More Canadian Dads Taking Parental Leave

Tuesday Jul 22, 2008

July 2008

An article in the June 2008 edition of Statistics Canada's Perspectives of Labour and Income reported that the number of Canadian fathers taking paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child jumped from 3 % in 2000 to 20% in 2006*. The biggest proportion of that increase took place in Quebec, which is the only province offering 5 weeks of paid paternity leave which cannot be transferred to the mother (sometimes referred to as Daddy Days). In Quebec, more than half of eligible fathers (55%) took paid parental leave in 2006 (up from 22 percent in 2004), compared to 11% in the rest of Canada.

What's interesting is that, although fathers in the rest of Canada were 10 times less likely than Quebec fathers to take parental leaves, their leaves tended to be longer: 17 weeks on average for fathers outside Quebec versus 7 weeks in Quebec. Clearly, a large proportion of the increase in Quebec consisted of fathers taking the minimum 5 week paternity leave.

A closer look at the paternity leave numbers from outside Quebec reveals some interesting trends. For example, a substantial minority of fathers in provinces other than Quebec are taking surprisingly long leaves. In 2006 about half of eligible fathers outside Quebec took 16 weeks or more and almost a quarter took 30 weeks or more. What's more, while most Quebec fathers (70%) took leave at the same time as their partner, almost four out of five fathers in the rest of Canada took leave when their partner was not on paid leave. And 55% of fathers outside of Quebec who took paternity leave had partners who did not take any paid leave at all.

In other words a small but intriguing minority of Canadian fathers are taking more paid leave than their partners, in some cases more than half the total leave available to the family. What do we know about these families? This data set, which was drawn from the Employment Insurance Coverage Survey, cannot tell us much about who these fathers are and why they are taking such long leaves.

Andrea Doucet, professor of sociology at Carleton University and co-leader of FIRA's New Fathers cluster, says there are a number of possible explanations, but to begin with, it's important to keep in mind the distinction between paid and unpaid parental leave.  "More than one-third Canadian women do not have access to paid maternity leave," she points out. "That can be because they are students, self-employed, not employed or do not have enough weeks of employment to qualify for paid parental leave. But most of these mothers would still take unpaid leave, or at least are not employed in the months after giving birth."

Therefore, some fathers may take a long paid leave because they are the only one of the couple eligible for paid leave and some may be at home at the same time as their partner whose is ineligible for paid leave. Another possibility is that the mother makes more money than the father - this is now the case in one-third of Canadian dual income couples -- so there is less of an income cut if Dad takes some of the parental leave. At this point we can only speculate.

Doucet and co-investigator Lindsey McKay (Carleton University) recently completed a qualitative study of parental leave use in 16 Ontario and 10 Quebecois couples; data which will provide further insights into fathers who take long parental leaves. "We're still analyzing our data," she says. "But, in a nutshell, these appear to be dads who: a) have wives who do not qualify for parental leave ; b) work in employment cultures that tend to be support of parental leave and gender equity such as government departments or female-dominated professions (e.g. teaching or health care); or
c) had a multiple birth or had other children at home who were not in daycare."

Overall the new parental leave data demonstrates two things. For one thing, Quebec's experience clearly shows that government policy, in the form of Daddy Days, can influence early father involvement in families. Further it's yet another indicator that Canadian fathers are becoming more involved in the care of their children.

Source. Marshall, Katherine, 2008. Fathers' Use of Paid Parental Leave, Perspectives on Labour and Income, Statistics Canada, June 2008. 

Footnote. *Paid parental leave is only one way fathers take leave during family transitions. Other research (Beaupré and Cloutier, 2007) shows that 55% of fathers take time off after the birth or adoption of a child. Some use vacation days (21%), while others take unpaid leave (11%). Source: Beaupré, Pascale and Elisabeth Cloutier. 2007. Navigating Family Transitions: Evidence from the General Social Survey – 2006 (PDF). Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 89-625-XIE – No. 002.