How to improve fathers' use of paternity and childcare leave?
Hager Jemel-Fornetty, Associate Professor at EDHEC and Laura Lacombe, Diversity & Inclusion Research Officer, detail, in an article originally published in French on The Conversation, the results of their latest report "Le congé de paternité et d'accueil de l'enfant : Représentations et attentes" (nov. 2022).
From 1 July 2021, paternity and childcare leave has been extended from 14 to 28 days and a period of 7 days immediately after the birth of the child has become compulsory. Previously, the law provided for 3 days of employer-funded childbirth leave plus 11 days paid by social security.
While the latest national survey by the Directorate for Research, Studies, Evaluation and Statistics (Drees) showed a 70% take-up rate for paternity leave before the new law, our recent study shows a higher rate since the law was extended in 2021. The take-up rate is now 94% among the fathers surveyed. However, disparities remain according to the characteristics of the individuals and it is clear that, despite its partially compulsory nature, some fathers do not make use of it.
According to several studies, the benefits of this leave are numerous; among other things, it leads to greater equality between women and men and improved health and family well-being.
How, then, can we improve the use of paternity and childcare leave? The results of our study allow us to distinguish several measures that can be implemented at company and enterprise level.
Inform and secure
Several reasons are given to explain the non-use of paternity leave. First of all, fathers are unaware of their rights. Thus, 34.5% of fathers who have not taken paternity leave say that they are not aware of this scheme or have not been entitled to it, even though their child was born after paternity leave was introduced in France in 2002. The respondents to our survey are waiting for better communication from their company about this scheme and the rights of both parents.
Some fathers have not taken this leave because of the precariousness or burden of their job. 7% of our respondents said that because of their precarious employment situation they feared that taking paternity leave would have a negative impact on their situation. 28% said that they were unable to take it because of their workload. It therefore seems crucial to work on job security and better organisation of employees' work.
Many respondents would like the absence of an employee to be better anticipated. This would allow the company to organise itself to compensate for the father's absence and for the father to leave his post with peace of mind. To do this, one father suggested providing "a pair of workers who can take over their responsibilities during the leave" or "anticipating this period so as to allow either a replacement post or a redistribution of activity".
Anticipating paternity leave by declaring it well in advance appears to be a solution: one respondent suggests "encouraging future parents to give notice from the beginning of the pregnancy by creating a caring framework that makes them feel comfortable doing so".
On the other hand, 16% of fathers did not take their paternity leave for fear of a loss of income. This result appears to be consistent with another finding of the study: the older fathers are and the higher their income (these two variables are correlated in our study), the less they take up paternity leave. From 91.8% for 30-39 year olds, the take-up rate plummets to 61.6% for fathers aged over 50.
Looking at income, we see that the higher the monthly social security ceiling for the current year (3,428 euros in 2022), the lower the take-up rate. This is 92.9% for fathers earning between EUR 1,807 and 2,552 and 55.8% for fathers earning over EUR 5,439. Better compensation may therefore encourage fathers to take paternity leave.
In order to improve the take-up rate at national level, it is also necessary to change attitudes. Social norms and stereotypical perceptions of family roles still have a major influence on the use of paternity leave.
For example, a man who thinks that his entourage (personal and professional) would not approve of his decision to take paternity leave is 20% less likely to take up the scheme than a man who thinks that his entourage would approve. Similarly, 10% of fathers who did not take leave explained it by the fact that they thought it was not necessary or that it was the mother's responsibility to care for a newborn.
There is therefore an urgent need to combat traditional representations of family roles, with the father as the disciplinarian and provider of the family's economic and security needs and the mother as a natural caregiver.
Similarly, it seems crucial to encourage men to take their leave, notably through awareness-raising campaigns. These could be aimed at reducing the stigma of men taking more time off for their children or for their work-life balance, and at encouraging fathers to take leave by highlighting the fact that a majority of them do.
Need to set an example
Several employees thus emphasised the importance of changing the corporate culture in order to normalise fathers' involvement in the home and the use of this scheme. For example, one respondent suggested that "taking paternity leave should be valued by offering to talk to fathers who have taken it", while another suggested "communicating widely about the leave and encouraging fathers to take it". One employee spoke of the need to "make paternity leave more valuable in order to remove the guilt of those who feel judged by their managers".
To avoid such judgements, managers should therefore be trained on this issue but above all set an example by taking their leave. One employee noted that "senior managers need to take it, otherwise no one will do it".
In order for paternity leave to be a social asset for all families, several measures complementary to the law must be implemented. Ninety percent of those interviewed would like to see this system strengthened. For 80% of them, this leave represents a vector of equality between the sexes. As one father pointed out, "the real situation of equality for both men and women would be leave of equal duration, and compulsory for at least half the period. This would remove any discrimination in hiring or promotion.
This article has been written by Hager Jemel-Fornetty, Associate Professor at EDHEC and Director of the Diversity & Incluion Chair, and Laura Lacombe, Research officer within this chaire, has been originally republished in French from The Conversation under Creative Commons Licence. Lire l’article original.