Paternity leave in France

Paternity leave was implemented in France in 2000 to enable fathers to develop early ties with their newborn and so to achieve a more equal balance in the amounts of time each parent spends with their children. Paternity leave is currently for 11 consecutive days for a single birth and 18 consecutive days for a multiple birth. Researchers have used ELFE study data (French longitudinal study of children) to examine the possible effects of paternity leave on partners’ sharing of parenting and domestic tasks.

Seven in ten fathers in France now take paternity leave. University graduates take it more often than men with little or no education. Fathers who do take leave are more likely to have a long-contract or permanent job, to work in the public rather than the private sector, and to have a higher income than fathers who do not take paternity leave. Moreover, fathers take paternity leave considerably more often for their first child than for a later one. They generally take the entire regulation leave, in the weeks immediately following the birth.

Paternity leave and parent task sharing

Paternity leave enables fathers to partake in parenting tasks from the very first months of their children’s lives. Among fathers who take leave, the parenting tasks of changing diapers, bathing, putting the baby to bed, getting up at night when the baby cries, and taking the baby to the doctor are more equally shared than in other families.

The difference is particularly marked for first births. Paternity leave time therefore seems to be used to learn parenting skills. The type of infant-care task concerned varies by father’s educational attainment. Fathers without a high school diploma more often take their babies out for walks while university graduates are more likely to put newborns to bed or take them to the doctor.  The latter activities are perhaps more compatible with the latter’s often extended working hours.
However, paternal leave seems to have little effect on the sharing of other domestic tasks—evidence that fathers use that time first and foremost to take care of their baby.

A policy debate is currently underway in France on whether or not to lengthen paternity leave, as some think it is too short to be effective. A report on the question, commissioned by the Prime Minister from the Department for the general inspection of social affairs, was delivered in September 2018. This report, which draws on our study findings, recommends extending paternity leave to 3 weeks and leave at the moment of birth to 5 days.

Source: Ariane Pailhé, Anne Solaz, Maxime Tô, 2018, Can Daddies Learn How to Change Nappies? Evidence from a Short Paternity Leave Policy, Document de travail 240.

Contacts: Ariane Pailhé, Anne Solaz

Online: January 2019