Economic Snapshot | Jobs and Unemployment

Honor thy father

Economic Snapshot for June 16, 2009

Honor thy father

by Christian Dorsey with research assistance from Caitlin O’Neil and Elliott Oakley

This Sunday will mark the 100th anniversary of the idea for a Father’s Day commemoration in the United States. But while fathers do have an official day honoring them, the United States has no national policy requiring paid leave for fathers (or mothers); and we lag far behind other high-income economies that provide families, and often fathers specifically, with paid leave from work to actively care for and bond with their children.


The figure above compares the United States to other high-income countries, and shows that only the United States and Australia have no paid leave rights for parents; the remaining 19 peer countries offer paid leave to mothers and often fathers, too. For the countries that mandate a minimum amount of paid paternity leave, the benefit ranges from the equivalent of two days (United Kingdom) to seven weeks (Sweden). The availability of paid leave for fathers can help reduce hiring discrimination against women and promote gender equality in the labor market. Almost half of the countries examined grant fathers the ability to take as much or more paid leave as mothers.1

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill this month that allows federal employees—both mothers and fathers—to convert four of the 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave they are entitled to under the Family and Medical Leave Act into paid leave. If this bill becomes law, it will be a welcome first step in recognizing the burden unpaid leave places on families, but even then it will only apply to federal employees (about 2% of the total workforce). Until paid parental leave is mandated across all employment sectors with specific paid leave rights for fathers, the United States will remain far behind the rest of the world in encouraging increased parental involvement in child care and in reducing gender inequality in the labor market. 

1. Rebecca Ray, Janet Gornick, and John Schmitt. “Parental Leave Policies in 21 Countries: Assessing Generosity and Gender Equality,” Center for Economic and Policy Research Briefing Paper, (updated) June 2009.

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