Kathrin Morosow. Photo: Daniel Rossetti/Stockholm University

Kathrin Morosow. Photo: Daniel Rossetti/Stockholm University

– The findings highlight another way the welfare system reproduces inequality: socially disadvantaged fathers actually lose when using the parental leave system compared to better-off fathers, says researcher Kathrin Morosow, who has studied the unintended consequences of family leave policies in her PhD dissertation.

Together with Lynn Prince Cooke at the University of Bath, Kathrin Morosow used Finnish register data to study fathers at all points of the wage distribution. Many men have said they fear economic punishments for taking the leave, and the researchers wanted to find out to what extent this concern is rooted in reality. They looked across the wage distribution to see if consequences for wages differed among men.

Finland has a system with paid maternal and paternal leave, taken around the time of the birth, and after that a gender-neutral parental leave where parents get about 70 percent earnings-replacement, or a flat rate for low-earning (or no-earning) parents. In 2003 a “father’s month” was introduced. If the father took the last two weeks of the gender-neutral parental leave, he received two bonus weeks. Two more bonus weeks were added in 2010, in all reserving 6 weeks for fathers.

As well as in Sweden and the other Nordic countries the Finnish system aims to increase women’s labor force participation, encourage men to enter the domestic sphere and promote gender equality. Still, Finnish fathers take only a small part of the gender-neutral parental leave. In 2016, half of Finnish fathers used the reserved “father’s month”, but only 5% take up any more of the gender-neutral parental leave.

The register data in the study include men at ages 20-45 who became fathers during the period 1995-2011.

– One question of the study was to see whether the introduction of the father’s month in 2003 reduced the wage penalty against caring fathers by making men’s caring more socially acceptable, particularly at the bottom of the wage distribution. We found no evidence of this, and conclude that policy had little impact on differences among fathers in the wage impact of taking parental leave, says Kathrin Morosow.

Instead, the results show that fathers at the lower end of the wage distribution lose earnings if they take the additional leave. But high-wage fathers don’t. In fact, higher-wage fathers who take additional parental leave are predicted to earn more than high-wage fathers who do not.

How can these results be interpreted?

Kathrin Morosow discusses several possible interpretations of these findings, based on previous research.

– Previous studies find that fathers who have taken the parental leave are often more involved fathers following the leave. While this may be great for children and the family, an employer might believe that men who take the leave are less committed to their job and are likely to be less productive workers, says Kathrin Morosow.

One reason lower-wage fathers take less leave, noted in  previous studies, is that lower-earning fathers usually have much less flexibility or autonomy in work hours and tasks. This may tell us something about why the economic penalty differs among men, Kathrin Morosow speculates.

– For one, low-wage fathers might work in occupations and positions where fewer men take parental leave, which makes it less accepted. Another possibility is that taking extra parental leave violates working-class social norms of “good” fathers as being economic providers. In any event, other studies find that supervisors often judge working-class fathers productivity more harshly after they return from parental leave, Kathrin Morosow says.

In contrast, fathers at the higher end of the wage distribution often have more flexibility in their work and usually with less direct supervision. They might even be encouraged to take leave in keeping with greater caring roles of the “new” fatherhood. So fathers at the upper end of the wage distribution may just receive more workplace support from employers and their peers which may of course effect their wages as well.

Another possible explanation comes from American research which suggests that differences among men in the nature of their fathering can have an impact on work productivity. In other words – what they do when they take care of their kids.

– Higher-wage fathers spend more time doing “public fathering” such as attending sporting events and school meetings. Less-advantaged fathers do more of the daily care work like feeding and washing, which is difficult to reschedule. That is the type of demanding, routine care work that has been shown to hurt mothers’ wages, says Kathrin Morosow.

Her conclusion is that, although Nordic family leave policies are among the most gender egalitarian in the world, their associated gains are not equally shared across social classes.

– Whether it’s because of class differences in employment support or social pressures, less-advantaged Finnish fathers use the policies less than economically advantaged fathers, and are punished when they do so. Policy makers need to look more closely at class as well as gender differences in the potential barriers to and outcomes of using family policies.

More about the research

Morosow, Kathrin; Cooke, Lynn Prince (2018): Why Daddy Doesn’t Do it: Paternal Leave Effects on the Wage Distribution. Stockholm Research Reports in Demography. DOI: https://doi.org/10.17045/sthlmuni.7381181.v1 Preprint (not yet peer reviewed), part of the following PhD dissertation:
Morosow, K. (2019). Side Effects: Unintended Consequences of Family Leave Policies (PhD dissertation). Department of Sociology, Stockholm University, Stockholm. Retrieved from http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:su:diva-171410

For more information, please contact Kathrin Morosow via e-mail, km937@bath.ac.uk or kathrin.morosow@sociology.su.se