Table 3 sums up the key demographic characteristics of the 1042 fathers in the sample by their parental leave status. The average respondent was a 37-year-old father with a youngest child around 3 years old. While three quarters of fathers with plans to take their first leave soon had just one child compared to 50 to 63 in the other groups, these fathers also had the highest ratio of those whose wives were pregnant, which meant they were expecting another child shortly. Of the fathers who have taken leave, around 30% took relatively short leaves of up to 3 months, another 30% very long leaves of 1 year or longer, and the remaining took leaves of moderate periods in between. The three groups of fathers with either leave experience or plan are roughly homogenous in their level of education, whether they were single or dual earners, and their household and individual income. In comparison, the fathers with neither leave experience nor plan had a higher ratio of those without a university degree, single earners, and a higher mean individual income but lower mean household income than their counterparts. The relatively high individual income of fathers in the “no leave” group appeared to be driven mainly by a small proportion (around 5%) of fathers who belonged to the highest income category (more than 7,500,000 won or $6260). One more thing to note would be that the proportion of wives who are on leave is the highest for fathers who plan to take leave at 42%, which suggests that these fathers would be starting their leave when their wives finish theirs, a common arrangement in South Korea.
Figure 1 presents the descriptive statistics documenting the fathers’ responses to the couple’s intentions for another child by their leave status and parity. For those with one child, the proportion of respondents who indicated no intention for another child was the highest if the father had taken leave, followed by fathers currently on leave, and lowest if he was expecting to take leave shortly. Both the “yes” and “unsure” answers were highest for the group of fathers planning to take leave, indicating both the greatest consensus as well as general openness for an additional child. In the case of parity two, we see a pattern consistent with that of parity one. The proportion of those who indicated plans for another child was highest for the fathers with plans to take leave and lowest for those with no such plans. When comparing parity two with parity one, the “no” responses were markedly higher for all leave-taking categories. This is unsurprising, as it is uncommon for couples to have more than two children in low-fertility settings.
In short, at both parities, there is a pattern of both those with leave experience and those without either leave plan or experience having the lowest intention, while those with plans for leave have the highest intention for another child. I next run a series of multivariate analysis to more systematically test the relationship between fathers’ uptake of leave and childbearing intentions.
In this section, I conduct multinomial logistic regressions on the risk of responding “yes” and “unsure” to the question on intentions for another child by parity, taking “no (intention)” as the reference category. I present both a main model controlling for the age, education, and income of the father and his wife, the age of the youngest child, and whether the wife is pregnant (Table 4), as well as a model which additionally controls for the father’s gender role attitudes (Table 5).
In Table 4, results based on the model on parity one suggest that the relative risk of answering “yes” and “unsure” as opposed to “no” are both lower if fathers have ongoing or past leave experience in comparison to fathers who plan to take their first leave soon (the reference category). However, as these results fall short of the standard level of significance (p < 0.05), they must be interpreted with caution. The difference between fathers with neither leave plan nor experience and those who plan to take leave in their intention for a second child is small and insignificant, meaning there is no evidence of a selection effect of fathers intending a second child opting in to leave.
At parity two, results indicate that compared to couples where the father expects to take leave, those where the father has ongoing or completed leave experience report significantly lower risk of positive intentions for another child (the “yes” response). Interestingly, fathers with neither leave experience nor plans are also at a significantly lower risk of intending another child than fathers who plan to take leave. This suggests that while the disposition to take leave is associated with a stronger inclination to intend a third child, the experience of leave taking seems to have the effect of depressing the intention for a third child. Moreover, a significantly lower risk of being “unsure” as opposed to being negative about having a third child is also found for fathers who are currently on leave, but not for fathers who have taken leave in the past or those with neither leave experience nor plans.
In Table 5, I present results additionally controlling for the fathers’ gender role attitudes. The added gender role attitudes variable is not significant across all parities. More importantly, the results remain consistent with that of the main model for the most part, with fathers who plan to take their first leave soon (the reference category) being more likely to have another child than both fathers without such plans and fathers with leave experience, significantly so at parity two.
To check whether the relationship between fathers’ leave uptake and fertility intentions varies by the length of the leave, I next disaggregated the fathers who have taken leave by the length of their leave: short (up to 3 months), moderate (4 to 11 months), and very long (12 months or longer). Results presented in model 6 find a negative impact on the intention for another child for all but very long leaves at parity one, and a generally significant impact on the intention for another child for at parity two, although the very long leaves fall very slightly short of the 0.05 level of significance (p = 0.056). The diverging results for fathers taking very long leaves of 1 year or longer has also been found in previous studies documenting Nordic countries (Duvander & Andersson, 2006; Duvander et al., 2010), though in opposite directions and may be attributed to the further selectiveness of certain fathers opting into particularly long leave (Table 6).
