Description: A paper I wrote analyzing an editorial article written by Scott Coltrane. The purpose of the paper was to teach students to not only think critically, but read critically.
Date: Winter 2018
PART 1: READING WITH THE GRAIN
In his Atlantic Daily article, The Risky Business of Paternity Leave,Scott Coltrane, a professor of sociology at the University of Oregon, claims men should be taking paternity leave because, despite the risk, there is great value in taking time off to spend with your family. He establishes said risk by calling upon his own research studies, which found “long-term earnings are depressed” when men take time off work to spend time with their families. Referencing Sweden and Norway as model case examples Coltrane explains, when men are home with their children they develop better nurturing skills which proves, he writes, to be beneficial for every member of the man’s family. Appealing to the authority of fellow writer Liza Mundy, Coltrane also points out multiple benefits to the wives of men who take paternity leave, such as “increased earnings, career advancement, and satisfaction.” In addition, the writer shows us the Swedish statistics which prove men who take paternity leave live longer than those who don’t. However, he states despite the benefits of paternity leave, “Only a handful of U.S states currently have…paid leave for fathers.” Coltrane reminds us of the progression America has made toward equal treatment of men and women in the workplace, yet how far behind it is in “wage replacement and…fair treatment of parents in the workplace.” Coltrane claims the government and corporations ought to realize how beneficial it would be to help families create balance between the workplace and their “family obligations.”
It appears Coltrane’s primary audience seems to be middle class American fathers. More specifically, educated fathers with white collar jobs such as doctors, bankers, lawyers, etc who are in a financial position to even consider taking paternity leave. It also appears Coltrane is addressing an additional audience, American corporations and governments. The title of Coltrane’s article, his call for action, and his explanation of benefits validate these assumptions.
Coltrane seems to assume his audience is hostile towards his claim. However, he and his colleagues from the University of Oregon speculate “fathers, facing pressures to conform to masculine breadwinner ideals, refrained from even admitting to their employers they wanted to modify their schedules for family reasons.” So perhaps it could be claimed the working fathers are not actively against Coltrane they just refuse to take the risk he is proposing.
He also provides enough evidence for us to know American corporations and governments are hostile towards the policy of paternity leave. We know this from his consistent call for a change of policy as well as the few number of U.S. states which currently have “government-mandated paid leave for fathers” as Coltrane points out.
PART 2: READING AGAINST THE GRAIN
In order persuade his audience to do something even he considers a risk, Coltrane knows he must present a solid case with concrete proof his proposal is reliable. He did so by making his own research the foundation of his argument. For example, in the first paragraph Coltrane writes:
“As a family sociologist, I’ve spent decades studying how and why men might take more responsibility for childcare and housework. My colleagues at the University of Oregon and I recently reported that when men take time off from work to care for family members, their long-term earnings are depressed.”
By using his own research Coltrane effectively reassures his audience he is an expert on the subject of paternity leave and its risks in addition to a family sociologist. To an educated, middle class father this gives him more credibility than a journalist writing an opinion piece and to corporations and governments he shows he has the knowledge and the background to be making a professional statement on paternity leave.
Coltrane also references Sweden and Norway in his article. Both countries have credible reputations and are known to be successful, especially in the way Coltrane wants them to be. Rather than just saying, “Why don’t you all risk financial loss and take time off!” Coltrane shows his audience taking paternity leave is proven to be successful in significant countries.
By doing this he builds his own credibility because he is no longer standing upon his own research. He has “witnesses” who prove his claim. An educated middle-class father, or corporation, is more likely to accept Coltrane’s claim because of these credible sources.
To top it all off Coltrane isn’t asking the readers to blindly accept his claim. He respects them by stating clearly the risks involved in paternity leave. He found, “men who…take time off for family reasons were also likely to experience lower earnings over the course of their working lives.” Educated, middle-class fathers are most likely going to want to know what will happen to their financial security if they take paternity leave and Coltrane doesn’t leave them hanging.
However, he never identifies how much they will be losing in long-term earning which could hurt his authority. In addition, this appeal to authority seems to be more directed to middle-class fathers than corporations and governments though as Coltrane never specifically addresses the risks involved for them which can also hurt his authority.
Although Coltrane’s article appears to have very little appeal to emotion through stories or descriptions, it effectively gives worth and a sense of security to his argument by emphasizing the benefits to paternity leave. For example, he claims not only will men “develop better nurturing skills,” but “Women will enjoy increased earnings, career advancement, and satisfaction.” To top it all off Coltrane reminds his audience their “children will benefit from having two involved caregivers.”
