Study: Most Americans Support Paid Paternity Leave

A dad with light brown skin holding a newborn baby

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Key Takeaways

  • A recent study found that over 86% of participants support paid paternity leave.
  • Nine states and Washington D.C. have passed legislation to enact paid family leave policies in the United States.
  • Paternity leave can provide developmental benefits for the baby and help fathers who are coping with postpartum depression.

Even though the United States doesn't offer paid leave for new parents, a rising number of Americans are supporting the measure. A new study found that Americans are aligned with a majority of people in over 20 countries who overwhelmingly support paid paternity leave.

For the study, researchers from Ohio State University and Ball State University reviewed data from over 35,000 people who participated in a 2012 international social survey.

All the participants were from 26 wealthy countries, as determined from data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank, including Canada, Finland, Japan, South Korea, Switzerland, and the United States.

They found that a majority of people in each of the included countries supported paid paternity leave. When posed with a hypothetical of two full-time working parents caring for a newborn child, 86% of respondents were in favor of this leave. According to another study by the same authors, about 80% of American respondents support paid parental leave.

The participants on average supported a 13 month-long leave. The study was published in the International Journal of Comparative Sociology in late June.

"What was interesting on the results of that study is that the United States was by far the lowest in their opinion that the government should pay for it," Brandon Eddy, PhD, a couple and family assistant professor at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who was not involved in the study, tells Verywell.

In total, around 74% of participants believed that the government should offer financial support for paternity leave.

People who viewed childcare as gendered work were less likely to support it. And women, on the other hand, were more likely to rally behind the measure.

"[This] further suggests that women are more likely than men to recognize the usefulness of paid parental leave for meeting their family and work aspirations and expectations," the researchers wrote.

Where Does Family Leave Stand in the U.S.?

Despite many Americans supporting both, paid maternity and paternity leave, only six states and Washington D.C. have active paid family leave programs, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center. Those states include:

  • California
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Rhode Island
  • Washington

In addition, Colorado, Connecticut, and Oregon have all passed paid family leave programs, but they have not gone into effect as of February 2021.

Sabrina Shaheen Cronin, JD, founder and managing partner who practices family law at the Cronin Law Firm, tells Verywell that the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) currently in place, could allow fathers to take paternity leave, albeit unpaid.

"If an employer has over 50 employees, for FMLA, they can't jeopardize someone's job for taking an unpaid leave," she says. Under FMLA, people are permitted to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year.

However, despite protections stipulated by the FMLA, some companies may still fire parents taking leave under this legislation.

"A lot of states have at-will employment, and that means that anyone can be fired for any reason at any time no matter what," Cronin says. Unfortunately, she also added that some lawyers may be reluctant to represent people who may have been unjustly fired in states with at-will employment policies.

Cronin notes that families with LGBTQ+ parents may also face additional barriers to taking paid or unpaid family leave.

"The LGBTQ+ population, they are actually severely disadvantaged when it comes to paid time off, and they're hit the hardest when it comes to wages and discrimination," she adds.

Health Benefits of Paternity Leave

Research suggests that around 8 to 10% of fathers experience postpartum depression, and it occurs most often when a baby is between 3 to 6 months old. Support from employers, including paternity leave, could help, according to a May 2019 article published in the Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience journal.

If both parents have paid leave, Eddy says they can help each other manage their mental health.

"If one partner is struggling, and if we have paid time off or paid leave, the other partner could step in and help their partner, whether it be to going to therapy with them or whether it be helping more with child care," Eddy adds.

Having a father engaged in a baby's life from an early age can also help with their development.

"It's also been paternal involvement or having fathers more involved is linked to toddlers developing early developing language skills earlier on, emotional regulation, [and] being able to soothe a lot of self soothe more," he says.

What This Means For You

If you're preparing for a new baby, you should check in with your employer to see their policies around paid family leave. While it's not guaranteed, some companies in the U.S. have paid paternal leave policies in place.

Paternity Leave Can Be Good for Businesses Too

If new fathers are not sleeping enough and are overwhelmed by this transition, they may not be performing their best.

“You're trying to take care of yourself and your partner, still working full time and, and all the commitments that a job has, and it's really tough to keep yourself in a good state with your mental health,” Eddy says.

Some companies may pressure fathers to return to work quickly, despite having paid leave in place. “Even if they have paid time off or paternity leave, oftentimes their companies will pressure them to not take as much time as they can about quickly, or [will say], ‘hey you’re really needed here,’” he adds.

Eddy recommends that fathers start conversations with their companies early on about taking paid time off before their baby arrives. “Another thing is to know the policies of your company,” he says. “Some companies are a little bit more family-friendly and allow you to take some time off.”

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Knoester C, Li Q, Petts RJ. Attitudes about paid parental leave: cross-national comparisons and the significance of gendered expectations, family strains, and extant leave offerings. Int J Comp Sociol. Published online June 23, 2021. doi:10.1177/00207152211026705

  2. Li Q, Knoester C, Petts RJ. Attitudes about paid parental leave in the U.S. Sociol Focus. SocArXiv. Preprint posted online June 29, 2021. doi:10.31235/

  3. Bipartisan Policy Center. State paid family leave laws across the U.S. Updated February 10, 2021.

  4. Scraff JR. Postpartum depression in menInnov Clin Neurosci. 2019;16(5-6):11-14. PMID: 31440396