Parenting leave: which ‘architecture’ works best for children?

29 October 2013

What is the ideal design of parenting leave (maternity, paternity and parental leave) in high, middle and low income countries? As governments across the world battle with this conundrum, the Fatherhood Institute offers a considered analysis.

In Parenting Leave Arrangements: Which ‘Architecture’ is Best for Children? we explore evidence on parenting leave design and policies, relating mainly to high income countries (especially in the Global North), focusing particularly on how to deliver the greatest benefits for young children (pre-natal up to 8) in terms of their learning and health, and in relation to the prevention of, and response to, domestic violence and child maltreatment. We also consider how such designs and policies might translate in middle and low-income countries (mainly in the Global South).

We find that to bring the greatest benefits, parenting leave design must walk a tight-rope between providing for the health and welfare needs of mothers and infants without marking women down as uniquely responsible for caring for children; and that therefore it is best if much of the birth-related leave is available to mothers without being limited to uptake by them. What is to be avoided is (i) a huge differential between the leave available to mothers and fathers; (ii) the perception that only mothers are entitled to the bulk of leave; and (iii) low uptake of available leave by men.

With this in mind, we suggest that an optimum leave design involves reserved leave for mothers (possibly called Maternity Leave) before the birth and up to around four weeks after it; around two weeks’ birth-and-post-birth leave for fathers (possibly called Paternity Leave); and thereafter, Flexible Parental Leave (for a minimum of 12 weeks, with an aspiration of 6-9 months or more; well-paid; and with reserved periods for mothers and fathers). We also consider options for ‘nudging’ fathers towards taking parenting leave.

Download Parenting Leave Arrangements as a PDF

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