Fathers’ Paternity Leave-Taking and Children’s Perceptions of Father-Child Relationships in the United States

Abstract

Paternity leave-taking is believed to benefit children by encouraging father-child bonding after a birth and enabling commitments to fathers’ engagement. Yet, no known U.S. studies have directly focused on the associations between paternity leave-taking and children’s reports of father-child relationships. Understanding the potential consequences of paternity leave-taking in the United States is particularly important given the lack of a national paid parental leave policy. The present study uses five waves of data on 1319 families, largely socioeconomically disadvantaged, from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to analyze the associations between paternity leave-taking and 9-year-old children’s reports of their father-child relationships. We also assess the extent to which these associations are mediated by fathers’ engagement, co-parenting quality, parental relationship satisfaction, and fathers’ identities. Results indicate that leave-taking, and particularly 2 weeks or more of leave, is positively associated with children’s perceptions of fathers’ involvement, father-child closeness, and father-child communication. The associations are explained, at least in part, by fathers’ engagement, parental relationship satisfaction, and father identities. Overall, results highlight the linked lives of fathers and their children, and they suggest that increased attention on improving opportunities for parental leave in the United States may help to strengthen families by nurturing higher quality father-child relationships.

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Acknowledgements

The present research was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R03HD087875. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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Petts, R.J., Knoester, C. & Waldfogel, J. Fathers’ Paternity Leave-Taking and Children’s Perceptions of Father-Child Relationships in the United States. Sex Roles 82, 173–188 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-019-01050-y

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Keywords

  • Family policy
  • Family roles
  • Father-child relations
  • Fatherhood
  • Paternity leave
  • Parental leave