He makes his audience feel as though it’s a good idea by using words like “benefit,” “better,” and “enjoy” which has specific appeal to educated and successful fathers who want the best for their families.
In addition, he seems to promise corporations and governments will have a desire to change their policies which downplays the risk involved in taking paternity leave. This strongly encourages his audience to take paternity leave based off the benefits which will come to families as a whole.
With regards to corporations and governments, Coltrane appeals to their emotions here as well. By pointing out how well off their workers will be if they take more time off using case examples like Sweden and Norway, Coltrane seems to be baiting his audience into policy change. This sense of reward and promise of wellbeing can be tempting to corporations and governments who want a “more resilient and equal-opportunity workforce,” but if they don’t care about their workforce this has little appeal to emotion.
Overall, Coltrane uses the appeal to emotion very well by simply making his argument appealing. He used effective language, benefits, victimization, and the personal feelings of the reader to persuade them to agree with his claim.
Key Terms and Concepts:
The main key term that calls for analyzation in Coltrane’s article is paternity leave. Even in his title Coltrane dedicates his essay to persuading well-educated, middle-class, working father to take paternity leave yet he never defines it. The term is left ambiguous and the readers are left to assume whatever definition they have as paternity leave is the one Coltrane is referring to. He makes no mention of how long it may be, and if it’s paid or unpaid which are two important pieces of information that working fathers and corporations and governments would consider as they contemplated taking paternity leave or changing their policies.
The other term I was able to identify is financial risk or lower earnings, the terms were used interchangeably. Coltrane finds in his research “that men who reduce their work hours or take time off for family reasons were also likely to experience lower earnings over the course of their working lives,” but he never provides us with a number. Working fathers are left to wonder just how much money they are going to lose, and corporations and governments are left to wonder what financial risks or gains apply to them.
The failure to define these two terms significantly weakens Coltrane’s argument. It’s as if he is avoiding defining them to make paternity leave more appealing to both audiences but it has the adverse effect. If a working father were to understand paternity leave to be a six-week period where he can stay home with his children and still get paid he is probably going to want to take paternity leave. Whereas under the same definition corporations and governments would most likely be reluctant to change their polices.
However, since Coltrane tells his audience there is financial risk involved the audience will most likely assume that paternity leave is unpaid. Which then begs the question, just how much money are these working fathers going to lose? If Coltrane were to provide numbers and definitions to these terms that made them positive, or at least not so bad, terms his argument would be stronger. But if he purposefully left out numbers and definitions because they make the terms very negative then Coltrane has a persuasive, but deceitful argument.
As it pertains to the middle class, Coltrane makes the assumption working parents value financial security alongside their family relations. Given the audience of the argument these assumptions are safe to make. As a generalization working fathers value their financial security because they value the welfare of their families and their family relations. As the saying goes, “happy wife happy life.”
Coltrane attempts to mitigate the impact of financial security later in his essay by capitalizing on the value of family relations, effectively placing the latter value over the other. In the beginning of his essay he capitalizes on financial security but does not show his argument protects this value. In fact, it harms it which could prove to be useful as Coltrane is trying to inspire his audience to make policy changes. However, if he is attempting to persuade working fathers to take paternity leave Coltrane wants them to value family relations above financial security and uses women and children as the main motivation for his argument.
However, as it pertains to corporations and governments Coltrane uses a different set of value assumptions. He makes the assumption Corporations and governments value both financial security and the effectiveness and wellbeing of their workers. He also shows the readers how because paternity leave is not provided to American workers corporations and governments must be placing their financial security over the effectiveness and wellbeing of their workers.
Coltrane effectively mitigates the value of financial security for corporations by never even bringing it up. His comments are directed toward changing the policies corporations and governments have in regard to paternity leave and the benefits of doing so.
The case example of Sweden and the research of Swedish National Institute of Public Health proves fathers who “used a higher proportion of leave” spent more time with their children and were “more likely to report satisfaction with the amount of contact they have with their kids.” It also proved father who take paternity leave live longer.
In a way Coltrane uses Sweden as appeal to authority. He establishes their credibility when he notes 80% of their working men take paid paternity leave, and to well-educated fathers, heads of corporations, and government officials this comment paired with the evidence has a makes a strong case for Coltrane’s claim.
Coltrane also cites specifically the Institute of Public Health in Sweden which infers this is a quality source. There were some specifics about the researchers and their assumptions which leads to even more credibility, but the study was done in 2001 and Coltrane is writing this article practically in 2014. Which would make his evidence rater outdated.
