Given that it’s the mum who gives birth, it’s perhaps unsurprising that maternity leave tends to be thought of as more important than paternity leave. But there’s growing evidence that dads’ taking time off in the early weeks and months of their children’s lives has a significant positive impact on families – probably more so than you might expect…
What is paternity leave?
There are two types of parenting leave that governments and employers can make available to new dads and mums.
The first type of leave is designed to be taken (normally in one block) straight after the birth of a child. Maternity leave for mothers is intended to help them recover from the birth and establish a relationship with their newborn. Paternity leave for dads is to enable them to support the mother in the first few weeks, and also to establish a relationship with baby.
The UK’s parenting leave system is based on a maternity/paternity leave model. Mums receive up to 52 weeks’ maternity leave, of which the first 6 weeks must be paid at 90% of salary and the remaining 33 weeks at a minimum statutory rate; dads get just 2 weeks’ paternity leave, paid at a minimum statutory rate (see below).
The second type of leave is parental leave, which is taken by either or both parents in order to look after the baby during its first year.
In the Nordic countries, well-paid parental leave forms the majority of the leave available to parents, and a significant proportion of it is earmarked specifically for dads in the form of a ‘daddy quota’; Sweden has increased this to 90 days.
Since 2015 eligible mothers in the UK have been able to transfer all but the first two weeks of their maternity leave to their partners (if also eligible) under so-called ‘shared parental leave’ – but dads still have no individual entitlement to parental leave, and the rate of pay remains at employers’ discretion.
Why take paternity leave?
Around 90% of UK fathers take formal leave of some kind near the time of their child’s birth, although in many cases this includes some annual leave – and research shows that this brings all sorts of benefits to the family.
First, it affects mothers’ health and wellbeing. An analysis of data on more than 4,000 women from an English national maternity survey found that mums whose partners had taken no paternity leave were more likely to report feeling ill or unwell at three months, and mothers with more than one child whose partners took no leave also reported much higher rates of post-natal depression.
Secondly, dads who take paternity leave tend to do more hands-on caring for their babies. One UK study found that fathers who took formal leave were 25% more likely to change nappies and 19% more likely to feed their 8-12 month old babies and to get up to them at night. This was irrespective of their commitment to parenting before the child’s birth, or the time mothers or other family members spent with the children.
Crucially, evidence suggests that this kind of paternal involvement, if established during the early weeks, can last through to toddlerhood and beyond. In an Australian study, fathers who took 10 or more days off work around childbirth were found to be more likely to be involved in childcare-related activities when children were 2 to 3 years old, for example.
And this greater sharing of the hands-on caring during paternity leave and beyond can improve your relationship as a couple. In Norway, following an increase in fathers’ leave-taking due to the introduction of a four-week ‘daddy quota’, researchers identified an 11% lower level of conflict over household division of labour. In neighbouring Sweden, couples in which the father took more than 2 weeks to care for their first child were found to be 30% less likely to separate.
Thirdly, those whose fathers take paternity leave tend to do better. They are significantly more likely to be breastfed at two, four and six months of age, for example, and at age 3 they are less likely to have development problems.
In Sweden, an increase in fathers’ share of parental leave over time has been paralleled by a downward trend in rates of injury to children aged 0-4; in Australia, children whose dads take long leave perform better in cognitive development tests and are more likely to be prepared for school aged 4-5.
And fourthly, dads themselves can benefit.Swedish fathers who took paternity leave in the late 1970s were found to have had an 18% lower risk of alcohol-related care and/or death than other fathers, and a 16% overall reduced risk of early death.
Read more in the Fatherhood Institute Research Summary: Paternity Leave.
Policy-wise, UK paternity leave – which was introduced as recently as 2003 – remains an afterthought, compared to our much more generous maternity leave provision. But while it’s far from financially lucrative, taking it might just keep your child safer, save your marriage and even prolong your life! So check out what you’re entitled to below…
Paternity leave: your rights
In the UK, qualifying dads can take up to 2 weeks’ paternity leave; legally, it should be taken in one-week chunks.
To be eligible for paternity leave, you must take the time off to look after the child (and its mother) and you must be either the father of the child; the adopter of the child; the husband or partner of the mother (or adopter); or the intended parent (if you’re having a baby through a surrogacy arrangement).
You must be an employee who has worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth (known as the ‘qualifying week’) – or the end of the ‘matching week’ if you’re adopting. You must also have given your employer the correct amount of notice.
To qualify for paternity pay you must earn at least £113 a week (before tax). The statutory weekly rate of Paternity Pay is £140.98, or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower). Any money you get is paid in the same way as your wages, eg monthly or weekly. Tax and National Insurance will be deducted.
Some employers top up paternity pay – the London School of Economics offers 2 weeks’ leave on full pay, for example – but many don’t. And if you’re self-employed, unemployed or an agency worker, for example, you’re not entitled to anything.
Find out more at the Government website.
Updated: March 2018