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In response to a parliamentary question by MP for Nee Soon GRC Louis Ng, manpower minister Josephine Teo revealed that 84 per cent of eligible fathers in the public sector make use of their paternity leave, compared to the national rate of 53 per cent (ST, Feb. 27). The ostensible talking point seemed to focus on the observation that “the public sector utilisation rate is even higher than those in Nordic countries, which are well-known for their family-friendly policies and strong support for parenthood”. Yet missing from this exposition are (causal) explanations for the phenomenon in Singapore.
In other words, why are eligible fathers in the public sector more likely to make use of their paternity leave? Identifying the relevant policies within the sector which may promote more active fathering would not only lead to a better understanding of family and childcare decisions among Singaporeans, but also encourage the adoption of these policies in other sectors (in other countries too). Even if there may be some sectors where it may be less acceptable for men to take their paternity leave, these sectors are likely to be in the minority, and thus policies can be shared and learnt.
In addition to learning more about the demographics and socio-economic background of the remaining 47 per cent of eligible fathers in Singapore who do not go on paternity leave (or from the 53 per cent who do), some additional data-related questions could be posed to the Ministry of Manpower:
- What is the timeframe for the proportions? In the last year in 2019? What are the trends for take-up rates, since paternity leave was first introduced?
- What are the utilisation rates across different sectors, besides the general public-private split?
- What is meant by utilisation rate? Does it mean at least one day of paternity leave taken? Is there data on the exact number of leave days taken?
Above all, if there remain sectors where taking paternity leave is difficult or unacceptable for fathers, what other policies should be considered to help these men be more active fathers?