Better World

Even When Men Take Parental Leave, They’re Paid More, New Study Finds

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New research has revealed that when it comes to parental leave, a gender pay gap definitely exists — and it appears to favor men. 

Conducted by New America, a Washington, D.C. think tank, the caregiving-focused research showed that about 65 percent of dads who took parental leave said the time off was at least partially paid, compared to only 53 percent of mothers who took leave. Another 52 percent of men said their leave was paid in full, while only 35 percent of mothers could say the same thing.

Some men did report being forced to take unpaid leave — about 28 percent of them. But the numbers were higher for their female counterparts: About 40 percent of women reported being forced to take unpaid leave.

When it comes to parental leave, the reason men seem to come out ahead may not be a case of insensitivity on the part of their employers, however. In many cases men simply don’t take time off unless it’s paid for, period. 

The report calls out five key barriers in particular that may be preventing men from taking time off to engage in caregiving: financial concerns, inadequate workplace and manager support, and family and cultural barriers. The challenges are even greater for dads who are considered median-wage earners (and are ironically the least likely to have access to paid leave). 

Regardless of whether mom or dad takes leave, the experience of returning to work is challenging for everyone — both men and women report less support, higher workload, and lower job satisfaction following a leave of absence in another recent survey from Boston College. Men in particular reported a lack of support in the workplace, both from by senior management (55 percent) and clients (49 percent). One Harvard Business Review study found that 1 in 5 dads were scared they’d get fired if they took all of their available paternal leave. 

That helps explain why women are much more likely to take the full amount of leave offered to them. According to SHRM’s 2018 Global Parental Leave report, 23 percent of new dads are skipping their offered paternity benefits altogether.

Whether you’re a man or a woman, workers in the United States receive a fraction of the parental leave benefits that workers in many other developed nations enjoy. Recent news that Congress is about to reach a landmark deal that would provide paid parental leave to government employees will likely help spur more discussion about the need for not only more flexible policies, but more flexible workplaces, too.

The former Content Director at Parenting, and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.