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Paternity leave in the Czech Republic – why do we need it?

Paternity leave for men is beneficial for fathers, mothers, children, and society. I make this statement as a reaction to the public discussion amid the ratification of paternity leave in the Czech Republic, labelled as leftish, populist, and useless by many politicians and commentators (Doležal 2017, Kučera 2016, Martínek 2017, Steigerwald 2017). These authors are reacting to a governmental plan to implement one paid week off for fathers of new-borns (in addition to existing longer parental leave for one parent). This political decision has provoked a heated discussion; for instance, Karel Steigerwald (2017) claims that this type of leave is another useless social benefit favouring just part of the population, which moreover does not work, as one free week for fathers cannot affect fertility behaviour.

I am going to present evidence supporting the utility of paternity leave from four different points of view. First, fathers get more time and opportunities to enjoy the baby, and establish a stronger tie to it (Haas, Hwang 2008). Second, this tool of social policy lowers the burden of mothers, which is significant mainly in the first weeks after birth (Bollé 2001). Third, children can benefit from stronger and more balanced relationships within the family (Haataja 2009). Finally, this relatively low-cost arrangement can improve the fertility of the population (Bollé 2001). To sum up, several arguments support the utility of paternity leave for men and I will elaborate on them below.

Fathers benefit most from paternity leave, as they are enabled to spent more time with their families shortly after childbirth. Societies enabling parental leave only to mothers, despite the growing involvement of women in the labour market and men’ engagement within the family, perpetuate the traditional gendered division of roles of women as caregivers and men as breadwinners. This division has been eroding on a cultural level as well as on the level of everyday practise (Johansson 2011, Rehel 2013). Therefore, it seems logical to make structural settings more concordant with societal development (Auth, Martinek 2016) and implement a policy of parental leave, which is enabling for both sexes, since it provides an opportunity to spend more time with a new-born to both parents (Bollé 2001). The fathers’ opportunity to spent more time with a new-born then leads to a better relationship with the child (Haas, Hwang 2008, Haataja 2009).

Mothers traditionally bear the main burden of parenthood, which we need to perceive in a new light nowadays in the context of two-career families in which both parents struggle for satisfactory income to maintain the social status of the family (Oppenheimer 1988). As both parents have more often than ever careers to develop and higher requirements for quality of life (Inglehart 1990), more equal distribution of caregiving and household tasks is important for both the economic and subjective well-being of the family (Rehel 2013). Further, paternity leave for men seems to be an effective tool for reducing mothers’ burden and improving work-family balance amongst men and women (Rehel 2013, Bollé 2001). These benefits are, according to Rehel (2013), most of all a result of the fact that men on paternity leave share tasks and responsibilities, and thus, they “are able to move from the helper role to that of co-parent” (p. 127).

Children can capitalize on parental leave as well, as they generally benefit from a more harmonic and stable environment within family (Armstrong, Birnie-Lefcovitch, Ungar 2005). In Nordic countries, couples giving birth under the legislation of paternity leave have, other things being equal, more egalitarian attitudes concerning the household division of labour and experience fewer conflicts over this topic (Kotsadam, Finseraas 2011). Moreover, in the United States (Nepomnyaschy, Waldfogel 2007), Sweden (Haas, Hwang 2008), and the United Kingdom (Tanaka, Waldfogel 2007) fathers on paternity leave take care of the baby more equally. As a result, paternity leave does not only increase the time spent with offspring, but also the quality of relationships with children (Haas, Hwang 2008, Haataja 2009) and the development of children (Tanaka, Waldfogel 2007). Furthermore, a systematic review of 24 longitudinal studies (Sarkadi et al. 2008) also reveals the importance of involvement of both parents for desired developmental outcomes.

Societies can also benefit from the promotion of paternity leave, as this social policy tool can create a supportive environment for childbearing, and thus, increase the low fertility levels of (mostly) developed countries (Bollé 2001, Schulze, Gergoric 2015). It is also worth mentioning that paternity leave enhances quality of life for whole families (Haas, Hwang 2008, Rehel 2013, Tanaka, Waldfogel 2007). In contrast, Cools, Fiva, and Kirkebøen (2015) did not confirm these effects of paternity leave, which should remind us that scientific evidence on any topic is rarely consistent. The best assessment of contradictory evidence is to follow the predominant pattern, which points to the beneficial effects of the paternity leave. Moreover, rising gender equality in the labour market and within households is one of the important aims of many countries and this aim can be partly fulfilled by implementation of this policy measure (Bollé 2001). Finally, we should stay aware of the normativity of the effort to make care, household tasks, and responsibility for income more gender equal, even if it is far from being universally supported by the public. Further, paternity leave may disproportionally support more stable couples with higher education and more liberal values (Cools, Fiva, Kirkebøen 2015, Rehel 2013). Still, the tendency to strengthen the marginalisation of some groups of individuals. like single mothers, can be addressed by other policy tools. In short, paternity leave seems to be both a legitimate and an effective solution to some of the most striking problems of contemporary societies, such as economic insecurity, low fertility, unstable families, or gender inequality within the family and the labour market.

I have presented a variety of evidence supporting the utility of paternity leave for men. While counter arguments are based mostly on the opposition to a welfare state and on the few findings that do not support parental leave, this social policy instrument, and consequently a social practice, is in fact beneficial in many ways. More specifically, paternity leave reduces the time constraints of fathers, the childcare burden of mothers (Rehel 2013), potential developmental problems amongst children (Sarkadi et al. 2008), and the fertility problems of developed countries (Bollé 2001). I argue that this policy tool, which has been already implemented in 23 out of 28 countries of European Union (Schulze, Gergoric 2015), should be also implemented in the Czech Republic.

Martin Lakomý is a PhD student of Sociology

Article was proofread and edited by Nadya Jaworsky


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