Should Companies Make Parental Leave Mandatory?

February 17th 2017

Mike Rothschild

Despite all the documented benefits of paid family leave, there is one drawback that has generated quite as much conversation: it's potential contribution to the gender pay gap. Recent research shows that countries offering the most generous parental leave policies also have some of the highest pay gaps in the industrialized world.

Gender Pay Gap

Austria, Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Japan all offer at least half a year off to new parents, while also having pay gaps between men and women of at least 20 percent. Meanwhile, the pay gap in the U.S., which does not legally mandate paid leave, is between 10 and 18 percent, depending on the age of the employees.

It's clear that new parents around the world suffer from lost earnings potential due to parental leave, and the burden is far worse for women, due to the lack of men taking as much leave as women. As few as 1 for ever 500 women in Australia, less than two-thirds of men in the UK, and a staggeringly low 4 percent of men in the U.S. take any significant time off for a new birth.

In order to both decrease the gender pay gap and increase the number of men who take parental leave, several writers have proposed an unorthodox solution: require fathers to take it.

In 2015, both the Guardian and Huffington Post published op-ed pieces advocating for taking at least some time off after a new baby be mandatory for men.



Mandatory paternity leave would have a number of significant benefits for all family members, these pieces argue.

Given the belief that the current system of voluntary family leave puts mothers at a disadvantage because they are more likely to lose earning potential by taking time off, mandatory family leave would put men and women on equal footing by forcing both to take a break.

Beyond that, the more men who take paternity leave, the more the stigma on men missing significant time goes away. Per the Guardian's Gabrielle Jackson:

"When Germany legislated that of a possible 14 months parental leave, two months must be taken by fathers, the percentage of men taking paternity leave went from 3 percent to more than 20 percent – in only two years.

When Quebec introduced a similar scheme, with reserved “daddy-only” time, participation increased by more than 250 percent. In 2010, 80 percent of Quebecois dads were taking paternity leave."

There's not an overwhelming amount of data that mandating paternal leave will close the pay gap, but Jackson notes that "a study in Sweden showed that for every month dad took for parental leave, mum’s future earnings increased by 7 percent."


ATTN: wrote about online store Etsy offering 26 weeks of paid family leave to new parents of either gender. Early indications are that the policy is successful, with an equal number of men and women taking leave, and 35 percent of those who took leave receiving a promotion after they came back.

With no national paid family leave, and just 21 percent of large American companies offering any kind of leave, mandatory time off for new dads seems like it's far away. But parental leave is becoming a more political issue, and more companies offer it all the time.