This evidence is most likely to encourage educated, middle-class fathers to consider paternity leave with a more optimistic outlook. The sources are credible from a logical standpoint and the statistics which, although outdated, do show a significant upside to some time off work.
It’s also likely to encourage corporations and governments to consider changing their policies when they consider having happier, healthier workers based on the statistics. They may be led to ask the question, “If Sweden did it and it worked, why wouldn’t it work here?”
Second, the appeal to the authority of Liza Mundy. Coltrane uses her claims to prove, “Men who take parental leave tend to remain more involved in childcare as their children grow up” and, “[Men] tend to share more equally in household labor, which increases woman’s satisfaction. When fathers are involved in childcare, woman enjoy more wealth, power, and authority in society at large.”
Coltrane relies heavily on Liza Mundy in many of his claims, but never establishes her credibility. If his audience knows Mundy then the appeal to authority is effective based on her credibility and her own essay on paternity leave, but if they don’t she is of little consequence. He definitely did not use this appeal to authority as effectively as he could have.
This will most likely do little to convince serious readers to do anything about paternity leave, especially with an audience like educated fathers and serious corporations and governments. The way Coltrane’s uses this evidence no better than just stating it himself.
Last, and perhaps most significant, Coltrane’s own research done at The University of Oregon which proves the significant loss of long-term earnings for men who take paternity leave. This may be the best piece of evidence Coltrane uses, except he never cites it. There is a link to his study in his article online, but unless a reader is willing to take the time to find out all they will know is he and his buddies at the University of Oregon did a study. However, the study is recent, the sample size was large and seemed diverse, and it was effective.
If the purpose of the evidence is to show how risky paternity leave is I am confident the audience will be convinced. However, if Coltrane is attempting to use this evidence to persuade educated working fathers to take time off work to be with their families it will fail quickly. I think this evidence was provided to show stark contrast between the risk and the benefits as well as the unfairness taking place in corporations and governments. Coltrane addresses the opposition to his claim to inspire policy change within such places.
The following logical fallacies were found in Coltrane’s article.
First a red herring. Coltrane states in his conclusion, “Corporations and governments, who want to see a more resilient and equal-opportunity work force, will realize it is in their best interests to help balance work and family obligations for everyone.”
The author strictly avoids the financial deprivation which could occur should corporations and governments change their policies. By ending on a strong positive note, he effectively distracts his audience from the ugly side of paternity leave for society as a whole.
Second, an appeal to popularity. Coltrane makes note on how “only a handful of U.S. states currently have government-mandated paid leave for fathers” and then compares to “our culture as a whole” which, he argues, “is beginning to change.”
Here Coltrane makes the idea of paternity leave modern and sophisticated and suggests America is behind the times. He does this again when he writes, “Today’s jobs still seem designed for the 1950s.”
He also appeals to popularity by referencing other countries, “like Sweden and Norway, where over 80 percent of men take paid family leave.” Again, he strengthens his argument by making it appear America is deficient in some way. He uses several examples which show Sweden and Norway have had success in their policies for paternity leave. Which begs the question, why is America not doing it too?
PART 3: FINAL ASSESSMENT
Overall, this argument seems to be convincing at a first glance, but to well-educated fathers working white-collar jobs and corporations and governments who will likely give it more than a first glance, this argument has a few fatal flaws.
The failure to define paternity leave and financial risk undermines Coltrane’s argument. Though he provided significant evidence pertaining to the benefits of paternity leave, he never defines how long fathers take time off or if they are taking paid leave. Even in his evidence those two details are left unaddressed.
In his conclusion Coltrane discusses benefits for men, women, children, and corporations and governments which, without question, are positives worth considering. However, a well-educated father will want to know how those benefits will compensate for the loss and the loss is unclear, so he cannot, with this article alone, make a well-educated decision.
Corporations and governments will want to know the very same thing and are in the same predicament. Little mention is even made of them except for the blame Coltrane puts on them for not making paternity leave easier to take for their workers. If Coltrane truly wants to generate change an additional and more directed essay may be necessary to get this audience to accept his less direct claim.
Coltrane also underutilized his evidence by poorly citing and emphasizing it. He did however use his own research well and gave the audience plenty of information, but the problem with his research id it proved the risks involved with paternity leave which does little to convince working fathers to take time off, but perhaps will do more to persuade corporations and governments to make it easier on their workers.
As a well-educated working father reading this essay I wouldn’t be persuaded to take paternity leave and as a head of a company or a government official I wouldn’t be persuaded to change policies, but what Coltrane did beautifully was start a conversation and persuade his audience to give his claim more consideration than they may have previously given.