DAVID GREENE, HOST:
When people talk about family leave policies, paternity leave doesn't often come up. And maybe that is because when it's offered, few men take it. Dianna Douglas explains why and how that soon might change.
DIANNA DOUGLAS, BYLINE: Social scientists see long-term benefits to dads spending a few months caring for a baby. Even years later, Mom does better at work and Dad spends more time helping out at home. But all the studies in the world aren't going to nudge a man toward paternity leave if he thinks his future earnings are on the line.
GORDON DAHL: There might be some stigma attached. What if I take paternity leave, will I not get the next promotion? Or will people think I'm not as connected to the workplace? Am I kind of signaling that I don't care about work enough?
DOUGLAS: Gordon Dahl is an economist at the University of California San Diego. He studied leave policies in Norway, where a generation ago, men took paternity leave at the same rate as American men. Then, in '93, Norway changed the law. After every birth, working parents still got eight months of paid leave to split among themselves, but four weeks were added just for Dad.
DAHL: Overnight, paternity leave take-up went from about 3 percent to 35 percent of fathers.
DOUGLAS: A nice boost - mostly among men working union and government jobs. What puzzled Dahl was the change that he saw over the next two decades.
DAHL: This is where the story gets more interesting, because over time, it gradually crept up to about 70 percent of fathers taking leave.
DOUGLAS: He found the secret was seeing a dad come back to his job, especially in the private sector, without any problems.
DAHL: If you had a co-worker take leave then you're 11 percentage points more likely to take leave yourself when you have your child. If you have a brother who took leave, you are 15 percentage points more likely to take leave. These are not small effects. These are big increases in how many people are willing to take leave.
DOUGLAS: Something similar may be brewing in California, where paid leave has been available to working parents since 2004. Consider Facebook. A combination of factors is tipping the culture toward men actually taking their paternity leave. Tom Stocky, a vice president, had a daughter in 2012 and took the full four months that Facebook offers new parents.
TOM STOCKY: Most of my friends were really surprised and had a lot of questions about like, well, what happened when you were away? And like, what did the rest of your team do and things like that.
DOUGLAS: Three years later, Stocky believes the leave he took is having a big impact. The men he manages are much more likely to inquire about and take a long leave.
STOCKY: You know, I probably meet with a new dad every month or two. And it seems like there is, like, kind of a peer group now that is encouraging and supporting each other, and more people are taking it now as a result.
DOUGLAS: Among them is Tom Whitnah, an engineering manager.
TOM WHITNAH: I saw Tom Stocky taking his leave right as I joined the Search Team. And it was just really clear it was something that he thought was really important.
DOUGLAS: Whitnah's two kids arrived 17 months apart, and he took full leave with each one.
WHITNAH: I had just become a new manager. And I felt like I wasn't sure how a team goes without their manager for one or for three months. And he made it really clear this is something that we accommodate. Just made me feel so much less nervous.
DOUGLAS: The number of California dads taking a break from work to spend time with a new child is beginning to pick up. Seventeen percent of men in California took leave the first year it was offered. Twenty-six percent did five years later. Tom Stocky is taking another long parental leave next week. He begins three months of caring full-time for his son at the same time that his boss, Mark Zuckerberg, comes back to work from paternity leave. Does what happens at Facebook have anything to do with the rest of the country? Maybe. But if there's one thing the folks at Facebook understand, it's the power of friends. For NPR News, I'm Dianna Douglas.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.