5 Facts That Support Gender-Blind Parental Leave

The research behind Etsy’s new policy announcement

Update: Read early statistics on the impact of Etsy’s parental leave on mitigating bias. (January 31, 2017)

Today, Etsy announced a new parental leave policy for all employees globally: 26 weeks fully paid over the first two years after birth or adoption. We designed our new parental leave policy to be flexible, gender-neutral and to counteract unconscious bias.

We want to support and enable parents, regardless of their gender, to play equal roles in building successful companies and nurturing their families. We believe it fits squarely within Etsy’s mission to reimagine commerce in ways that build a more fulfilling and lasting world.

Fact: “Traditional” family norms are changing.

“Historically, the father-ideal has gone through different phases; from moral teacher and disciplinarian, through breadwinner and later gender-role model and ‘buddy,’ to the new nurturing, co-parenting father” (source, source)​.

“Millennials are less likely to think about their work and family roles as being defined by traditional gender norms. Most believe that they will have partners in life who also have careers and who see their roles as both parent and professional as a shared responsibility” (source, source).

“Today, the percentage of ‘traditional families’ [two parents, one employed outside the home] in the United States has slipped from more than 45% in 1975, to just over 20%, a decrease of well over half. This family structure has been replaced mainly by dual-career couples and single parent heads-of-household where the single parent is employed” (source, source).

Fact: Taking paternity leave early in the baby’s life is correlated with greater involvement years later.

“Millennial” workers are the largest generation in the workforce today (source). Research has shown that they aspire to share caregiving equally, but report that they do not always do so in practice (source). Studies suggest that taking significant paternity leave when children are newborns can help achieve this aspiration.

In Iceland, fathers have the longest non-transferable right to family leave in the world, and almost 80 percent of fathers of newborns take leave. Since implementing this legislation in 2000, there has been a steady increase in the sharing of responsibility. For children born in 2009, studies found that at the age of 3 around 70% of their parents share care equally (source).

In a nationally representative panel study of over 10,000 American children born in 2001, researchers found that “fathers who take longer leave are more involved in child care-taking activities nine months later,” even when controlling for paternal commitment pre-birth (source).

Fact: Children benefit from involved caregiver fathers.

In a review of longitudinal studies on children’s development outcomes, researchers found that paternal engagement has “differential effects on desirable outcomes by reducing the frequency of behavioural problems in boys and psychological problems in young women, and enhancing cognitive development, while decreasing delinquency and economic disadvantage” (source).

“Children with highly involved fathers were characterized by increased cognitive competence, increased empathy, fewer sex-stereotyped beliefs and a more internal locus of control… particularly in the area of cognitive competence, these children [of heterosexual parents] may benefit from having two highly involved parents rather than just one. This assures them the diversity of stimulation that comes from interacting with people who have different behavioral styles.” (source)

Fact: Women benefit from sharing parenting responsibilities with a partner.

Having a spouse who did not take any leave after childbirth is associated with higher levels of maternal depressive symptoms (source); at least one in eight and as many as one in five women develop these symptoms in the year after giving birth (source).

Research has shown that when fathers have access to parental leave benefits, women achieve greater leadership roles. In a global survey of 21,980 companies from 91 countries, more paternity leave was strongly correlated with the percentage of women on boards. In contrast, countries with mandated maternity leave benefits were not linked with a greater share of women at the top (source).

Fact: Mothers and fathers face bias at work that impacts their recognition and advancement.

Compared to women without children, mothers are half as likely to be recommended for promotion and offered an average of $11,000 less in salary. “For those under the age of 35, the pay gap between mothers and non-mothers is larger than the pay gap between men and women… employed mothers are the group of women that now account for most of the ‘gender gap’ in wages… Visibly pregnant women managers are judged as less committed to their jobs, less dependable, and less authoritative, but warmer, more emotional, and more irrational than otherwise equal women managers who are not visibly pregnant.” (source)

Men who take family leave are rated higher on weak, “feminine” traits (source). Fathers experience lower performance ratings and steeper reductions in future earnings after taking time away for family reasons (source). “Employed fathers in dual-earner couples are now significantly more likely to experience some or a lot of work-life conflict than mothers in dual-earner couples” (source).

We believe that creating a gender-blind policy is key, given the potential for unintended negative consequences that generous maternity leave policies can create (source).

At Etsy, we’re working to be a diverse and inclusive company. In sharing our thinking, we hope to advance the conversation among our community — including our employees, business peers, other corporate leaders and policymakers — to build a business culture that’s more enriching and sustainable for everyone.


  • Sven Bremberg, Robert Kristiansson, Frank Oberklaid, Anna Sarkadi, Fathers’ involvement and children’s developmental outcomes: a systematic review of longitudinal studies (Foundation Acta Paediatrica, 2008), 153.
  • Michael E. Lamb, The Role of the Father in Child Development (Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2010), 521.
  • Brad Harrington, Beth Humberd, Fred Van Deusen. The New Dad: Caring, Committed and Conflicted, (Boston, Massachusetts: Boston College Center for Work & Family, 2011), 5.
  • Kathleen Gerson, The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work, and Family, (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 40.
  • Harrington, The New Dad, 3.
  • Heather Boushey, Ann O’Leary, “Executive Summary: The Shriver Report.” The Shriver Report. September 12, 2009.
  • Richard Fry, “Millennials Surpass Gen Xers as the Largest Generation in U.S. Labor Force.” Pew Research Center. May 11, 2015.
  • Brad Harrington, Beth Humberd, Fred Van Deusen. The New Dad: Caring, Committed and Conflicted, (Boston, Massachusetts: Boston College Center for Work & Family, 2011), 3.
  • Ásdís A. Arnalds, Guðný Björk Eydal,, and Ingólfur V. Gíslason. Equal Rights to Paid Parental Leave and Caring Fathers — the Case of Iceland, (Reykjavik, Iceland: 2013), 323.
  • Lemma Nepomnyaschy and Jane Waldfogel, Paternity Leave and Fathers’ Involvement with Their Young Children. Taylor & Francis.
  • Bremberg, Fathers’ involvement, 153.
  • Lamb, The Role of the Father.
  • Pinka Chatterji and Sara Markowitz, Family Leave after Childbirth and the Health of New Mothers, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2008), 2.
  • Pam Belluck, ‘Thinking of Ways to Harm Her’.” The New York Times. June 15, 2014.
  • Barbara Kotschwar, Tyler Moran and Marcus Noland, Is Gender Diversity Profitable? Evidence from a Global Survey, (NW Washington, DC: Peterson Institute for International Economics, 2016), 12.
  • Stephen Bernard and Shelly Correll, Getting a Job: Is There a Motherhood Penalty? (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 2007), 1316.
  • Kris Mescher and Laurie A. Rudman, Penalizing Men Who Request a Family Leave: Is Flexibility Stigma a Femininity Stigma? (The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, 2013), 322.
  • Adam Butler and Amie Skattebo, What Is Acceptable for Women May Not Be for Men: The Effect of Family Conflicts with Work on Job-performance Ratings, (Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 2004), 553.
  • Kerstin Aumann, James Bond and Ellen Galinksy, Times Are Changing: Gender and Generation at Work and at Home, (Families and Work Institute, 2009), 19.
  • Claire Cain Miller, “When Family-Friendly Policies Backfire.” The New York Times. May 26, 2015.

Further Reading:

Sr. Director of Culture & Engagement, Etsy

Sr. Director of Culture & Engagement, Etsy