Work Life Balance

If We Decide To Have Any More Kids, We Are Moving To California For Their Paid Parental Leave Policy

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shutterstock_168013181Last month when Business Insider picked up on Sweden’s paid paternity leave policies and how they have presented a dramatic shift in general roles of all parents (not just those of young children), I was all over it.  It made complete sense.  If you get fathers more involved at birth, they are more likely to be involved through-out the life of the child.  This would, as it has in Sweden, force companies to find ways to accommodate all parents who want real work-life balance. Little did I know California was well on its way to setting up this system here in the U.S.

[I]n 2002 California became the first U.S. state to guarantee six weeks of paid leave for mothers and fathers alike, financed by a small payroll-tax contribution from eligible workers. Since then, New Jersey and Rhode Island have followed suit with 12 and 13 paid weeks, respectively, while other states are taking steps toward similar policies. In Silicon Valley, many tech giants have gone above and beyond the government mandate: Google offers men seven weeks of paid leave; Yahoo, eight; and Reddit and Facebook, a generous 17.

It’s important to recognize that paid leave is the key.  Unpaid leave might protect some people from automatically losing their job, but it’s a relatively meaningless gift granted by the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act.  Aside from the obvious reasons why paid leave is better (bills? hello?), to incentivize men to take their leave and get more involved at home, the leave has to be worth something we can all measure — $$$$.   This is where California gets it really right — just like Sweden before and Quebec after — and the early results are positive.

Since California instituted its program, the percentage of “bonding leaves” claimed by men has risen from 18.7 in 2005 and 2006 to 31.3 in 2012 and 2013. A study by the economist Eileen Appelbaum and the sociologist Ruth Milkman showed that initial concerns that the California law would be a “job killer” were unfounded, and that workplaces have figured out effective and creative ways to cover for leave-taking parents. The biggest hurdle seems to be getting the word out, particularly among lower-income families that could benefit enormously from the program. (Part of the beauty of the California policy is that it extends leave to men in non-white-collar jobs.)

But it may take more than these gender-neutral leave policies to make a real difference.  That’s what it took in Quebec.  They turned the stigma of taking paternity leave into a stigma of not taking it.

The economist Ankita Patnaik, who has studied Quebec’s implementation of such a policy, told me that “families felt they were wasting something” if the father didn’t take leave. In 2006, Quebec increased the financial benefits for paid leave and offered five weeks that could be taken only by fathers. “That’s what really made a difference,” Patnaik told me. “Now dads might feel bad for not taking leave—your baby loses this time with parents.” Since then, the percentage of Quebecois fathers taking paternity leave has skyrocketed, from about 10 percent in 2001 to more than 80 percent in 2010.

Since California passed their paid leave policy almost 12 years ago, only New Jersey and Rhode Island have followed suit though other states are taking steps to get there.  Until then, if we decide to have any more kids we’re moving to California where they know how to take care of their workforce.

(photo: Kachyn Dmitro/Shutterstock)


  1. Bethany Ramos

    December 30, 2013 at 8:31 am

    That’s funny because my husband telecommutes to a small company in California, and just a day or so after our son was born this year, they were like, Congrats! So…. Can you do some work? But overall, the company is really flexible and awesome for him as an at home dad.

  2. Alicia Kiner

    December 30, 2013 at 9:33 am

    A lot more companies and even the military are adding paternity leaves, even without laws changing. My husband was given 30 paid days after the birth of our daughter 8 years ago. With union contract negotiations, his company is up to 60 days paid, and they can take another 30 unpaid after where they don’t have to take any of their vacation or personal time. It’s the only family-oriented thing the company has done.

  3. SM

    December 30, 2013 at 9:57 am

    Something that this post doesn’t make totally clear is that ALL Canadians get a baseline of paid leave if they’ve worked enough to qualify – 17 weeks of maternity leave for biological mothers, plus 35 weeks parental leave that can be shared between biological or adoptive mother/father, mother/mother OR father/father 🙂 Lots of employers even top up the leave to close to full salary for a portion of that time. Then on top of that, Quebec has an additional 5 weeks that can ONLY be taken by fathers in order to address the fact that mothers tend to take all of the available paid leave rather than fathers. That said, I know plenty of men in the rest of Canada, not just Quebec, who have taken advantage of the leave sharing that is available to them – associates at law firms, police officers, self-employed trades-people… Just want to make sure that everyone knows how good we have it so that you can smack down anyone who tries to say that what happens in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island is good enough. It’s a good start, at least?

  4. Kay_Sue

    December 30, 2013 at 10:36 am

    While I think this is a great step, I also hope that this isn’t taking away the fight to get a stronger paid maternity leave policy in the US. Right now, there are still women that don’t have time for their bodies to heal–leaving aside the bonding with baby aspect–due to their employers’ policies. Because FMLA doesn’t guarantee pay, there’s a wide discrepancy. Many states don’t require any leave to be guaranteed if you work in a firm with less than 50 employees, and the hours requirement means that part-time workers often do not get any guarantee that they’ll still have a job when they return. Even states that mandate pay they have partial pay rates.

    Paternity leave is great, but when we are still lightyears behind in maternity leave–leave that is not only necessary for the emotional health of moms and babies, but for the actual physical health of the woman involved–we still have a lot of work to do all around.

    • Joye77

      December 30, 2013 at 11:09 am

      I agree. I recently read that 178 countries throughout the world have laws guaranteeing paid maternity ( and many paternity) leave and obviously the US isn’t one. We need far more support for our new babies and new working moms. This needs to change now. I can only hope that I may see some family friendly policies enforced in this country in my lifetime.

