Political Animal


October 07, 2012 5:11 PM Can We Force Men to be Better Dads?

By Simon van Zuylen-Wood

A new round in our ongoing national conversation about the “end of men” has kicked off in the past month. First, Hanna Rosin released her eponymous book on the subject. Then, the Atlantic published “The Weaker Sex,” all about inadequate men. Finally, last weekend, an opinion piece in the Times argued that men were not, in fact, done for. One thing everyone seems to agree on is that both among both high and low earners, motherhood remains one of the greatest disadvantages American women face in the workplace. Not only do they often struggle to return to work after giving birth, but their income dwindles once they do. Making matters worse, America is the only industrialized country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave.

Paul Seabright’s new book The Battle of the Sexes is concerned largely with the biological aspects of sex and sexuality, and his analysis is not confined to humans. But according to a recent review in the Times Literary Selection, he does have offer a solution to the gender inequity that arises from female motherhood: compulsory paternity leave.

This idea isn’t entirely new: Sweden, Belgium, the United Kingdom, France, and other European countries require dads to take paid time off. If men are staying home, the thinking goes, women won’t have to. But the compulsory leave idea isn’t perfect either. In most countries where the policy exists, forced male leave doesn’t last much longer than two weeks, meaning mothers still do the bulk of the child rearing. (It’s been shown that men typically won’t stay home if they aren’t forced to.) Besides, as a 2007 University of Pennsylvania Law School study argues, such a policy would be virtual impossible to implement in America for political and legal reasons. Instead, the study argues, the only way to get men childrearing—and get women on somehwat equal footing—is to aggressively overcompensate them to do it, above and beyond standard wage replacement and paid leave proposals. The idea, in other words, is to try to make staying home more financially attractive than going to work, if possible.

Simon van Zuylen-Wood is a writer for Philadelphia Magazine.


  • carambar2 on October 07, 2012 6:09 PM:

    What's next ? GMO Men that can give birth?
    Yes other European countries are more advanced than the US in term of time off. I enjoyed it myself. but none of them go so far in Extreme- Feminism. Women and men are not in some sort domination of war.

  • Char on October 07, 2012 7:20 PM:

    "...the idea is to make staying at home more financially attractive than going to work..."

    No, I think you've got that wrong. The idea is to force a cultural shift where men aren't punished for wanting to stay home and are supported in becoming more active parents and more egalatarian partners. Finances are important, but I don't think that is the motivation behind the practice, nor the mechanism behind men choosing to stay at home or continue work.

    My husband's workplace (a major hospital in a large city) offers ONE DAY of leave (from his extended illness bank) to new fathers, and that is only if the mother is in the hospital. We both find this to be absolutely barbaric. He's had to use three weeks of PTO just to stay home with us these dirst few weeks. I honestly can't imagine getting by with less and I simultaneously recognize that our situation is infinitely more comfortable than what's available to most new parents.

  • liam foote on October 07, 2012 7:28 PM:

    I was a political asylum officer with DOJ when my first son was born in 2007 and, frankly, I was astounded to learn that I could take paid paternity leave for a number of weeks. Taking advantage of this allowed his mom, a tough bird from St. Petersburg, Russia to return to her job as a professor at a nearby university.

    I had truly wonderful time with the little guy and was able to recover somewhat from the turmoil of a stressful job. It worked out so well that we had another child two years later, confident in the flexibility that the system allowed. I can't recommend it highly enough.

  • bluewave on October 07, 2012 8:19 PM:

    However much I applaud more equal gender roles in child rearing, males bonding with their children, etc., pardon me if I don't clap and cheer at the idea that men should get extremely well-paid if we're going to "expect" them to do something women have been expected to do for free for millennia. Somehow it doesn't feel like progress to me. But I'm not a parent, so what the heck do I know?

  • Anonymous on October 07, 2012 10:20 PM:

    Bracketing this with a silly article from the Atlantic (recycling gender and right brain/left brain stereotypes) doesn't make sense. There are family friendly leave policies in the public and private sectors that could be evaluated to see whether generous leave does make a difference in parental division of labor, father-child bonding, etc.

  • Texas Aggie on October 08, 2012 1:19 AM:

    Rather than give purely financial inducements, it would work better if the husband was involved in the decision, not just the act, for the woman to get pregnant in the first place. If having a child was something that the father really wanted, he wouldn't need financial inducements to stay home as long as possible and be involved in the care of his child.

  • paul on October 08, 2012 8:57 AM:

    What they said. Financial inducements just aren't in it. You couldn't pay me enough to stay home in a house with a newborn if I didn't already want to. We need the cultural shift, and then the financial issues will follow.

  • wab on October 08, 2012 9:25 AM:

    In the UK it is *not* required for men to take time off. But it would be unusual not to take the statutory two weeks off since it cannot be transferred.

  • Thomas Allen on October 25, 2012 9:59 AM:

    Why should to think about forcing dads to be better dads? Recent studies show that men score higher in parenting tests then women do. What we need is better moms, moms who dont tell their children that their father didn't want to raise them. We need moms who accept that daddy left, because they couldn't stand to be with mommy and mommy had to have it all her way, so he took the highway. That I is what disgusts me the most about single mothers today, rather then except the fact that they drove their man away, or he just didn't want to be with them, the convince the child the father didn't want them thinking they are sticking it to the father, or that they had a fling with some one, screwed up, and forgot their birth control, yet want to blame the man for not sticking around with a stranger. In reality they are destroying their children.