Academic journal article Fathering

"Without Taking Away Her Leave": A Canadian Case Study of Couples' Decisions on Fathers' Use of Paid Parental Leave

Academic journal article Fathering

"Without Taking Away Her Leave": A Canadian Case Study of Couples' Decisions on Fathers' Use of Paid Parental Leave

Article excerpt

Over the last decade, Canadian fathers' use of paid parental leave benefits rose dramatically. Yet very little is known about when and why these fathers take leave, and how couples negotiate who takes leave, when, and for how long. This article reports on a qualitative study in households where fathers took leave, carried out in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, which are governed by two distinct policy regimes. Drawing on interviews with 26 couples, we develop three arguments about what facilitates or hinders Canadian fathers' take-up of parental leave. First, fathers defer to mothers' preference in making leave decisions; moreover, breastfeeding plays a role in prioritizing mothers' care. Second, these decisions are shaped by ideological and social norms in workplaces and communities. Third, public policy plays a role: longer duration of paid parental leave, non-transferable paternity leave, and some mothers' ineligibility for paid parental leave affect fathers' take-up of leave.

Keywords: paid parental leave, fathers, couple negotiations, workplace


More than one in four Canadian fathers now takes some paid leave at the birth of a child. While mothers continue to use the majority of paid parental leave time, the strictly gendered pattern of leave use observed in many countries appears to be diminishing somewhat in Canada. The most obvious explanation for fathers' increased leave-taking is policy change. In 2001, government-sponsored paid parental leave benefits were expanded by 25 weeks in Canada while, in 2006, the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec introduced a separate and more generous parental leave policy with three to five weeks of non-transferable paternity leave. Correspondingly, eligible Canadian fathers increased their use of government-sponsored paid parental leave benefits (including paternity leave, as of 2006, in Quebec only) from three percent in 2000 to 33 percent in 2008; far more Quebecois fathers--at 82 percent--took government-sponsored paid leave benefits than fathers outside Quebec, at 12 percent (McKay, Marshall, & Doucet, in press). While there is abundant Canadian evidence on fathers' uptake of leave, very little is known about what facilitates and inhibits it, and how couples negotiate who will take leave, when and why.

Our paper is rooted in an expanding international literature on specific policy provisions for parental leave and analyses of fathers' use patterns. It is worth noting that, in addition to coverage and duration, the generosity of wage replacement rates and the division of entitlement between individual and gender-neutral shared leave are seen as important in this literature (Moss & Kamerman, 2009; Whitehouse, Diamond, & Baird, 2007). Fathers' use of leave is high when the wage replacement rate is high and where leave is designated as a "take-it-or-leave-it" individual entitlement paternity leave (Moss & Kamerman, 2009; Moss & Korintus, 2008). Fathers tend not to take gender-neutral parental leave that parents can divide how they wish. The most widely cited example of this is the case of Sweden, where, after more than 39 years of access to parental leave and campaigns promoting equal sharing of gender-neutral leave, only a small proportion of Swedish fathers take more than their individual entitlement, with mothers taking the rest (Ellingsaeter, 2009). Haas and Hwang (2008, p. 85) argue that "the full potential of Sweden's parental leave policy for de-gendering the division of labor for childcare will not likely be met until fathers are strongly encouraged by social policy to take a more equal portion of parental leave."

Scholarship on fathers and parental leave also highlights that the two most prevalent variables that influence fathers' use of leave, in relation to policy design, are gender ideologies and the labour market status of both the mother and father (Lammi-Taskula, 2008; Singley & Hynes, 2005). …

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