    • CMJ

      December 30, 2013 at 11:13 am

      Liberia, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland….and the US. Only countries in the WORLD without federally mandated paid parental leave. Ugh, I am like a broken record on this one.

    • Andrea

      December 30, 2013 at 11:40 am

      I say keep preaching sister. The whole thing is downright criminal!!!!!

    • Joye77

      December 30, 2013 at 11:58 am

      The fact that the US is so far behind other countries throughout the world with policies such as parental leave policies and single payer health care makes me so angry, I feel rage!! I am teetering on the brink of getting all political so I won’t but the maternity leave thing ha bugged me for years! why are we so backward?

  5. libraryofbird

    December 30, 2013 at 10:54 am

    There is a book series that I read that is set in the future that has some brilliant ideas, including professional parent, lisenced prostitutes, and flying cars. I hope there are people working on all of these ideas.

    • Vikky

      February 24, 2014 at 4:02 pm

      Did you just compare a stay-at-home parent to a prostitute?
      Be gone troll!

  6. Guest

    December 30, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Please note that not everyone qualifies for paid leave in California….Many companies are not required to pay into the system (i.e., government jobs, teachers) and both mothers and fathers get nothing when it comes to paid family leave.

    • darras

      December 30, 2013 at 11:33 am

      This is what i see as the biggest problem against getting paid parental leave in the US. The companies are having to pay into it and that’s never going to fly. In Scandinavia (not just Sweden kids ;)) parental leave is paid for by the taxes paid by the parent. So, if you have had taxable income for the ten months before your due date then you are eligable for the standard paid leave. The company doesn’t pay a thing, it’s the state that pays it from your previous taxes. This way the company has the money required to hire somebody temporarily while you’re on leave and everybody is happy.

      I have 80% of my salary paid to me for the whole year that I am off on maternity leave, I could have chosen 100% and ‘only’ been off 9 months if I’d wanted. My husband has long weekends now until the end of November 2014 and our son is coming up for six months. I just think.. in the UK I’d be going back to work now, in the US I’d have gone back to work painfully long ago. It’s horrific how parents suffer in America. Don’t be afraid to sound like a broken record! We need to fight for the right to develop a loving and bonded family in ALL countries, it’s so important and it breaks my heart that such a developed place as the US hasn’t implemented it yet.

  7. Mel

    December 30, 2013 at 11:05 am

    Full disclosure: I’m single and childfree, so maybe my opinion here is worthless, but here it is anyway. I resent that there had to be a “shame” element and to push men to want to take full advantage of the paid leave that is out there. I know that this isn’t some feminist utopia, and I’m looking a “gift horse” in the mouth, but it makes me sad that not all of the fathers would just want to use the paid leave automatically. I wish more of them (obviously I can’t speak for all) would care less about the stigma and more about just jumping in and being a dad.

    • Kay_Sue

      December 30, 2013 at 11:23 am

      This really is changing, though. My husband didn’t qualify for paid leave with our youngest son (or he’d actually have had access to more than I did at my job), but would have jumped on if he had. He recently had a friend who took several weeks off when his second child was born, and several other guys at work took time off. It was vacation time, albeit, that they had saved versus an actual company policy at this job, but it is heartening to see them willing to jump in. There’s no shame among them–the guys are worse about trading baby pictures than we are, lol

      And (full disclosure) you don’t have to be or want to be a parent to have a valid opinion on these things, man. Sometimes an “outside” (using that term loosely) opinion is just the ticket to see things differently.

    • Mel

      December 30, 2013 at 11:30 am

      I’m glad to hear that it’s changing for the better. I will keep my fingers crossed for continued enlightenment! I hope in the future mothers and children are no longer expected to be grateful for involved fathers. Thanks for following up 🙂

    • Rachel Sea

      December 30, 2013 at 12:34 pm

      Unfortunately the stigma can translate to lifetime loss of income if employers decide staying home with a baby equals a lack of dedication, so not caring about it is a luxury many families can’t afford.

    • Mel

      December 30, 2013 at 12:43 pm

      I absolutely believe that’s true. But it’s true for the moms too, and they still have to stay home and heal and bond. I know it’s easy to say this from where I sit, but it would make me proud if all the fathers bucked this argument and took paternity leave. It seems like if everyone did it, individuals would be less likely to suffer b/c of it. Like a labor strike of sorts. Again, I’m aware that I’m imagining a liberal, feminist fantasy land and reality is not so easy.

  8. CMJ

    December 30, 2013 at 11:09 am

    I get that paternity leave is important but we don’t even have mandated paid maternity leave in this country.

    I hope that if/when paid parental leave is established it is for both mothers and fathers but all these articles about how great paternity leave is seem kind of pointless when the majority of women in this country are lucky to even unpaid get time off after having a child.

  9. Guest

    December 30, 2013 at 11:20 am

    NJ only gets 6 weeks of paid leave…not 12. Its possible to combine it with NJ state disability for mothers, but fathers could only get 6 weeks of paid leave since they aren’t eligible for disability benefits since they aren’t birthing the kid. Its not a lot of money either…2/3 of your salary, but it maxes out at $595 per week (better than nothing though!)

  10. AP

    December 30, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Interestingly, I just moved to the BayArea and I’ve sworn that we’re not having kids until we leave the state. Paid leave or not, the Bay Area is more expensive than New York City, but with fewer amenities, worse schools, and higher crime.

    18 years, 10 months > six weeks.

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