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Prince Harry’s paternity leave shines spotlight on changing U.K. gender norms

Prince Harry’s paternity leave shines spotlight on changing U.K. gender norms
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex speaks to the media at Windsor Castle following the birth of his son on May 06, 2019 in Windsor, United Kingdom. [Photo: Steve Parsons/WPA Pool/Getty Images]

Now that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s baby son has made his royal entry into the world (and onto Instagram), Prince Harry is expected to take time off to learn how to be a parent.

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He won’t be alone, but he may not be in the majority, either: Under U.K. law, new dads are eligible for two weeks’ paid paternity leave, and some companies, like Amex and Diageo, offer their U.K.-based employees a great deal more (20 and 26 weeks, respectively). But studies show that the percentage of eligible fathers who opt to take paternity leave remains small. As for Markle, if she were a commoner and not the Duchess of Sussex, she would be entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave under U.K. law. The first 26 weeks are paid at 90% of their average weekly salary before tax.

Last year, a group of MPs argued that fathers should get more paid paternity leave. Specifically, the lawmakers argued that fathers should have the option of 12 weeks’ paid “use it or lose it” paternity leave. The idea is to try to encourage more men to get involved in the lives of their young children and hopefully close the gender pay gap.

If Harry does take his two weeks, he will be well in line with royal tradition. “It’s customary for royal fathers to take up to two weeks off from work after their new baby is born,” royal expert Katie Nicholl told Time. Although the royal family is under no obligation to follow laws designed for mere commoners, it would make sense that Harry might take a similar amount of time off from official engagements, particularly since his big brother, Prince William, took paternity leave, as did his father and uncles.

William took two to three weeks away from his duties when both Prince George and Princess Charlotte were born so that he could help Kate Middleton, Harpers Bazaar reports, noting that by the time his third child was born, William “returned to his royal duties three days after” the birth. (Prince Louis can discuss that in therapy, eventually.)

As this is Harry’s first child, it’s likely that he will take off as much time as possible off. Hopefully, he gave the queen advance notice of his plans, though, because under U.K. law, he had to give her at least 21 days’ notice. If so, a Buckingham Palace spokesperson reportedly told the Daily Mail, that “Her Majesty will accommodate a break from duties” for the new royal father.

If only all employers could be so flexible.

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