The British are ahead of us in taking paternity leave for newborns, so we look to them for studies of what difference paternity leave might make. Their Equal Opportunities Commission has just released reports based on a long-term study of the “millennial cohort,” those babies born in 2000 and 2001. This week’s study examined how the kids were doing at three years old. Most children did not have developmental problems. However, the kids were more likely to have developmental problems if their fathers were not involved in their care from the earliest ages. Specifically, child development problems were associated with:
Failing to use the employer’s flexible working options compared with using them;
Allowing the mother to do all the home based childcare instead of sharing;
Taking only annual or sick leave around the time of the birth compared with a mixture of paternity and annual leave; or
Taking no leave around the time of the birth.
The report is not specific on what the developmental problems are or how much father’s early involvement can reduce the risk.
Now is the first time since the beginning of the industrial era when we have enough men and women taking leave from work to care for newborns to really see the comparative effects – comparing both leave-takers and not, and comparing men and women. Britain now has mandatory paternity leave pay, though it was not in place at the time that these children were born. One of the major findings of the study was that professional and managerial class men were twice as likely to take paternity leave as blue-collar men. The paternity leave pay plan was created, in part, to close this gap.
In a sense, this is just one more thing for parents to worry about, one more weapon in the culture of fear. It is important to remember, therefore, that most kids do not have developmental problems. Still, I think it is encouraging to know that if fathers can be more involved in caring for their kids from Day One, the kids will truly benefit.