Please Take Every Second Of Your Paternity Leave, Mark Zuckerberg

Nissan dad adDid you all hear? Mark Zuckerberg is going to have a baby! This is very exciting for narrative reasons — I, for one, can’t wait to see who will play the child in the sequel to The Social Network — but also, as Ron Lieber at the Times points out, because it gives Zuck an opportunity to do good by example:

For all the good that may come from the new [improved parental leave] policies at Netflix and Microsoft, Mr. Zuckerberg may have the biggest opportunity to help members of the paternity fraternity by using every last day of his leave. Without prominent men in high-performing organizations making parental leave the default choice, the mainstreaming of paid leave for fathers will take a lot longer.

Paid paternity leave is an incredible privilege for employees in the small number of companies that offer it, and keeping the paychecks coming helps a lot. Cultural hurdles, however, are far harder to clear. Taking a lengthy paternity leave in a company where few, if any, senior men have ever done so requires a fair bit of courage. And while some employers believe that generous maternity leave more than pays for itself in retention, there is little proof that male employees won’t experience a career stall immediately afterward if they dare to step out for a while.

This evidence cannot emerge without employers offering paid paternity leave in the first place, and most of the people (generally older, often men) who sign off on these policy changes generally haven’t seen fit to do so. Only 17 percent of the employers that the Society for Human Resource Management surveys provide fathers with the benefit.

Lemme tell you, even if you think you have a sense of what taking care of an infant entails, even if you are graced with a “good” baby, even if you have help from parents or other close family members, the introduction of a new child into your midst is roughly equivalent to having a bomb go off. Babies are the original disruptors. As a recent Atlantic article made clear, the more people able to help handle the fall out, the better for everyone.

And yet, our culture continues to only splutter vaguely toward change. Several young dads I know at supposedly liberal workplaces — including the one to whom I happen to be married — were signaled that taking the leave available to them would be a bad career move. The bias is real, as Lieber acknowledges:

bias against leave-takers probably won’t go away entirely until there are men in positions of authority who have taken it themselves. Right now, most new fathers are left to hope that their bosses won’t grumble (rightfully) about the fact that they didn’t get to go on a long, paid leave or (rightfully again) about the fact that they probably aren’t getting 12 weeks of paid time off to take care of an aging parent. …

Still, the normalization of paternity leave can only happen when larger numbers of men publicly declare their intention to take one and then shout from the rooftops about how spectacular it was. So let me do my part right here: My byline will be scarcer in the coming months as I take my own paternity leave. I’ve done it before, and I feel intensely lucky that I’m able to do it again.

Amen.

Unfortunately, though, even if paternity leave does take off in these elite workplaces for white-collar workers, the advantages will once again accrue to the populations who are already most privileged, and the chasm of opportunity between rich kids and poor kids will only grow.

Here’s Kristof from just yesterday on the subject:

Researchers have repeatedly found that in the United States, there is now less economic mobility than in Canada or much of Europe. A child born in the bottom quintile of incomes in the United States has only a 4 percent chance of rising to the top quintile, according to a Pew study. A separate (somewhat dated) study found that in Britain, such a boy has about a 12 percent chance.

By another measure, “intergenerational income elasticity,” social mobility is twice as great for Canada as for the United States.

Alan Krueger, a Princeton economist, has noted that in the United States, parents’ incomes correlate to their adult children’s incomes roughly as heights do. “The chance of a person who was born to a family in the bottom 10 percent of the income distribution rising to the top 10 percent as an adult is about the same as the chance that a dad who is 5 feet 6 inches tall having a son who grows up to be over 6 feet 1 inch tall,” Krueger observed in a speech. “It happens, but not often.”

That is the bigger and still seemingly intractable problem. We need to take better care of parents and young children in this country. All of them. We cannot wait for, or rely on, the richest companies to lead the way. If Netflix and others inspire change, great. But they cannot be the only agents of change — not if we’re a nation that pretends to value all of its citizens equally.

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