Paid parental leave is a polarizing benefit. Perhaps that’s why so many workers with children say they’ve never taken it.
A new report from the recruiting platform Jobvite found that 56% of the job seekers with children surveyed have never taken parental leave. The majority (87%) who did take time off said that they took less than 12 weeks (the standard unpaid amount of time off allowed by the Family Medical Leave Act).
It’s not for lack of publicity. Paid parental leave has made news on the recent presidential campaign trail as candidates point out how the U.S. lags behind other developed nations when it comes to offering workers a range of benefits that includes paid parental leave alongside vacation, health care, and unemployment protections. The media has also covered stories about companies large and small—particularly in the tech sector—that have taken up the slack by creating and implementing paid parental leave plans of their own.
Although research indicates that offering paid leave doesn’t affect a company’s profitability or performance, it’s still a tough sell to businesses: Currently only 12% of U.S. employees get it, according to government data. Yet even if it is offered at their workplace, there is no guarantee that employees will take it.
Jobvite’s data offers some insight into who's not taking it and why this particular benefit isn’t being used. It’s part of a larger report called the "Job Seeker Nation Study" that was conducted by polling company Inc. on behalf of Jobvite. The nationwide online survey of 2,305 adults (over age 18), of whom 1,386 were U.S. employees, asked about attitudes toward future job opportunities and the use of social networks and mobile devices to find jobs, among other questions. The data were weighted so the demographics of this audience closely match the nationwide population of adults (ages 18+) with respect to gender, age, and region.
Drilling down into the survey data reveals that not only did a majority of parents take less time off than they were offered, 26% said they took off less than two weeks total. Unsurprisingly, 36% of men reported shorting themselves on time off to be with their new sons or daughters, but 32% of men said they took between 2–6 weeks off. That number dropped to 22% for 7–12 weeks of paternity leave. It turns out that Mark Zuckerberg is among the minority with his two-month hiatus before returning to Facebook.
Women fall squarely into the mid-range for maternity leave, with the greatest percentage (36%) reporting they take between 2–6 weeks and 31% taking 7–12 weeks off. Once again, a prominent tech CEO falls into the minority: Yahoo chief Marissa Mayer, who gave birth to twins in December, announced that she'd take "limited time away" because of an uncomplicated pregnancy and the demands of a company undergoing a "transformation." Mayer only took two weeks off after the birth of her first child.
What causes parents to skip taking advantage of paid parental leave? Jobvite found that survey respondents blamed everything from cost to workload:
The good news is that attitudes about taking time off after the birth of a child are changing. Younger men and women surveyed were more likely to report that they took parental leave. 56% of women ages 18-29 said they took leave, and 63% of those between 30 and 39 also did. Similarly, 59% of men ages 18-29 reported taking time off, and 55% of those ages 30-39 took time off as well. In contrast, both men and women over age 55 reported staying on the job: Only 22% of men and 32% of women over age 55 said they took leave after the birth of a child.
According to Michael Kimmel, professor of sociology and gender studies at Stony Brook University, attitudes simply had to change. Kimmel wrote in Fast Company, that’s because neither men nor women work primarily at home or in the office, as in generations past:
For a long time, parental leave itself has been the victim of the discrimination women have long faced in the workplace and in society at large; it's been seen as a "women’s issue," and therefore shuttled off to the margins of the policy agenda.
The more men deepen their identities as parents, the more parental leave is being recast as a parents’ issue—and one worthy of pushing forward. It's about time.