Paid Leave for Fathers: Policy, Practice, and Reform

Perspective Child Health

Policy Points:

  • Government policies that secure paid leave for all parents, regardless of gender, can reduce structural inequalities, while promoting fathers’ engagement in parenting.
  • Such policies are likely to be most effective when they secure full, or almost full wage replacement, and when they provide incentives for fathers to take leave.
  • Organizations must also participate in the culture shift, providing workplaces that encourage paternity leave rather than reinforcing the “male breadwinner” stigma.

In the United States, paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child is a luxury; only 23% of civilian workers have access to paid family leave.1 Rates are even lower for men, given gendered societal norms that have held caregiving to be primarily (if not exclusively) “women’s work.” Consequently, only 13% of employers offer paid paternity leave to all male employees.2 While the lack of robust paternity leave policies have been rightly criticized for reinforcing gender inequality, the reliance on employment-based paternity leave also contributes to broader patterns of inequality, including by race and socioeconomic status. Yet, when available, paid paternity leave has shown clear benefits for families and society, including greater father-child involvement; improved child language, test scores, and social development; healthier marriages; lessened postpartum demands and improvements in women’s career advancements.3 Furthermore, paid leave approaches that are restricted to birth parents fail to give due recognition to and support of many families, including same-sex couples and adoptive parents. Policy strategies to promote access to—and use of—paternity leave (and leave for non-birth parents more broadly) can therefore promote a healthier and more equitable society.



  1. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. National Compensation Survey: Employee Benefits in the United States, March 2021. September 2021. Accessed April 15, 2022.
  2. Brown S, Herr J, Roy R, Klerman Employee and Worksite Perspectives of the Family and Medical Leave Act: Results from the 2018 Surveys (Exhibit 3-3). August 2020. dolgov/files/OASP/evaluation/pdf/WHD_FMLA2018SurveyRes ults_FinalReport_Aug2020.pdf. Accessed March 14, 2022.
  3. Nandi A, Jahagirdar D, Dimitris MC, et The impact of parental and medical leave policies on socioeconomic and health outcomes in OECD countries: A systematic review of the empirical literature. Milbank Q. 2018;96(3):434–471.

Yang T, Wallington S, Morain S. Paid Leave for Fathers: Policy, Practice, and Reform. Milbank Q. 2022;100(4):12011.