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Harvard Professor: Fathers should take childcare leave to raise fertility rates

Giving extremely long maternity and childcare leave to women, as part of family-friendly policies, is not the answer to boost fertility rates, said Professor Mary Brinton, Professor of Sociology of Reischauer Institute from the university’s Department of Sociology.

It will only strengthen the ‘gendered division’ of labor in the household, where women stay at home to do housework and take care of the children while men work, Prof Brinton said.

It also will reinforce employers’ preconception against hiring women, especially mothers, thus placing them on a lower rung in the workplace, said the Professor.

Prof Brinton said to be absent from work more than six months, which she viewed as the best maximum period of leave for mothers, would also give negative impact on their earnings and promotion chance.

To avoid such problems, she made a suggestion of a new policy where, rather, new fathers should take childcare leave, on top of offering paid leave for both parents.

She said, “The policy can begin with fathers’ required leave being short — for example, one or two weeks — so that at least the idea of fathers’ leave becomes ‘normalised’, and it becomes taken for granted that fathers need and want to be involved in infant- and child-care.”

The event was organised by the Centre for Family and Population Research at the National University of Singapore and the NUS Global Asia Institute.

Mary Brinton is the Reischauer Institute Professor of Sociology at Harvard University. Her current work focuses on why several regions of the postindustrial world — including Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, and East Asia — now exhibit historically low fertility rates that are leading to rapid population aging and the specter of lowered economic productivity.

Last year TOC has reported that in a survey conducted by the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) in 2013, 58 percent of male respondents thought that women should take care of family chores and care giving.

Singapore’s total population only grew by 1.3% to 5.61 million from June 2015 to June 2016, according to the National Population and Talent Division.

Senior Minister of State (Prime Minister’s Office) Josephine Teo, who spoke and took part in a dialogue at the event, pointed that in recent years, employers have been more accommodating when it comes to creating a pro-family workplace environment, though there were a few who showed ‘grudging acceptance’.

However, Ms Teo said, granting flexible work arrangements like flexi-place, flexi-time or flexi-load to parents could create resentment among their co-workers, especially in situations where only a small group of employees benefit from them.

“Such flexi-work arrangements should not be confined to parents only. Their co-workers need them too, to support other family members, like the elderly, and if you leave it as a benefit only for (employees) with young children, it could breed an unhealthy sense of resentment.”

“Flexi-work arrangements should be made widely available to employees where possible,” she added.

Ms Teo also urged the millennials to change their mindset about starting families, the young should consider building their careers in tandem with parenthood, she said. She noted that it might be outdated to put such plans on the back-burner for the sake of one’s career.

Mrs Teo said, rather than seeing one’s career as ‘a single penultimate peak’, having multiple careers might become the norm, so Singaporeans should view this as a ‘mountain range of satisfying career peaks throughout life’.

She also said that the tempo of a career in the 21st century would be different, as workers would need time to constantly refresh their skills and ‘recharge and retool’.

“All of this means there will never be a time when career-building is done and learning can end. If marriage and parenthood are to feature at all, they must be priorities earlier rather than later in life,” she pointed.

Ms Teo also said that employers have to be shown that adopting pro-family policies is not detrimental to their business.

“And you have to let others know that is not as difficult as they think, that it (being pro-family) is doable, and we have to start taking those baby steps and try to bring it to a tipping point, where everyone is doing it now and it becomes a new norm,” Ms Teo said.