Is the bonding of a father and child too costly?

If it is up to the Dutch minister of Social Affairs and Employment, Wouter Koolmees (D66), the duration of the paternity leave in the Netherlands will be increased in the near future. Koolmees tries to implement more days off for fathers after the birth of their child. This comes after his predecessor Lodewijk Asscher (PvdA), already proposed changes in the legislation during the period of the foregoing administration, Rutte II. At the moment, it is allowed for fathers to take two fully paid days off. Compared to other countries, these two days are not that much. In Poland, there is a paid leave of two weeks allowed, in Portugal, this is five weeks, and in Finland even more; nine whole weeks for the father to spend time together with the mother and the child, in order to become closer and improve the mutual relationship. Of course, it is arguable that the current two days is too few, but how much more is reasonable? Furthermore, the question about who will pay for this is also relevant. What would be a reasonable outcome of this consideration?

Paternity leave can promote father-child bonding

There are many people in favor of increasing the current two days of paternity leave, but why? The first and most obvious reason is that paternity leave can promote father-child bonding. Many fathers want to spend more time with their children than only two or seven days for example, which is completely understandable. Not only is this beneficial for the father, but the child benefits from this as well. Fathers who have taken weeks off to bond with their child are more likely to read, dress, bathe and play with their son or daughter after they go back to work, which improves the father-child bonding during the child’s entire life. The second reason why paternity leave is essential is that it can increase the gender equity in the household and maybe even in society’s culture. Women often struggle with balancing the children and their work. As women are currently the ones with the longest paid maternity leave, they are the ones who will stay from work the longest. This comes with a cost for companies, which can cause women to be discriminated against. According to the charity Maternity Action, almost 60.000 pregnant women are losing their jobs every year, with its main reason being the enormous growth in uncertain forms of employment since the financial crisis. A longer paid leave for fathers will create a more fair distribution of perceived ‘costs’ coinciding with a pregnancy along men and women. In turn, this will enhance women’s career opportunities, which can benefit the society and its economy.

Partly due to these benefits, the Dutch government is already taking steps to make longer paternity leave happen. In the governmental policy agreement of the current administration, Rutte III, governing parties VVD, CDA, D66, and ChristenUnie agreed upon an even bigger expansion of the paternity leave. They are planning to add five more weeks off in 2020, on top of the five days that will be implemented in 2019. However, during these additional five weeks, the men will receive 70% of their standard wage. A lot of employers’ associations weren’t that enthusiastic about the initial plans. They fear an increasing expense for employers because of the increasing duration of the paternity leave, as well as the incremental wages of the stand-ins that the employers have to pay. In consonance with the proposal of minister Koolmees, the extra three days will be paid fully by the employers, similar to the current two days off for new fathers. According to Koolmees, the additional five weeks have to be paid by employee insurance agency UWV.

The additional five weeks that will be implemented afterwards, are more discussable

Firms have to pay a small premium to the UWV, even if a firm does not employ fathers who want to make use of the paternity leave. In this way, the third cabinet of prime minister Mark Rutte tries to avoid situations in which employers discriminate against employees on the fact whether it is possible for them to have children in the future or not. All the firms pay an equal amount of premium to the UWV, which this organisation will distribute along the fathers that make use of paternity leave. Probably most of all Dutch habitants will agree that the additional three days off are very reasonable in a wealthy country, especially when the economy is as strong as it is nowadays. The additional five weeks that will be implemented afterwards, are more discussable. It is imaginable that there are fathers who are happy with less than six weeks. For example, most owners of a sole proprietorship are not in the opportunity to leave their firm that long. Of course, this is part of the deal when they start being an independent worker, but why is it necessary to increase the gap between employees and freelancers this much? Another variant, similar to the one in Sweden, can be pursued, where the two parents get a total amount of paid spare time after the birth of their child. The government gives the parents the authority to choose in which way they want to divide this total amount between the two of them.

Another variant, similar to the one in Sweden, can be pursued, where the two parents get a total amount of paid spare time after the birth of their child

There are a lot of options in how to deal with paternity leave, and it is up to the Dutch, and other, government(s) to make the most beneficial decision. Probably, two paid days off is too little time for a father, however, six weeks might be too long according to others. It is impossible to express a father-child bonding in monetary value, but the businesses must not be undermined by too many fathers taking a longer paternity leave, so the pros and cons must be weighed against each other; one way or another. Taking this issue step by step will soften the transition for companies, and eventually business will find a way to deal with this kind of an ‘economic setback’, just as they have always done.

Coen Wolters & Annemarie Koomen


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The Economist, (2015). The Benefits of Paternity Leave. The Economist. See also:
Bell, S. (2015). How pregnancy can cost you your job and career. BBC. See also:
US Department of Labour, (2016). Why Parental Leave for Fathers Is So Important For Working Families. Cornell University ILR School. See also: