WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?
Almost everything, apparently.
PESQUISAS MOSTRAM QUE PASSAR UNS MESES EM CASA COM UM RECÉM-NASCIDO DEIXA MARCAS DURADOURAS NA VIDA DOS HOMENS. PRINCIPALMENTE NO EQUILÍBRIO ENTRE TRABALHO E FAMÍLIA.
It is impossible to use "science” to describe what a man gets when he stays home with his baby. How do you quantify the benefits of presence? What is the value of having a close relationship with one’s newborn? How can we measure such a human experience?
In general, research that focuses on fathers shows that the experience of taking parental leave creates lasting effects on a man’s life, especially when it comes to emotional gain, change of priorities and the reconciliation of professional and personal life. Most fathers who use the leave report a greater connection with their children, even after many years.
In Germany, one in four fathers who have taken parental leave decide to reduce their workload after this period. That's because, during their leave, they came to see themselves as an "active" parent, not just as assistants to the mother - they feel that their absence will be felt. A Canadian analysis showed that men who stay home with their babies develop a different sense of responsibility and parenting skills than those who return to work immediately after birth. And an American research has concluded that the chances of having a present father throughout childhood are greater if the man has closely followed the partner's pregnancy and the first few months of the baby.
In Brazil, 82% of men say they would do "anything" to be able to be present in the first months of their children's lives, and 9 out of 10 believe that changing diapers, bathing and feeding children are not only a mother’s responsibility, but also men’s work. That means that parental leave is also an unmet demand in Brazil. Fatherhood - such as motherhood, really - is about routine, constancy, presence and availability. Parental leave does not automatically create good fathers - it only provides the conditions for those good habits to be developed. And that’s no small thing.
Children are the main beneficiaries of parental leave. This makes sense: having two adults meeting their needs, giving emotional support and spending quality time with them is better than having only one. This kind of support can come from any two people: a father and a mother, a mother and a grandmother, a father and an aunt, two fathers etc. Since we are discussing parental leave access for men in heterosexual relationships, though, this is what we will be focusing on.
Up until recently, it was thought that men did not have much influence on their children's development - not because that's what the science showed, but because there was simply no research looking into the effects of active fatherhood. A University of South Florida study, which analyzed 547 articles published in psychology journals, found that only 2% of them focused on the father figure and their relation to their children. All the others looked into mothers. It is as if men’s presence simply wasn’t important.
The truth, however, couldn’t be further from that. It has been found that fathers exert positive influence on almost all aspects of their offspring’s lives, such as health, intelligence, emotional adjustment, social relations, speech development, academic life and even mental health. In that sense, parental leave is a key element in making it possible for men to take care of their children.
The most compelling results have come from Scandinavian countries, where gender-neutral leaves have been in place for decades. A longitudinal study conducted at Uppsala University, in Sweden, parental leave’s birth country, showed that the presence of fathers during the first year of their children’s lives had positive effects on psychological traits. For boys, it meant fewer behavioral problems throughout school years and for girls it contributed to fewer mental illness, such as depression, many years later.
A survey conducted in the Brazilian Vale do Jequitinhonha area showed that the presence of a father is beneficial even for newborn’s breastfeeding outcomes. In families where men were absent, the risk of early breastfeeding interruption was 1.6 times higher. Israeli scientists also looked at newborns to conclude that men sure do matter after having investigated what happened when fathers participated in the nightly care of their babies. At 6 months of age, babies who were fed and soothed by their fathers slept longer and had fewer sleep interruptions than those who were cared for only by their mothers.
Beneficial effects were also found in learning abilities of 3-year-olds in a study focused on low-income families in the USA. After having eliminated other variables, researchers concluded that toddlers with the highest learning skills were those whose fathers had the habit of reading to them when they were babies, at 6 months old. The longer the men’s reading time, the greater the child's vocabulary at age 3. The reading effect of fathers was even greater than that of mothers. There is no doubt that, in terms of care, having two participative people will always be better than one.
For obvious reasons, women are the most impacted by the arrival of a baby - and not only in positive ways. Several studies have already proven the existence of the “motherhood penalty”, a significant loss in women's earnings that comes with the birth of the first child. There are many reasons for this: declining productivity, management discrimination, less flexibility in working hours, migration to jobs with lower pay.
The amount of the income loss varies from study to study and from country to country. There are studies that say that each child causes a 7% drop in women's income(11); others state that the accumulated loss over the years may reach 60%(12). One thing that is sure is that caring for children has consequences on the professional life - and on the financial independence - of mothers. It is important to remember that encouraging maternal occupation is not only a matter of personal finances. Women who depend economically on their partners are more vulnerable to unpredictable upheavels: they have fewer resources to escape abusive relationships or break the cycle of domestic violence, for example.
