Dad days: How more gender-equal parental leave would improve the lives of Australian families

by Danielle Wood, Owain Emslie, Kate Griffiths

04.09.2021 report


Paid parental leave should be substantially boosted for fathers and partners, to support men to be more engaged in the early years of their children’s lives.

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The federal government should add up to six weeks to the current 20-week paid parental leave allowance.

To encourage parents to share the leave, the allowance would include a 6-week ‘use it or lose it’ provision for each parent, plus 12 weeks to share between them as best suits their family.

To encourage parents – and especially fathers – to actually take the leave, the government should offer an additional two weeks of bonus leave, which could be used by either parent if both parents take at least six weeks leave.

In recognition of the extra financial and emotional challenges of solo parenting, the government should give single parents the full 26-week entitlement.

The expanded scheme, with leave paid at the current rate of the minimum wage, could cost the government an extra $600 million a year.

But it could also boost GDP by $900 million a year thanks to increased workforce participation by mothers, boosting the average mother’s lifetime earnings by $30,000.

The international evidence also suggests benefits for fathers’ relationships and life satisfaction, and for child development from greater father engagement in the early years.

Boosting parental leave and making it more gender-equal would be good for fathers, mothers, children, and the economy.

Governments around the world now recognise the significant social and economic benefits of gender-equal paid parental leave. It’s time for Australia to catch up.

Australia currently has one of the least generous parental leave schemes in the developed world, especially for fathers.

Australian women typically do two hours more unpaid work per day than men. And men do about two hours more paid work. This is one of the most gendered labour divides in the developed world – and surveys suggest neither women nor men are happy with it.

Parenting habits formed in the first years of a child’s life tend to persist. For heterosexual couples, this means the mother’s role as dominant carer for a new baby is carried through the child’s first decade and beyond.

Overseas evidence shows that policies that encourage greater sharing of unpaid care in the early years support greater father engagement in care through their child’s life. This gives mothers scope to participate more in paid work. Fathers with more time to `flex their parenting muscle’ tend to have better relationships with their partners and greater life satisfaction. And children with two involved parents – whether two mums, two dads, or one of each – benefit from the increased parental investment and the diversity of their interactions in their early years.

This policy could shift culture and give fathers and partners the green-light to make the choices that work best for them and their families.

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