Child well-being & inequalities in France: the struggles behind paternity leave

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Child well-being & inequalities in France: the struggles behind paternity leave

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The recent report on the first 1,000 days of childhood calls on the government to “make support for young children and their parents a priority for public action”, and recommends, among other things, extending paternity leave to nine weeks.

Meanwhile, many young fathers have spent more time with their infants due to the lockdown, and do not hesitate to speak out on the subject. Paternity leave is also at the heart of both social and sexual inequalities.

In terms of leave length, it still remains very heterogeneous throughout the world, and reveals strong disparities with France’s more or less distant neighbours.

9 weeks to “build a harmonious relationship” with a newborn baby

The report on the first 1000 days of the child’s life, from the fourth month of pregnancy to two years of age, was drawn up by a commission of 18 experts “specialists in the education or awakening of children, field practicioners in the social support of parents, paediatricians and hospital practitioners, midwives” and chaired by the neuropsychiatrist Boris Cyrulnik.

It was handed over to the Secretary of State for Children and Families, Adrien Taquet, on September 8, with the aim of providing recommendations on four main areas of work:

  • Improving communication, information and recommendations to parents in terms of public health during the child’s first 1000 days
  • Propose a simple and clearly marked out consultation path – particularly in terms of medical appointments – that parents can follow during this period.
  • Provide scientific advice on parental leave in a broad sense, taking into account the needs of the child, the parents, the role of the father and the issue of return to work.
  • Study new childcare arrangements to be built over the next 10 years

In its introduction, the report recalls that the first 1000 days of a child’s life represent a crucial issue in the scientific world, since they are « a sensitive period for the development and security of the child, containing the premises for the health and well-being of the individual throughout his or her life. »

According to the report, “it takes time, availability and physical and emotional closeness on the part of parents to build a harmonious relationship with their baby”, hence the recommendation to extend paternity leave to 9 weeks in France.

An opinion widely shared by the French, surveyed in 2018 by the Huffington Post, since 88% of them already thought that paternity leave was “important to create a bond with a child”.

Fathers want to do their part

Erwan has been a father for just over a year. After taking the 3 days of birth leave when his son was born, he was lucky enough to be able to take two weeks of paid leave to look after his newborn baby alongside his wife.

After careful calculations, Erwan chose to take his precious 11 days of paternity leave as late as possible within the 3-month limit: “it was the time my wife needed it the most, as he was starting to move around a lot”.

He tells the story of his double frustration of leaving his baby and his wife so quickly. “The father usually doesn’t see his child grow up every day,” Erwan deplores, and « the fact that she’s looking after our son alone has made her very tired, in addition to breastfeeding, it wasn’t easy for her to return to work after this period. » For Erwan, the norm would be for the father to be able to take as much time off as the mother.

Institutionalised inequalities

First, there is glaring social inequality behind the 67% of fathers who actually take this leave, which is still optional to this day in France. In fact, in 2018, a report by the General Inspectorate of Social Affairs (Igas) noted that 80% of the ones taking the leave had permanent jobs, whereas only 47% of those who had precarious or fixed-term contrats did.

But above all, it seems that the issue is linked to gender inequality. In 2018, according to the Huffington Post study, 89% of respondents felt that paternity leave was “important to help the mother” and 82% felt that it allowed “a better division of daily household and family chores”.

Inequalities in domestic work are indeed increasing at this very moment. At the beginning, the mother learns a great deal about caring for the child on her own, which also means that she will tend to care more for her child, in addition to household chores which she assumes largely because she has no partner available to help her during the week.

This is also confirmed in figures. In 2015, an INSEE analysis based on several studies carried out between 1974 and 2010 showed that mothers still assumed 65% of parental work.

And this finding is not new, as several other long-standing studies have shown. Already in 2005, Garner, Meda and Senik, noted that “women spent, on average, more than twice as many hours per day on domestic and care activities as men”. The 2006 Eurostat report confirmed this finding at the European level with “at least 80% of women performing this type of work every day”.

While we tend to believe that society is constantly advancing towards greater equality (and it has been the case over the last 35 years), the INSEE figures lead us to remain cautious. Indeed, this movement was strongest in the 1970s and 1980s, but has tended to slow down since then, suggesting that the glass ceiling is still quite solid.

The issue of the length of paternity leave and whether or not to make it compulsory would therefore also be a powerful accelerator of gender equality, both in the domestic and professional sphere. As Laurence Parisot, former president of the Medef, points out: “Compulsory paternity leave restores equality in the way women and men are viewed in the workplace”. Still according to the Huffington Post study, 46% of French people agree, and among the parents questioned, 51% agree.

Advancing in the European ranking of the most egalitarian countries

Tristan has been living in Norway since 2014 and was able to take 5 months leave when his second child was born. In Norway, parents each have 3 months of compulsory leave, followed by 4 months of leave to be divided between them.

He looks back on this experience and tells us how Norwegians usually take parental leave, which is on an alternating basis. After a while, both parents therefore find themselves taking turns looking after their babies. He also discusses the profound societal changes this brings about and how himself experienced a Mental Load.

 (video in French..) 

« L’instinct maternel n’existe pas plus que l’instinct paternel. »Tristan Champion s’est installé en Norvège en 2014. Il a pris un congé parental de 5 mois à Oslo pour la naissance de son deuxième enfant.

Gepostet von Simone Media am Samstag, 26. September 2020


As a reminder, in France, fathers are currently entitled to 3 days’ birth leave from their employer, which can be followed by 11 calendar days’ paternity leave covered by health insurance.

Good news for 2021

Following the report submitted in September, the government announced on Tuesday September 22nd the extension of paternity leave to 28 days. This measure should see the light of day in the Social Security Financing Bill (PLFSS) in 2021 and therefore be effective next July.

The government has also announced that 7 days of this leave should be made compulsory, although the full details of this reform have not yet been decided. This would enable fathers in more precarious jobs to benefit more from this leave. 

Fascinating, accessible and full of concrete proposals, the report on the first 1000 days of childhood reminds the government that this period “holds considerable stakes for society” and that “guaranteeing the good health and development of children today means taking action for parents, citizens and the society of tomorrow”.

New government announcements should follow to further support young children and their parents following these recommendations, so stay tuned!


Through these Stories, Azickia aims to highlight social impact initiatives, in France and around the world, while not necessarily adhering to all the opinions and actions implemented by them. It is and will remain in Azickia’s DNA to fight against all forms of discrimination and to promote equality for all.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 France License.

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