DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Something caught our eye in the current issue of The Atlantic. Liza Mundy writes this: Paternity leave makes men more involved at home, women more involved at work, and workplaces friendlier for all parents. It turns out the stigma associated with men who take extended leave when a baby is born is disappearing in some places.
And Liza Mundy, thanks for coming on the program. We appreciate the time.
LIZA MUNDY: Oh, it's great to be here. Thank you.
GREENE: So explain to us this notion, if you can. How exactly does paternity leave for new dads actually benefit women in the workplace?
MUNDY: The way that it benefits women in the workplace is it gets men more invested in the household from the get-go. Studies have shown that it sort of recalibrates the division of labor at what one economist has called a crucial time of household renegotiation. It has surprising ripple effects further down the road, particularly with regard to routine chores that have to be done every day or every night, and therefore frees up women to work longer hours.
GREENE: And we don't want to make too-too much of this, since it's early on in the research. But you suggest that there could be some real implications, I mean that countries offering more paternity leave - allowing women to play larger roles in companies over time - if they have some more time, I mean that typically benefits a country's economy when women are playing bigger roles in companies.
MUNDY: It does. I mean the latest global gender gap report shows that, you know, countries with the strongest economies are the countries that have found ways to keep women tethered to the workplace when they become mothers. We're in a situation now where women in many cases are better educated than men, and so it is imperative for countries and economies to find ways to keep these highly productive women in the workplace. And Scandinavian countries that have instituted all sorts of interesting policies to encourage men to take leave, they have found that it is a very successful way of keeping women in the workplace, enabling women to be more likely to work full time.
GREENE: And, you know, you bring up Scandinavian countries. A really interesting part of your piece is they seem to be doing some self-reflecting right now, because these are countries - some of them, at least - that offered women very long maternity leave - maybe up to a year. And that's appearing that that might have been something that was not so helpful to women.
MUNDY: Right. So if your goal is to keep women in the workplace, then it is possible to offer women too much maternity leave. And when mothers can take a year or even two years, what seems to happen is that managers may be less likely to hire them into senior positions. Women may sort of shunt themselves into lower-paying sectors of the workplace. So it's generally accepted now by labor economists that too long of a maternity leave is actually a barrier to gender equity and to pay equity in the workplace.
GREENE: Well, in this country, Liza Mundy, some states that you mention in your story - California, New Jersey, Rhode Island are offering longer paid leave for both mothers and fathers - is this a growing trend in the U.S.?
MUNDY: Other states are looking at this as a policy. What they have found is that it's not a job killer. You know, businesses were a little bit worried about it at first when California instituted this. What's happening is more and more white collar workplaces - and Silicon Valley has been a leader in this - are offering paid paternity leave as a perk to its highly desirable, you know, workforce as sort of one more benefited inducement in the competition for talent. And so that's already happening in some private companies.
But what these state policies do is they spread it out so that if you're not in a white collar workplace you'll still qualify. So for my piece I interviewed men who are bartenders, who are firefighters, a man who works for a roofing company, and they were so pleased to be able to take paternity leave. And they were planning to use it, you know, to do the housework and to bond with their children and to help their wives and to take care of their wives. So the beauty of the state policies is that they're more egalitarian in the sense that more men in different kinds of fields and industries and jobs can also benefit from parental leave.
GREENE: Liza, thanks so much.
MUNDY: Thanks for having me.
GREENE: Liza Mundy is a program director at the New America Foundation. And her article appears in the current issue of The Atlantic. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.