Can We Force Men to be Better Dads?

A new round in our ongoing national conversation about the “end of men” has kicked off in the past month. First, Hanna Rosin released her eponymous book on the subject. Then, the Atlantic published “The Weaker Sex,” all about inadequate men. Finally, last weekend, an opinion piece in the Times argued that men were not, in fact, done for. One thing everyone seems to agree on is that both among both high and low earners, motherhood remains one of the greatest disadvantages American women face in the workplace. Not only do they often struggle to return to work after giving birth, but their income dwindles once they do. Making matters worse, America is the only industrialized country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave.

Paul Seabright’s new book The Battle of the Sexes is concerned largely with the biological aspects of sex and sexuality, and his analysis is not confined to humans. But according to a recent review in the Times Literary Selection, he does have offer a solution to the gender inequity that arises from female motherhood: compulsory paternity leave.

This idea isn’t entirely new: Sweden, Belgium, the United Kingdom, France, and other European countries require dads to take paid time off. If men are staying home, the thinking goes, women won’t have to. But the compulsory leave idea isn’t perfect either. In most countries where the policy exists, forced male leave doesn’t last much longer than two weeks, meaning mothers still do the bulk of the child rearing. (It’s been shown that men typically won’t stay home if they aren’t forced to.) Besides, as a 2007 University of Pennsylvania Law School study argues, such a policy would be virtual impossible to implement in America for political and legal reasons. Instead, the study argues, the only way to get men childrearing–and get women on somehwat equal footing–is to aggressively overcompensate them to do it, above and beyond standard wage replacement and paid leave proposals. The idea, in other words, is to try to make staying home more financially attractive than going to work, if possible.

Simon van Zuylen-Wood

Simon van Zuylen-Wood is a writer for Philadelphia Magazine.