Editorial | Give dads the stick

Fathers taking less paternity leave than women is a symptom of a larger problem that can be fixed by forcing them to stay at home

Leave it to the Danes to turn to progressive parenting techniques when seeking to craft a policy that will increase the amount of paternity leave men take.

Initially, the government had threatened dads with the stick. Implementing the use-it-or-lose it model was seen as a way to bring Denmark up to the same level as other Nordic countries, where fathers, on average, take up to 33 percent of a couple’s combined paternity leave – almost five times what they do in Denmark.

Instead though, they settled on the carrot, offering men 100 kroner for each day they are on paternity leave beyond an initial 90-day period.
That offer – amounting to 3,000 kroner a month – is too little to have an impact. Men on average earn 16 percent more than women. With an average male wage of 40,000 kroner a month, families would still lose out on 3,600 per month if Dad stayed home.

If the government is serious about gender equality when it comes to paternity leave, it must address the two root causes of why Danish men take so little.

The first is financial. Given the wage gap between genders, parents, when making financial decisions – especially when calculating the extra expense of a child – would be acting irresponsibly if they didn’t make the choice that left them with the most amount of money at the end of each month.

Getting women’s wages up would help. One way to do this would be precisely to force them to take less paternity leave (or require dads to take more). The immediate impact of this is likely to be lower income for families, but part of the reason why men earn more is because they are more likely to wind up in management. This may be due to sexism, but studies also show women choose not to take these jobs because it interferes with raising a family and because repeated, one-year absences from work make it hard for them to gain the same sort of traction men get. In the long run, forcing women to take less paternity might narrow wage gap by giving them the chance to establish themselves better.

Biology also plays a role. Here, forced paternity could go a long way to making sure that dads forge the bonds that make them want to focus more on their home life, while at the same time making moms feel more confident that the kids will survive if she isn’t taking the lion’s share of the childcare.

The government argues that if you force paternity leave on dads, the real loser would be the children, since financial considerations would mean fewer total weeks of paternity being taken. This is true, but the long-term damage is worse. Keeping moms locked into lower-wage employment patterns, while dads are locked out of much of their children’s formative years, is far more detrimental to families and to society as a whole.