Patnaik began by providing an overview of encouraging trends that have emerged in recent decades. In some contexts, women have been catching up to men in the formal labor market, though pay gaps remain, and have closed gaps in realms like education. In contrast, 'care work', which includes unpaid tasks such as housework or child care in the home, is strongly characterized by sex-specialization and takes up more of women's time. In the typical household according to studies, women are assigned inflexible tasks that need to be performed regularly and at fixed times, like cooking dinner, for example. In contrast, men usually take on tasks that can be performed at any time and are not routine, like fixing various items or mowing the lawn.
These differences can hurt women at work and reduce their bargaining power within the household. They can result in lower priority assigned to women's activities outside the home. For example, researchers observe that women are more likely to quit their job in response to husband's long work hours and more likely to relocate to accommodate a partner's professional path.
Before Patnaik's research, studies had found a relationship between parental leave schemes that included a paternity leave provision and the number of men taking leave to perform childcare duties. They could not pinpoint a causal relationship though and the effect of fathers' leave on housework sharing was not clear. Her contribution provides answers to these questions by looking at a very special policy episode that happened in Canada in 2006.
|Dr. Ankita Patnaik, Mathematica Policy Research|
The province of Quebec put into place a parental leave scheme called QPIP Reform, which made it easier to qualify, provided more compensation, and included a five-week 'daddy-only' provision for leave in addition the mother's. Families with babies born beginning on January 1st would be eligible. This allowed Patnaik to compare eligible families with those that just missed the date and would be governed by the old scheme, which only provided with maternity and shared leave. The results are very impressive.
The likelihood that fathers would take paternity leave went up by 53 percentage points, and their leaves became three weeks longer. "Norms play a critical role", she explained. Because this policy is aimed specifically for fathers, social norms become more accepting of men leaving work to take care of a child than when the policy was shared leave. After the quota, "dads are more likely to take their leave if their brother or their boss took it", she remarked. She calls her findings "the flypaper effect", because the quotas stick to the dad's when they are directed specifically to them. Labels matter!
What is even more impressive is that she found that these five weeks of leave can have effects that are much more long lasting than could have been expected. After five years, moms in Quebec were spending an hour longer at work on average, making about $5,000 Canadian dollars more, and more likely to be working full-time. Dads were spending more time doing 'carework' and their work hours and earnings were unaffected.
Ankita Patnaik will continue to work on this issue, her findings are key to any policy maker working on closing gender gaps.