Male Privilege and Family Leave


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.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Joshua Bowman joined in full communion with the Catholic Church in 2010 after many years in the spiritual wilderness. He recently moved back to his beloved native Virginia from Columbus, Ohio with his growing family and writes on religion, politics, history, and geographical curiosities.


  1. The Archdiocese of Chicago’s policy operates outside of that of the regular economy; the Archdiocese operates on handouts. The companies that Joe and Mary Catholic work at to subsidize the Archdiocese do not.

    The increase in women in the labor pool has had the overall effect of depressing wages. Not because women make less-if the “wage gap” really existed, women would enjoy near 100% employment since they’d be cheaper to employ than men, and men would go wanting for jobs due to it.

    Skilled labor (or really, any labor) isn’t as scarce as it used to be. Period. More people with the same skills out of college, etc-lower wages in general.

    Yes, inflation, et. al. must be taken into account, but the laws of supply and demand always win out.

  2. Gauging the persistence of Western Civilization in our own by anthropological variance in the family cannot be complete (however polarizing it may be) without mention of a widespread recourse to abortion and abortifacient drugs to support the post-modern lifestyle. Based on 2008 data, the Guttmacher Institute estimates 1 in 3 women in America will have an abortion in their lifetime and this figure does not include abortifacient drugs used as methods of birth regulation, such as the IUD, that are growing in popularity.

    While the culture as a whole does not directly or necessarily connect the normalization of abortion with the ordinary means to secure the standard of living our grandparents enjoyed, and while some still find it necessary to pretend, with tortured logic, for example, IUDs are not abortifacient drugs by redefining pregnancy to begin, not at conception, but implantation (hence a drug that prevents implantation of the human blastocyst after conception does not prevent pregnancy, and since abortion is the termination of pregnancy it is not an abortion), the price paid is the intentional killing of our own offspring to support a continuation of the level standard of living ‘to which we are entitled.’

    In the overall analysis, this behavior is quite different from sacrificing family time to have two wage earners make what one once did. It is also a far cry from merely not having children to establish or maintain this lifestyle.

    Pax et bonum

  3. In other words: women get back in the kitchen, have a ton of babies, and let the men provide for the family. Absolutely disgusting. This is an insult to my single mom who worked her tail off to provide for us after my father left the family, and an insult to my wife and her parents who raised her to work hard. We are practicing Catholics, both working parents, and have 2 boys with a third on the way. We’re doing fine thank you very much.

    • Oh, please. The drama.

      Your mom and your wife aren’t those whom the article addresses.

      Always nice to get some faux outrage, though.

    • Since you brought up your double-income, two kids thing:

      What would you say the percentage of that income goes out the door for child care expenses?

      • This is not faux outrage at all. I think it is repugnant to suggest that women should be confined to typical gender roles. Take that stuff to Saudi Arabia. We don’t need that here.

        With respect to your question, all I will say is that it is economically beneficial to our family for my wife to work, both in terms of salary and benefits. What she does is important to the community as well (more important than my work). She’s a dang good mom too.

      • Also, do you have daughters? Is this how you would raise them? Why even send them to college if they should be confined to gender roles suggested by the author? If a woman wants to stop working to care for her family, more power to her. My wife struggles with this every single day. But we don’t live in the Middle East. Women should be free to raise kids and work at the same time. Us working men just have to step up.

        • I have a daughter. She’s in college.

          Women, no matter your nor my opinion, are confined to the “gender role” of motherhood-by biology. Neither you nor I can “step up” and help with that.

          The author suggested that the role of motherhood in western society seems to be diminished and that he sees that as not a good thing (that’s how I read it).

          He was talking about DINKS, primarily. That’s not you. Still.

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