Celebrating and Supporting Our Fathers: It’s Time for Paid Leave

by Ashland Johnson

The United States is the only industrialized nation that provides no paid family leave, maternity or parental, to working adults.

Across the country, people are celebrating fatherhood and the significance of fathers in their lives. For some, this means celebrating the person who gave you your amazing smile. For many others, today will be a celebration of someone other than a biological father. And for many children of gay and transgender fathers, today might be about celebrating a father who has cared for them but may not be seen as a parent in the eyes of the law.

As our notion of family continues to expand in the United States so has the notion of fatherhood. Fathers in past generations were expected to work outside the home to support their families. It is not uncommon today, however, for fathers to be the primary caregivers for their families. Since 1965, fathers in the U.S. have nearly tripled the time they spend caring for children and are now just as likely as working mothers to say they find it at least somewhat difficult to manage work and family responsibilities. Recent trends suggest these numbers will continue to increase, particularly in the LGBTQ community. However, our country’s policies on paid leave for fathers have remained behind-the-times, undermining all of our families.

The United States is the only industrialized nation that provides no paid family leave, maternity or parental, to working adults. Of the states that require paid leave, only four states (NY, NJ, CA, RI) and DC require employers to grant paid leave for workers who need to care for a child that they are parenting regardless of their legal or biological relationship. Thus, LGBTQ parents are not always given the same rights as other caretakers. In fact, seven-in-ten LGBTQ Americans live in states that lack a leave law or have a law that only allows leave for workers who have a biological or legal relationship with the child.

The lack of paid leave impacts the economic security of LGBTQ families. With the growing number of LGBTQ fathers, there is a growing need for our laws to recognize their status as parents as these state leave laws disproportionally affect LGBTQ parents because of their economic vulnerability. LGBTQ couples raising children are twice as likely to have household incomes near the poverty line compared to their non-LGBTQ peers. This economic disparity is partially due to (1) the lack of explicit federal laws protecting LGBTQ workers from being fired simply because of who they are and (2) the lack of leave laws protecting LGBTQ workings from losing their jobs for taking leave due to family or medical responsibilities. These lack of protections put LGBTQ people at risk of being pushed into the ranks of the long-term poor and unemployed. Inclusive paid leave would improve economic stability for LGBTQ fathers.

Studies have also found that paid family leave is significant for a child’s development. Inclusive leave laws allow fathers to have greater involvement with their children which promotes both a child’s educational success and emotional stability. For example, one study by the University of Oslo found that children perform higher in secondary school when fathers take paternity leave. Studies have also shown that a father’s participation in household and childcare duties increased 250 percent after leave and they are more involved in child care nine months later compared with those who do not take leave. Thus, all family members benefit when parents are able to take leave without fear of being fired or struggling financially.

Honoring fathers is more than about celebrating them today; it’s about supporting fatherhood, in all its forms, through laws and policies that allow all families to thrive. With the growing number of LGBTQ families, we need laws to provide these families with necessary protections.