The Surprising Reason Some Men Are More Likely to Take Paternity Leave

A new study found that men are 50 percent more likely to take advantage of paternity leave if they have a child of this gender.

dad playing with baby at home
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California made parents' dreams come true back in 2004, when it rolled out the country's first-ever paid family leave policy. With six weeks of partially paid time off each year, it's miles ahead of the paltry leave most of us have to scrape together with saved-up sick time and vacation days. Not surprisingly, scores of new parents jumped at the offer, including 46 percent more dads.

Problem solved, right? Well, not quite.

In its recent study of California's policy, the National Bureau of Economic Research made a troubling discovery: Men are 50 percent more likely to take advantage of paternity leave if they have a son. Worse, "fathers of girls do not respond to the policy at all," according to the study, which was first reported by Quartz. (Men are, however, more likely to take off if they work in a mostly female office and see women take maternity leave.)

The researchers have come up with a couple of reasons for the gender-based decision, which may or may not make steam blow out of your ears. "First, it may be that fathers get more utility from spending time with their sons than daughters," they wrote in the study. "Second, it may be that the parents perceive that paternal time spent caring for boys is relatively more productive than time spent caring for girls."

When I finished reading about the study, the first thing I did was turn to my husband and ask what year we were in. Then I grilled him about his decision to take the full week off he was allowed after our son was born. Would he have made the same choice if we'd had a girl. "Absolutely," he said with total conviction. "A baby is a baby." Then, "You can lower your eyebrow now."

Though my husband's in the minority among men in this study, he's obviously far from the only one who put work on hold for a bit to be with their child. New dad Mark Zuckerberg is famously taking two months off from running Facebook to be home with daughter Max, who was born last week. And after the births of George and Charlotte, Prince William spent two weeks away from work to help wife Kate. Hopefully such high-profile paternity leaves will help inspire more new dads to follow suit—regardless of their baby's gender.

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Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up. Follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

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