Father’s Day is coming up soon, so let’s explore the contrarian view that paid family leave is a terrible idea that actually harms fathers, and by extension, their families. The Archdiocese of Chicago recently made big headlines with the announcement that all Church employees (both men and women, mind you) will have a guaranteed three months of parental leave at full salary. At least superficially, this would seem to promote Catholic teaching about openness to children, but the truth is exactly the opposite. Generous welfare programs are not enough to reverse the deeper cultural trends behind lower fertility rates, and may actually make the problem worse.
To see why, we go to Italy, where the birthrate is plummeting like a lead bocce ball dropped from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This is despite the fact that the government pays families $1,000 a year per child–in cash–and mandates 22 weeks of maternity leave at 80% of normal salary, which is far more generous than most employers here. Even if the Italian government doubles or quadruples the “baby bonus,” as it is called, it’s clear that cultural factors outweigh any government incentives when it comes to the life-altering commitment of having a child.
Money from government programs and expansive family leave policies then are not a powerful enough motivator to change behavior, but the attraction of the jet-setting cosmopolitan dual income, no kids (or DINK) lifestyle is. Women in Italy make only about 5-7% less than men in comparable positions. This is a far smaller wage gap than in America. It stands to reason this is a direct reflection of the lower birthrate. Women in America are more likely to become mothers, which means they’re more likely to take time off work and less likely to aggressively seek career advancement.
Back here on this side of the Atlantic, advocates of equality will look at a comparison of data from 1965 to 2014 and cheer the increase in hours that women spend working outside the home, but the data also shows another interesting trend. It’s true that fathers today spend more time with housework, which is great for women, but it’s also true that fathers today spend more time outside the home at their jobs. Thus, families as a whole now spend vastly more time working outside the home to enjoy the same standard of living as 50 years ago. Equality in the workforce is a noble idea, but it comes at a cost to families.
Because dual incomes (kids or not) are now typical, this drives up the cost of housing, but also impacts the economy more broadly. Over the past 15 years, housing prices have drastically increased by several times the historical ratio to income. To be sure, the housing bubble has been accelerated by speculators and foreign investors, but it also mirrors the tendency towards dual incomes as well as the declining birthrate following the crash. Most people simply cannot afford a big enough home for a growing family on a single income, so they don’t. The trend is towards having dual incomes and smaller families. These two outcomes are inextricably linked. Meanwhile, fathers who are the sole breadwinner must bear a greater burden to provide for their families in this economic environment.
Then again, men who become fathers at all are the lucky ones. Thanks to this re-inflation of the real estate bubble and the expansion of student loan debts, more young adults are now living with their parents than are starting a family for the first time ever recorded since statistics have been collected, starting in the late 19th century. This delay in family formation is a major demographic shift which will further depress the fertility rate and if continued, will make America look even more like Italy where two thirds of young adults live with their parents, and many well into their 30’s. As the failure of the Italian “baby bonus” shows, even paying people to form families is not enough to reverse that kind of societal shift.
On this Father’s Day, we celebrate all the great things that our fathers have done for us, but there is one thing that fathers cannot do, and that is have babies. Only women can do this, and the more babies a woman has, the more the burden of supporting the family falls upon the father. That is the real “male privilege.” These have been the traditional gender roles of man and wife from time immemorial up to only a few decades ago, because they work. This is not an issue of women’s equality. This is an issue of the continued existence of Western Civilization. Without children, we will all be perfectly and absolutely equal in one generation. That is, we will all be equally dead.