I’m a huge fan of baseball and as a kid loved going to see “my” team, the Blue Jays, play in Toronto. I’d always wish for extra innings, because it meant free baseball! More time in the stadium. More time to soak it in. More time to just be there.
What’s that got to do with dads and parental leave? A lot, once you realize how the Canadian government’s new Parental Sharing Benefits programme works. Basically, it’s creating parental leave “extra innings” – bonus weeks of parental leave specifically designed to help dads be there for their new baby and their partner.
To understand how and why, we don’t need to get lost in the complex world of Canadian maternity and parental leave laws. It’s enough to know is that the federal government has just added five weeks to its ‘standard’ parental leave option, which means eligible two-parent families will now be able to take up to 40 weeks total (up from 35). Similarly, eight weeks have been added to the government’s ‘extended’ parental leave plan, offering a maximum of 69 weeks (up from 61).
The catch? Each parent can only access a maximum of 35 weeks (standard) or 61 weeks (extended) of leave. The only way to unlock the extra time is if the bonus weeks are taken by the other parent. That effectively forces both parents to take as least some time off if they want to use the full amount of leave available.
Going to Bat For Dads
We’re excited about this change because it gives men an incentive to take parental leave.
Canadian law already allows parental leave to be shared between both parents. But, in reality, it’s considered mama time. Outside of the province of Québec (more on Quebec in a second), only 12.9% of new fathers in Canada took or intended to claim parental leave in 2016. This isn’t just Canada’s issue; across Europe, parental leave takeup rates by dad are similarly low, hovering around 10%.
But there are several exceptions.
If you visit Scandinavia, you’ll be awestruck by the number of dads pushing strollers. That’s no accident. It’s the result of intentional efforts to improve gender equality, notably through the introduction of ‘daddy quotas’, ‘daddy days’ or ‘bonus weeks’ of leave geared towards men.
According to the OECD, “providing father-specific leave seems to increase men’s uptake of parental leave… In Iceland and Sweden, the ‘daddy quota’ has led to a doubling in the number of parental leave days taken by men.” Indeed, Swedish dads now “take for granted” that they’ll be on leave for a significant period of time after having a baby.
In Norway, takeup of parental leave by eligible fathers was only 2.4% in 1992; a year later, a four-week daddy quota was introduced and by 1997 takeup had soared to 70%. Talk about a home run!
But it’s easy to forget that Canada has a homegrown example of how parental leave culture can change for the better.
Quebec Dads Swing For The Fences
In 2006, the province of Quebec left the federal parental leave system and launched their own Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP). The QPIP increased parental leave from 50 to 55 weeks, and set those five extra weeks aside for dad.
The results were breathtaking. Prior to the reform, about one in five (20%) of new dads in Quebec used parental leave. By 2016, that number had risen to four in five dads (80.1%). Similarly, the length of parental leave taken by new dads in Quebec jumped 150%, rising from two weeks to five weeks.
This massive increase in takeup was examined in depth by Ankita Patnaik of Cornell University in a research paper titled Reserving Time for Daddy: The Short And Long-Run Consequences Of Fathers’ Quotas. She found three important lessons for policymakers:
1) Quotas Reduce Stigmas: Daddy quotas help fathers overcome barriers to taking leave by reducing the social stigma and perceived professional penalties.
A quota “establishes a father’s individual right to leave, removes the need to negotiate with his wife [about who will take the leave], and improves his bargaining position with employers and co-workers who may be more sympathetic to him using leave specifically designated for him. Moreover, the quota sends a clear public message that promotes fathers’ involvement, which may reduce social stigma against taking leave and possibly even introduce stigma against those who do not utilize this generous opportunity to spend time with their children”
2) Quotas Improve Long-Term Gender-Equality: Patnaik found “strong evidence… that increased paternity leave had a large and persistent impact on gender dynamics within households”. The QPIP also had
“a strong positive effect on mothers’ market outcomes – exposed mothers spent considerably longer in work and at the workplace and consequently earned significantly more than mothers who were not exposed [to QPIP].”
In short, the daddy quota improved gender equality at home and at work.
3) Quotas Are Good For Our Kids: There’s no trade-off between child welfare and gender equality. Being on leave forced dads to spend more time in childcare and housework, improving their competence and allowing them to forge stronger bonds.
“by encouraging fathers to participate in parental leave we can distribute household responsibilities more equally and actually increase total investments in children.”
Brushing Back Criticism
It’s important to note that the QPIP also reduced barriers to parental leave eligibility and offers 70% wage replacement, improvements that the federal government’s new Parental Sharing Benefits programme does not provide. Given these differences, should we expect to see the same spike in takeup?
Patnaik argues convincingly that the eligibility and pay factors “cannot explain” the massive and disproportionate response from Quebec dads, for two reasons.
Firstly, most Quebec fathers were already full-time workers and so already eligible for the old programme; when the QPIP lowered the eligibility barriers, it didn’t suddenly make parental leave possible for a whole bunch of dads who were previously excluded (although it did help improve access for low-income women).
Secondly, working women had the most to gain, but fathers still responded more strongly than mothers to the QPIP. That’s not what you’d expect. Why? Canadian women earn 13% less than men, and “since the benefits are capped, this means QPIP effectively offers lower-earners [women] a bigger relative subsidy for taking leave.”
“It ain’t over till it’s over!”
The bottom line is that we’re hopeful Canada’s new ‘bonus weeks’ system will encourage dads across the country to step up to the plate and take the time to be there for their new baby.
Need we remind you that when men take parental leave all kinds of good things happen? Parental leave is good for dad and his family, good for gender equality at home and in the workplace, and even good for business.
What You Can Do
Help us get the word out to Canadian families! If you know a soon-to-be mom or dad living in Canada, send them this article and start a conversation about parental leave. They’ll be glad you did!