Women don’t all yearn for the boardroom; some are instead focused on the rec room, Catherine Rampell reported in a front-page and much-discussed New York Times article yesterday. She paints a picture of harried women dying to get a little extra time away from the office to spend with their kids, focusing mostly on the story of Sara Uttech, a working mother in Fall River, Wisconsin. In Rampell’s piece, Uttech’s husband, and all husbands, appear just off frame. As Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote, “They are but a parenthetical, maybe an em dash.” Quite literally—men are mentioned as an aside, background noise in their children’s lives. When Uttech’s husband’s caregiving duties are mentioned, it is to say that the working mother “gets a lot of help: from her husband, Michael,” among other family members who pitch in. Fathers might as well be hired hands.
Rampell is not alone in assuming that mothers parent and dads baby-sit. The Census Bureau has made the same assumptions, calling mothers “designated parents” and counting the time fathers care for their kids as merely stepping in for said designated parent.
Our expectations for men and women once they have kids directly informs workplace policy. Take paid family leave. Asymmetrical assumptions about men and women play out on the global stage: while 175 other countries offer paid maternity leave (the United States not among them), only sixty-six of those offer fathers paid time off. Here at home, parents are only guaranteed twelve weeks of unpaid leave for the arrival of a new child. But while thirty-two states go above the federal floor to offer more help, just fourteen of them extend leave to fathers.
Little wonder, then, that American fathers rarely take time off. In a survey of nearly 1,000 working fathers with at least one young child, the Boston College Center for Work & Family found that over 15 percent didn’t take any time off when their child arrived. Only one in twenty took more than two weeks off, and a mere one in 100 took more than four weeks.
Does that mean fathers don’t want to take time off? No. If paid family leave policies include men, men use them. California’s paid family leave program, which includes dads, has significantly increased the amount of time fathers take off, from 35 percent before the law to 76 percent after. Among fathers in low-income jobs, the average length of leave has nearly tripled.