The British monarchy isn’t exactly known as a beacon of modernity, but in at least one respect the venerable institution is leading the way into 21st century life. Prince Harry, who is expecting his first baby with his wife Meghan Markle in the coming weeks, just announced he’ll be asking the queen for two weeks paternity leave.
That’s joyful news for the young family, of course. Studies show dads who take time off to spend time with their newborns end up being more involved fathers with happier, less stressed partners and smarter, healthier kids. But the benefits of paternity leave go beyond stronger family bonds.
Studies also show that the more men take leave, the less stigma women face at work, helping to level the playing field and enabling women to earn more and advance further in their careers. That means Harry isn’t just doing Meghan a solid (and gifting himself a chance to bond his child), he’s also doing his bit to help professional women everywhere.
If everyone took parental leave it wouldn’t be stigmatized.
The evidence for the impact of paternity leave comes from consultancy Mercer’s Global Parental Leave Report. In a conclusion that will surprise no one who has ever been bleary-eyed with exhaustion caring for a newborn, the report found that fathers taking some time at home helped their partners stay sane and their babies grow up healthy.
“When men take parental leave, women see a decline in overall levels of post-partum depression and sick leave, and increases in well-being,” it states. “Kids whose fathers take paternity leave show better developmental outcomes, improved performance in school, and improved cognitive scores and mental health outcomes as they grow older.”
But the real surprise came is the knock-on effects of increased use of paternity leave. Not only do families benefit, but so does society as a whole. How? The more men take off after the birth of a child, the less companies will think of childcare as exclusively the burden of women, and therefore the less likely they will be to shy away from fully utilizing the amazing skills of women and paying them equally.
“If you provide the same benefit to both people and encourage both to take the leave, there is no opportunity for bias,” Rich Fuerstenberg, a senior partner for Mercer’s health and benefits business, .
Now, if only more Americans had access to paid leave.
There’s one big snag in this happy story, unfortunately. Being able to take two weeks or more off is just another way Prince Harry is extremely privileged. America is known for its abysmal family leave policies — only the U.S., Papua New Guinea, Lesotho have no paid leave at all — and the situation is even grimmer for fathers looking to do the right thing for their families.
Bit by bit more American companies large and small are offering paid parental leave, but still only 17 percent of (mostly well off) Americans have access to paid leave. And even those fathers that are lucky enough to be able to afford time off face barriers to actually exercising this privilege.
“In a recent Deloitte survey of more than 1,000 U.S. workers, one in three male respondents said they worried that taking time off to tend to a newborn would jeopardize their careers, and more than half of the men said they felt using parental-leave benefits available to them would be seen as a lack of commitment to their jobs,” .
That makes the public commitment of high-profile figures like Prince Harry (and Mark Zuckerberg, who took two months) to taking leave so important for breaking this stigma. Because if more men take on caregiving roles, time off for caregiving will be seen as a normal, admirable part of the career journey of people of all genders.
This content was originally published here.