I conducted a series of robustness checks to ensure the relationship between fathers’ leave and fertility intentions remains consistent to alternative model specifications or sample restrictions. I first checked whether the results were robust when treating pregnancy as an additional child by adjusting the observation to parity two where the wife was pregnant in parity one and dropping the observation where the wife was pregnant in parity two (see Table 7). Next, to ensure the results are robust to the age of the youngest child, I ran the main models with restricted samples of those whose youngest child was five or younger and three or younger (see Tables 8 and 9) and next of only the fathers who had taken leave in the past or were expected to take leave in the future for direct comparison (see Table 10).The results from all robustness checks were broadly consistent with the main findings, suggestive of a generally negative effect of parental leave which is statistically significant only at parity two.
To recap, the findings from quantitative analysis suggest that fathers expecting to take leave are more likely to intend another child than fathers with no such plans at parity two, but not parity one, where there is no significant difference. This suggests that there exists a positive selection effect at parity two only. Moreover, a comparison of fathers with (ongoing or completed) leave experience and those with plans to take fist leave shortly suggests that the former two groups report a lower risk of intending another child, though again this difference is significant only at parity two, suggesting a negative effect of parental leave experience. Although the findings at parity one fall short of statistical significance, the negative relationship should nonetheless be noted. Together, the results suggest that, contrary to the intentions of policymakers and politicians, fathers’ leave experience has a generally depressing, rather than uplifting, effect on the intention for another child, especially at parity two. I now turn to examine the findings from the qualitative analysis of the interviews.
Qualitative Findings from Interviews
None of the interviewed fathers stated that their parental leave experience made them want to have an additional child that they had not wanted previously. Instead, the overall sentiment was that the intensive childcaring experience made them set on having no more children, consistent with the results from the quantitative analysis. The anecdotes below exemplify this, whether the father yearns another but settles for one or simply does not want an additional child.
Originally, we had thoughts about having a second child but I felt too exhausted after raising the child myself. Of course, having another (child) would have been nice… Frankly, I think I did consider (a second child) when I was applying for parental leave, but it being too demanding was why (I changed my mind). – Hojun (father of one)
At first, we were thinking to have at least two kids, but we changed our mind. … If we have another child one of us would have to quit work because there is no other way…. But I did not want either myself or my wife to do that. … So at the moment, we plan to just raise one well. – Jaebin (father of one)
The more the dad knows more about childcare, they know how exhausting and demanding it is to raise a child. … The more involved a husband or father is in childcare, (they) don’t want additional children. Because it’s too much work. I feel that way too. – Jiwon (father of one)
One of the most frequently mentioned sentiments by the interviewed fathers was that they “had no idea looking after a child was this hard.” Before their parental leave, most fathers had not experienced being a primary, let alone solo, caregiver for their child, in part because their wives had been on leave. Thus, while the fathers may have originally wanted more than one child in line with the two-child ideal, the leave experience was responsible for the downward attenuation of fertility intentions for these fathers in that it was what opened the fathers’ eyes to the full demands of childcare. Here, it should be noted that the implicit premise of having a second child for these fathers was that they would continue to be actively involved in childcare as they were for their first child. Given this, having a second child and further forgoing sleep, time, and career entailed a line they were not willing to cross. These are considerations that would be less relevant, if at all, for fathers not playing a significant role in caregiving and, thus, experiencing limited change to their lives even with an additional child.
Parental leave is not taken in a vacuum, so it is important to consider the fathers’ discussion of the broader context in which they took parental leave. Notably, most fathers explained their decision to take leave as a “last resort,” faced with no other ways to arrange reliable childcare for a young child—for instance, many mentioned how the grandmothers of the child lived too far away or were ill and how they do not want strangers taking care of their baby. Some even stated that they would not have taken leave if their mothers or in-laws were able to help care for their child. Fathers also stressed how overworked they were; many had worked for years without ever getting a proper break or being able to properly spend time with their family. We could then perhaps understand fathers taking leave where only a minority of fathers do as an indication of high levels of difficulty and a lack of alternative measures in reconciling childcare with paid work.
