Can Paternity Leave Policy Change Father Involvement? Evidence from the Natural Experiment of Quebec

Dana Wray, University of Toronto

This paper has been awarded the Best Student Paper Award for 2019. Although in recent years fathers have become more involved with children, mothers still carry the burden of primary caregiving and responsibility for the daily care and overall well-being of children in heterosexual families. Recent qualitative research shows that reserved paternity leave policies may alter stubbornly gendered patterns of heterosexual parenthood; yet, evidence from quantitative studies is mixed. I argue that existing research underestimates the potential of leave policy to transform parenting practices. Notably, this study extends previous research by examining father involvement across three dimensions: engagement (interactive care for children), accessibility (time in children’s presence), and responsibility (solo parenting; time engaged with or accessible to children when the mother is not present). I exploit the ‘natural experiment’ of Quebec’s reserved paternity leave compared to shared parental leave offered in the rest of Canada. Using time use data from the 2005 and 2010 Canadian General Social Surveys, I implement a difference-in-difference framework which allows direct causal estimates of changes in fathers’ behaviour at a population level. I find that Quebec’s paternity leave policy led to an increase in fathers’ time spent solo parenting, and as such, an increase in fathers’ long-term responsibility for children.

This paper will be presented at the following session: