Fathers' use of parental leave. What do we know?

Nevena Zhelyazkova


This paper reviews the the literature on fathers' use of parental leave. Parental leave is a work-life reconciliation instrument with great potential to bring about a more equal distribution of paid and unpaid work between men and women. However, policy evaluation studies reveal that simply making parental leave available to men as an option does not lead to a marked increase in the number of male users. There is evidence that incentives in the policy design, such as earmarking part of the paid parental leave only for men on a use-it-or-lose-it basis, can raise the number of male users. Still, this evidence comes primarily from the Scandinavian context and the question whether such outcomes could be replicated in other countries remains open. Theoretical understanding of male use of parental leave is usually based on multidisciplinary frameworks. The economic theories typically focus on the relative resources in the family and there seems to be an absence of an integrated framework for analysis at the individual level. Several empirical studies provide support for the importance of the difference in a parenting couple's earnings for fathers' use of parental leave. Socio-economic characteristics, such as age, individual income, education, marital status, and number of other children, can also play a role in the decision of men to take leave. Situational factors, such as the sector of employment, or the size of the enterprize are similarly important.

Keywords: work-family reconciliation, parental leave, fatherhood

JEL classification: J130, J160

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