Why Caregiving Is Good for Men
November 13, 2015 | Home and Family
By Lisa Wirthman
To help families save for the future, encourage more men to be caregivers, a recent report advises. Women spend up to 10 times more time caring for children and aging parents than men do—and pay a financial price in lost work and income as a result, according to the first State of the World’s Fathers report (SOWF).
Launched in June by the MenCare campaign for global fatherhood, in collaboration with the Clinton Foundation’s No Ceilings project and the United Nation’s HeForShe gender equality movement, the SOWF report includes data from hundreds of global studies.
One answer to boosting family incomes is to have dads help out more at home: Every month that fathers take paternity leave increases a mother’s income by 6.7 percent (more than she loses by taking leave herself), according to a study cited in the SOWF report.
Caregiving Helps Men
But encouraging dads to get involved is not just about helping women get ahead at work. It turns out that caregiving is actually good for men, said Gary Barker, a co-founder of the MenCare campaign and international director of Promundo-US, a Washington, D.C.-based organization promoting global gender justice.
Men who are involved in their children’s lives tend to live longer, are more likely to take care of their health and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors like smoking, drinking and violence, the report states. Men who have more work/life balance are also more focused on their jobs when they are at work and are less likely to seek new employment.
“Men are saying, ‘We get it. We can work another two hours, but there’s a ceiling here. Let us go home,’” said Barker, one of the report’s authors.
The Case for Paternity Leave
Nearly half of U.S. fathers say they are not spending enough time with their children, compared to just 23 percent of mothers, according to the report. About two-thirds of fathers globally also say they would gladly work less in exchange for more time with their children if they had paternity leave.
When men get involved in childcare at the earliest stages, the benefits are strongest. Data collected over the last decade shows that men have a shift in their hormonal balances when they are in close physical contact with babies, the report explains.
“A switch flipped sometime just after the second month, when I could more easily imagine myself being happy doing this full time,” wrote Tom Stocky in a blog post about taking paternity leave to care for his daughter. Stocky is vice president of search at Facebook, which offers all employees four months of paid paternity or maternity leave.
Most men, however, receive far less paid paternity leave than women, if they receive any at all. Only 17 percent of U.S. employers provide the benefit, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management.
“If we don’t break the notion that women are the lead caregivers, what we see is a lifelong pattern that Dad is the helper,” Barker said.
The Corporate Response
Some companies are taking big steps to catch up with Facebook. Netflix recently announced that it will give employees up to a year of paid maternity and paternity leave to care for a newborn or newly adopted child.
“We want employees to have the flexibility and confidence to balance the needs of their growing families without worrying about work or finances,” wrote Chief Talent Officer Tawni Cranz in a company blog.
Microsoft Corp. and Adobe Systems quickly followed suit. In a blog post, Microsoft announced it would offer up to 12 weeks of paid leave for all parents of newborn or adopted children, in addition to eight weeks of paid maternity disability leave for birth mothers. Adobe will offer 16 weeks of paid leave for primary caregivers and up to 26 weeks for birth mothers.
“We believe it’s our responsibility to create an environment where people can do their best work,” noted Kathleen Hogan, Microsoft’s executive vice president, Human Resources.
“Our employees are our intellectual property and our future,” wrote Adobe’s Donna Morris, senior vice president of People and Places, in a company blog. ”The investment is unquestionably worth it.”
Benefits for Mothers and Children
Children also benefit from close relationships with their fathers, the SOWF report states. This includes greater rates of school completion, higher cognitive development, better mental health and lower rates of delinquency in sons—all of which help lead to more successful futures.
“Across cultures and the realms of children’s lives, things are better if they have an involved father,” said Barker. Girls are more likely to aspire to less-traditional female jobs, and boys are more likely to share chores, the report states.
Women also benefit when men take paternity leave. Employers often factor into their hiring decisions—and starting pay rates—that women are likely to take time off for maternity care at some point in their careers, Barker said. “The equation shifts radically when the employer knows that the same applies to a man,” he added.
When women’s salaries are higher, they’re also less likely to be the partner who stays home with children simply because they earn less money, Barker said. ”You break the cycle early on and say you’re both caregivers and you’re both providers.”
Lisa Wirthman writes about business, sustainability, public policy, and women’s issues. Her work has been published in The Atlantic.com, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Fast Company, Investor’s Business Daily, the Denver Post and the Denver Business Journal.
Originally published on Northwestern MutualVoice on Forbes.com.