California is one of only three states that has legislation providing paid family leave for all full-time employees. In fact, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that doesn't have a national paid family leave policy.
A team of professors from three universities (Columbia, UC Santa Barbara, and the University of Virginia) used data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey to study the effects of California's Paid Family Leave program (CA-PFL) on parents' decision to take time off when their children are born. The law was passed in 2002 and its effects began in 2004.
The data show that men were 46 percent more likely to take paid parental leave in the first year of their child's life when CA-PFL was made available. That's a big relative gain, but in absolute terms there is a long way to go — men still fell behind women by a huge gap.
Those gains are fueled almost exclusively by first-time fathers and those having sons, the research shows. Overall, men are 58 percent more likely to take time off if they're having a son than if they're having a daughter — with the exception of the first birth. The gender effect is even stronger for married men whose wives also work: For them, the effect of CA-PFL is almost negligible if they're having a daughter.
"Our data doesn't allow us to distinguish why they're doing what they're doing," said Maya Rossin-Slater, one of the authors of the paper and an assistant professor of economics at UC Santa Barbara. "It could be that for first born children they just need more help, or it could be employee driven — maybe employers are more generous with leave for the first born child."
As for gender, the exact motivation is unclear, but it is consistent with previous studies that have found that fathers are also more likely to claim paternity of sons and custody of sons after a divorce.