relationships and spend quality time with their little one. 

Here, we look at the benefits of paternity leave, examine different parental leave payments, and see how Australia’s system stacks up against those in Sweden and Iceland. 

What are the benefits of fathers taking parental leave?

Paternity leave has short- and long-term benefits for individuals, families, employers and society as a whole. According to researchers, here are five reasons for dads to take time off work to care for their new child:

1. Paternity leave makes fathers feel good

A South Korean study found that paternity leave positively affects dads’ life satisfaction, and as the years roll on, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says that, ‘Fathers who engage more with their children tend to report greater life satisfaction and better physical and mental health than those who care for and interact less with their children.’ 

2. Paternity leave is positive for children’s health and development

As well as benefitting fathers, paternity care has life-long benefits for children too. The OECD says that, ‘Where fathers participate more in child care and family life, children enjoy higher cognitive and emotional outcomes and physical health.’ 

3. Paternity leave is good for parents’ relationships 

The South Korean study found that paternity leave also positively affected mothers’ marital relationship satisfaction, while an Icelandic study found that paternity leave significantly reduced divorce rates amongst parents.

4. Paternity leave can lead to greater work equality

There’s the idea that paternity leave may benefit relationships because it leads to a fairer division of labour between mums and dads. To support this thinking, a Swedish study found that dads who take longer periods of paternal leave more equally share child care and housework with mums after they go back to work.

When it comes to women’s paid work, paternity leave also frees up mothers to pursue their careers, and the OECD says that, ‘Parental leave may also help reduce discrimination against women in the workplace [because] if men and women are roughly equally likely to take leave, employers will be less reluctant to hire women of childbearing-age.’ 

5. Shared parental leave is good for business

The Australian Institute of Family Studies says that paid family leave, ‘Improves engagement, morale and productivity’ at work and lowers the rate of staff turnover to benefit individuals’ careers, employers’ bottom line and the economy overall. 

With all these benefits in mind, what paid parental leave can Australian fathers take?

Under the government’s Paid Parental Leave scheme, Dad and Partner Pay (DaPP) means that fathers can be paid to take two weeks off work to care for their new child. 

The payment currently stands at $740.60 per week before tax (or $1,481.20 for the fortnight) and to be eligible, the father or mother’s partner must:

  • Care for their newborn or newly adopted child
  • Have earned $150,000 or less in the previous financial year
  • Not be working or taking paid leave during the DaPP fortnight
  • Meet a work test
  • Meet residency/citizenship rules

Parental Leave Pay is also available to primary carers of a new baby or newly adopted child for up to 18 weeks. Although this is commonly paid to the birth mother, the payment can be transferred to fathers/partners and adoptive dads may be eligible at first instance. 

There is also the option of taking unpaid parental leave to care for a new child. This means a father can take 12 months off work (or 24 months if their employer agrees). It’s also possible for both parents to take unpaid parental leave at the same time (for up to eight weeks) or at different times (for up to 12 months each).

How many Australian dads actually take paternity leave?

Despite the opportunities presented by the Paid Parental Leave system, The Conversation reports that, ‘Just one in four use the two weeks’ leave available to them as ‘partner pay’ in the first year of a child’s life.’ In addition, the Australian National University says that only two per cent of fathers take Parental Leave Pay (transferred to them as primary carer of their child). 

And Dr Liana Leach, Senior Research Fellow at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, says that even when businesses offer dedicated leave for dads and partners, it’s still not being utilised. She explains that, ‘Some businesses offer secondary carers leave, and that kind of offering entitles parents to leave when you are not the primary carer, but … a lot of dads still don't take it.’

Why don’t more Aussie dads take time off to care for their child? 

Dr Leach says that inflexibility of the Paid Parental Leave scheme and gender stigma are two things that are stopping more dads from taking paternity leave. 

She explains that, ‘As the [Paid Parental Leave] policy stands, parents need to make a decision about who the primary carer is in the family, and thus the leave is only transferred to fathers in about two per cent of cases.’

She adds that, ‘There is a stigma around dads taking parental leave. Fathers worry about taking time off from work and not advancing their careers. A male-breadwinner culture remains in Australia – dads go to work.’ 

On this point, a 2014 survey by the Australian Human Rights Commission found that 27 per cent of dads experienced discrimination when requesting or taking parental leave. 

When it comes to the DaPP payment, the amount offered also affects some dads’ decision to take time off work. The $740.60 weekly figure is based on the minimum wage, and some families will go backwards financially if Dad’s not being paid his normal salary.

How can fathers be encouraged to take paternal leave?

The OECD says that dads are more likely to take paid parental leave if they’re encouraged by ‘daddy quotas’ or bonus months. 

Daddy and mummy quotas involve the government creating a parental leave scheme that provides both parents with lengthy periods of non-transferrable leave, and this approach has enjoyed success in both Sweden and Iceland. 

In Sweden, each parent has an exclusive right to 90 days of paid parental leave (parents are entitled to 480 days of paid leave all up, based on income). And in Iceland, parents are given nine months of parental leave, with three months earmarked for Dad, three months for Mum and the remaining three months open for both parents to share. 

These quotas have encouraged more dads to take parental leave, and Icelandic academic, Ásdís Aðalbjörg Arnalds says that the Australian government could ‘readily’ expand its DaPP system from two weeks to three months leave. 

Ms Arnalds has found a correlation between the length of leave taken by dads and their involvement in care after the leave is over; and with lots of other benefits flowing on from paternity leave, Australia could do well by following the example of Iceland and Sweden. 

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