'The Daddy quota': how Quebec got men to take parental leave

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/15/the-daddy-quota-how-quebec-got-men-to-take-parental-leave

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When Daniel Goldsmith’s first son was born in Quebec in 2013, he took the newborn on a trip to Colorado Springs, the US town in which he grew up.

“I’d smile at a mother in a coffee shop, because her baby was the same age as mine, just weeks old,” he recalls. “And then she’d tell me she was going back to work the following week.”

Goldmith, a humanities teacher in Montreal, spoke to old friends about their experiences with babies and work. “It just sounded like the definition of insanity: mothers going back to work two weeks after a baby was born; fathers taking two days off.”

The 35-year-old had emigrated to Canada with his wife, Giulia Zaccagnini, a few years earlier. He took advantage of a Quebec social policy unheard of anywhere else in North America: a programme of extended non-transferable paternity leave at 70-75% pay offered by the government.

“Most of my [male] colleagues at work are somewhere between 28 and 40, and I don’t know of a single one in the department who’s had a kid who has not taken those weeks of paternity leave,” says Goldsmith. “If something generous like this is being offered, you don’t say no.”

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In the family of Canada’s provinces and territories, Quebec has long been the noisy, rebellious child. In 2006, it divorced itself from the country’s complex and lacklustre parental leave programme. The province created its own system, the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP), a model influenced by Scandinavian countries and with the aim of improving gender equality.

Along with Quebec’s highly subsidised daycare system – the envy of parents across the rest of Canada, with rates as low as C$7.55 (£4.35) per day per child – QPIP was seeded in the 1990s by the controversial separatist leader Pauline Marois, then Quebec’s minister of families.

“Marois is a feminist and fiercely determined,” says Sophie Mathieu, a post-doctoral fellow at Brock University who researches the Quebec parental leave system. “As a province, Quebec went from being the laggard in gender equality – Quebec was the last Canadian province to give women the vote – to being the leader.”

QPIP gave parents higher replacement rates – 70-75% of one’s income, over a maximum 52 weeks – than other Canadian provinces, while offering more flexibility in terms of shared leave. But the most innovative aspect of QPIP is its “daddy quota” — the five weeks of “use-it-or-lose-it” benefits, just for fathers.

“There is so much working against fathers when it comes to leave,” says Andrea Doucet, the Canada Research Chair in Gender, Work & Care. “Fathers go into work and say they want to take leave, and their bosses say: ‘Well isn’t your wife taking leave?’ Fathers were being penalised for taking leave, all the stuff that women have been going through for so long.

“What they found in places like Sweden is that if you give fathers their own leave, something families will lose if they don’t take, taking the leave becomes expected.”

Among fathers in Quebec, the effect was close to immediate, with take-up rates among eligible dads jumping 250%. “Over 80% of Quebec fathers take their paternity leave,” says Doucet.

And 86% of Quebec parents will also in some way share the rest of their parental leave. Compare that with the 15% of fathers who take parental benefits in the rest of Canada, and the estimated 2% of parents who use the shared parental leave programme in the UK, and the results of what some policy experts have called “the Quebec experiment” begin to seem quite stunning.

Globally the picture is even starker. Almost two-thirds of the world’s children under a year old – nearly 90 million infants – live in countries where fathers are not legally entitled to a single day of paid paternity leave, according to new research by Unicef.

Ankita Patnaik, an economist at Mathematica Policy Research in Washington DC, authored one of the first papers studying QPIP. She says the programme quickly showed results with regards to time use between couples. “I found that the mothers having babies in Quebec under QPIP were spending more time in paid work one to three years after having their children,” she says.

What’s more, Patnaik found that fathers who made use of QPIP were engaging in more childcare and domestic work one to three years later than fathers who did not – 37 minutes more per day, on average.

Doucet, who has studied fatherhood for two decades, says that the true worth of Quebec fathers spending more time with their babies is still difficult to reflect in numbers. “The real question is: later on when the child is sick, who is going to care for the kid? We’ve seen … that when fathers build their confidence, competence, love and the feeling that they are an equal parent, then when the shit hits the fan, it’s not always the mother [who takes responsibility].”

While five weeks of leave is a good step in this direction, “it’s just one step”, she adds.

Goldsmith, who also used shared parental benefits to take months-long leaves for both his young sons, believes that men caring for their babies in the early weeks of their life has a significant and continuing benefit for family life.

“It’s different for dads. Mums have an automatic bond but dads have to earn it. And then when you start getting reactions from your babies, it makes you want to be more involved,” he says.

“I want to care for my kids, not because of some abstract theoretical notion of sharing 50/50. My son smiles when I smile, he smiles when he sees me. So I do things for love. Love becomes the reason.”

In Canada, that love is spreading. “In the 2018 budget, we have introduced an additional parental sharing benefit of five weeks,” says the families minister, Jean-Yves Duclos. “This is directly related to this very successful experiment in the province of Quebec.

“We know it’s policies like this that will help us achieve a more equal and inclusive society. These are the kind of policies we want. Not the kind that build walls. Here in Canada, we prefer bridges.”

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