Moreover, many fathers lamented the lack of social support, financial and otherwise, in discussing the constraints to bearing and rearing children. Several described raising a child as “fighting individual battles.” Below I introduce two fathers whose accounts capture such sentiments. Inwoo, a blue-collar worker was taking leave to look after his newborn baby as well as his wife who was also taking a break from employment. Sangyoon and his wife were both teachers and while Sangyoon’s wife had taken 2.5 years of leave after their first child; they were on leave together after the arrival of their second child. Together these anecdotes illustrate that the current level of childcare support, including the wage replacement and job protection elements of parental leave, fails to signal assurance to parents.
The state support is far from adequate. What I feel being on parental leave is that the policy only offers a way for dual-earning couples to barely get by raising children without dying. … We are both not in employment at the moment, so the level of financial support is ridiculous, and unlike large companies, (at small companies) there is no guarantee of returning to work… (Inwoo, father of one)
The individual has to be responsible for most of the costs that come with raising a child… But for people who can’t afford these things at all, it must be so much harder and even feel shameful to raise a child. If state support can be expanded and people start feeling, ‘it’s doable with state support’, then I think people can start having the confidence to have more children… (Money) won’t solve everything but it lets you breathe. (But) I think current parental leave support is seriously insufficient… (Sangyoon, father of two)
While most prominent were stories of fathers who were either firm on having no more children or having second thoughts about having another child after their leave, there were also a group of fathers who ended up having more children than planned, due to unintended pregnancies. In Minjae’s (father of two) case, the couple originally wanted just one child and Minjae had taken 17 months of leave for his first child, during when his wife became unintendedly pregnant. At the time of the interview, Minjae was currently on another 2 years of leave for his second child. Minjae noted that his wife now even seems open to the idea of a third child, although he is content with just two. Jaein (father of three), who had taken 12 months of leave for each of his three children, had originally planned on having just one child but ended up with three—all from unintended pregnancies. Daniel (father of one, expecting another) had no plans for a second child at the time of the interview but found out about his wife’s pregnancy shortly afterwards, about which he posted on this social media. Daniel seemed surprised but happy about the news of the unintended pregnancy, as he was in the case of his first child, who was also born from unintended pregnancy.
My wife mentioned having a third (child) because she feels so happy although we are financially tight. I have no thoughts about a third (child). … (Interviewer: Did you taking leave influence your wife?) Yeah, I think that was big. … Because I am in charge of most things and I put the kids to sleep and everything, her satisfaction is high… I think she talks about having a third because she doesn’t have to worry. – Minjae (father of two)
After (having our first child), it was so exhausting… So I told my friends and colleagues who were married but had no kids that they should have just one child… I raised the child and it was too much work, so we thought we should have just one because it’s too difficult. But we ended up having three. – Jaein (father of three)
No plans (for a second child), but that doesn’t mean never because you don’t necessarily have to have plans. But financially I don’t know if we can afford it anymore. I think there are amazing benefits for children to have a sibling, that constant companionship and learning from each other, I think those things are wonderful but just realistically, financially, it’s probably not feasible, I’d say. – Daniel (father of one)
The prevalence of fathers who were previously fairly set on just one child going on to have more highlights the tentative, interactive, and to an extent, unpredictable nature of fertility intentions. In the case of unintended pregnancy, attributing causation of additional childbirth to the father having taken leave for the previous child is difficult. However, Minjae’s story does highlight that a father’s greater involvement in childcare may contribute to his wife’s greater openness toward an additional child. As an extension of this, we may cautiously hypothesize that fathers’ active involvement in childcare could potentially nudge couples to be more positive about unintended pregnancies. On the other hand, Daniel was not alone in believing two was better than one; many of the interviewed fathers considered having multiple children as more ideal than just one. Such a two-child ideal may also be mediating the otherwise stronger negative impact of fathers’ leave experience on intentions for a second child in the case of unintended pregnancy.
As a whole, the qualitative analysis finds that fathers attenuate their fertility intentions for an additional child downwards after experiencing the challenges of childcare during their leave, in line with the findings from the quantitative analysis. In articulating their changed intentions, fathers stressed their newly acquired understanding of the difficulties of childcare. However, the lack of social and institutional support for childcare appeared to be more fundamental factors driving the fathers’ aversion toward more children. While the fathers’ uptake of leave seemed to contribute to their wives wanting an additional child in very few cases, these feelings were not reciprocated by the fathers, and there was no instance where the father reported increased desires for an additional child after parental leave. Finally, unintended pregnancies took up considerable instances of the childbirths that the interviewed fathers talked about. It is, however, too early to be conclusive about the mechanisms between unplanned births and fathers’ greater involvement in childcare, whether through parental leave uptake or not. Overall, the findings from the interviews support the conclusion from the quantitative analysis that fathers’ leave leads more towards a downward rather than upward adjustment of childbearing intentions.