In Brazil, one in every two mothers have left the labor market by the time their children reach two - most of them because they were fired. At the root of these problems is the fact that, historically, women have been the sole responsible for childcare. To ensure that unpaid work does not fall entirely on them, several countries have developed public policies to encourage participative fathers and stimulate a more equal division of domestic labor. Parental leave is perhaps the most famous of these. The idea is to make it possible for men and women to share childcare from day one - since it is very difficult to break the pattern after the mother has already taken on most of the work.
A study that analyzed time-use surveys for 130,000 people in eight European countries determined that parental leave does have an effect on father’s participation in the household. Men who take some kind of leave from work also spend more hours caring for their children even many years later, which includes child-related tasks, such as cooking meals. The effects are particularly strong in countries where parental leave is well paid and include the so-called daddy-months(13). In these countries, women return to work more often and remain economically active even after having children(14).
Once in leave, chances are higher that men also start contributing to domestic chores. The uneven division of domestic work is one of the most resistant barriers to gender equality over the decades. In Brazil, for example, women spend 21.3 hours a week in household chores, against only 10.9 of men(15). Efforts to reduce this gap are welcomed worldwide. A Norwegian study, for example, established that men do more laundry after having taken parental leave(16). An American study (where official leave does not even exist) showed that, if the father stays at least two weeks at home, the probability is much higher that he is still changing his baby’s diapers nine months later(17). Another German study indicated that the participation of men in domestic tasks increases after parental leave, especially if the father takes some time off alone with the child, without the mother(18). Creating habits seems to be the key.
When taking leave becomes mainstream behavior, its benefits end up spreading in society. In Sweden, for example, 90% of men take parental leave and one can not assume that only women will leave the workplace once they have children - this means that it no longer makes sense to privilege men in job interviews. "Almost everyone has children in Sweden, only 15-20% of the population in their fifties didn’t have children. So if you're hiring someone in their thirties, you don't even have to ask if they want to have children and interrupt their career at some point. You know it's going to happen," says Ann-Zofie Duvander, a professor of demography at Stockholm University.
If we look at parental leave only from an economic perspective, it is important to remember that women are highly qualified workers and their participation in the labor force has impacts on a country’s economy. In Brazil, for example, female educational levels are higher than those of their male counterparts - most of high school and college graduates are women. This means that engaging them in mostly domestic activities is a strategic mistake and a waste of skilled labor. Sweden, a reference in family policies, noticed this five decades ago. "By the end of the 1960s, the Swedish economy was doing very well, expanding and in need of skilled workers, so the government realized that it really needed the women. Parental leave was created in 1974 focusing on gender equality, but also thinking about female workforce," says Ann-Zofie Duvander, professor of demography at Stockholm University.
In addition to the personal gains for men and women, introduction of parental leave and other family policies can have positive impacts on the economy. Let us look again at Germany’s case. Currently, 71% of German women are economically active, a number that has been growing steadily. One study calculated that if incentives in family policies continue through 2030 at the same rate as they are today, 78% of women will be working by then. This would mean an input of 1 million people into the economy - generating around 70 billion euros, and bringing a GDP growth of 2.4% for the world's fourth largest economy.
Another German study looked at education investments and calculated that an expenditure of 10 billion euros in daycare facilities and full-time schools would end up generating a 56 billion return to the economy in 30 years, or 1.9% of the GDP. That means the invested money would come back, and then some.
But the financial return of parental leave and family policies also extends to private companies. Companies that invest in benefits that make it easier for employers to reconcile family and work - such as flexible working hours, the possibility of home office, company-owned day care centers and extended leaves - can have a 40% yield increase for shareowners, according to a study. This comes from a raise in productivity, a decline in resignations, less absences and hiring of new qualified workers: mothers.
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12. Henrik Kleven & Camille Landais & Johanna Posch & Andreas Steinhauer & Josef Zweimüller, 2019. "Child Penalties across Countries: Evidence and Explanations," AEA Papers and Proceedings, vol 109, pages 122-126.
13. Boll, Christina & Leppin, Julian & Reich, Nora. (2011). Einfluss der Elternzeit von Vätern auf die familiale Arbeitsteilung im internationalen Vergleich.
14. Maternity and paternity at work: Law and practice across the world, International Labour Organization, 2014
15. “Outras Formas de Trabalho da Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios Contínua”, IBGE, 2019
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18. Buenning, Mareike. (2015). What Happens after the ‘Daddy Months’? Fathers’ Involvement in Paid Work, Childcare, and Housework after Taking Parental Leave in Germany. European Sociological Review.
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21. VAN DER GAAG, N., HEILMAN, B., GUPTA, T., NEMBHARD, C., and BARKER, G. (2019). State of the World’s Fathers: Unlocking the Power of Men’s Care. Washington, DC: Promundo-US.
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23. Bundesministeriums für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend (BMFSFJ). “Renditepotenziale der neuen Vereinbarkeit”, Studie der Roland Berger GmbH. 2016
Neste e nos outros textos do projeto, a Alemanha é referenciada como comparação, porque a pesquisa foi conduzida na Universidade Livre de Berlim, como parte do German Chancellor Fellowship, da Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung.