Australian Fathers' Use of Leave for Parenting: Changing Patterns and Policy Implications

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 11:10 AM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Gillian WHITEHOUSE , Political Science and International Studies, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia
Belinda HEWITT , Institute for Social Science Research, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia
Marian BAIRD , Business School, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
Mara YERKES , Institute for Social Science Research, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia
In the absence of policy measures widely-recognized as conducive to fathers’ parental leave-taking, such as well-remunerated and non-transferable leave arrangements, a relatively low proportion of Australian fathers (around 30%) use paid paternity or parental leave, although around half take some paid annual leave in association with the birth of a child.  These figures suggest persistent barriers to more gender egalitarian divisions of parenting and raise questions over the pace of change in Australia. Using survey and interview data collected over the past three years we examine fathers’ leave usage in detail, analyzing the factors that influence leave uptake and duration and seeking evidence of changes in patterns of use. Change might be expected in part as a reflection of evolving expectations and behaviors associated with increases in the labour force engagement of mothers and/or as a result of a greater awareness and legitimacy of parental leave stimulated by recent policy initiatives. Our surveys suggest a complex picture in which the overall duration of leave taken by fathers increased somewhat in recent years, although the duration of leave specifically designated as ‘paid paternity leave’ decreased. We test these results for consistency when controlling for sample differences. The data also illustrate different patterns of leave usage among fathers, with a significant group taking leave for parenting purposes after their child was six months old. We use interview data with mothers and fathers to probe further into influences on fathers’ use of leave arrangements around the birth of a child. Overall our analysis provides an assessment of changing patterns of leave usage by Australian fathers over a period of policy innovation, as well as a more nuanced picture of fathers’ leave usage to inform future policy development in the interests of more gender egalitarian family outcomes.