Parental Leave: Here to Stay

The U.S. ranks near the bottom of the industrialized world when it comes to offering parents paid time off to bond with a new child. In response to government inaction, and in a climate of low unemployment, America’s employers are stepping in to address this pressing issue. Companies are paying attention to research showing that healthier families make for healthier, happier employees, a better work environment, and higher productivity. A 2017 Pew Research study finds that 82% of Americans support paid maternity leave, and 69% support paid paternity leave, with respondents favoring employer-funded benefits over government-funded programs.

Offering new mothers more time off than new fathers harms families by perpetuating the idea that caregiving is women’s work. Furthermore, when new mothers have more time off, they take on more of the unpaid labor at home, creating inequality with parental roles. “You see a persistent gendered labor division under the guise of biological differences,” said Brian Heilman, a researcher at Promundo, a U.S.-based organization engaging men and boys in promoting gender equality.

A recent report from the United Nations reveals that some of the world’s richest nations skimp on government support for new parents. Estonia, Hungary, and Bulgaria ranked toward the top of the 41 nations surveyed, with each country providing mothers more than a year of some forms of paid time off. By contrast, Australia and New Zealand only provide eight weeks of paid time off for mothers. And at the bottom of the list is the United States which offers no paid time off for new mothers. On the fathers’ side, Japan and South Korea made the list for offering paid paternity leave—30 weeks and 17 weeks, respectively.

The U.N. report also found that only one in twenty men with paid paternity leave in Japan actually use it. The same is true in the U.S., where Wall Street dads find that paternity leave is easier to get than to take. “U.S. men still worry about staying at home for months. They fear what happens when they detach from a culture that lionizes face time and relationship upkeep. The signals are subtle and the pull of tradition is strong.”

Serena William’s husband, Alexis Ohanian (also the co-founder of Reddit) is appealing to Congress to pass federal paid family leave legislation. He recently told ABC News that he altered perception within Reddit: “I use 16 [weeks] as the example that we use in our office and that’s really, that is the bare minimum when you look across the world. If there is a new child entering your life, you should be able to spend time with them.”

In the U.S., only 16% of civilian workers have access to paid family leave. Americans in higher income brackets have greater access to paid family leave with 27% of the top quarter of income earners able to use paid family leave and only 7% of the bottom quarter of income earners able to take advantage of paid family leave.

Paid paternity leave benefits parents, children, and employers. Outcomes include better post-partum health, dads who are better at equal co-parenting, higher salaries for moms, healthier bonds with children, and an overall improvement to work culture.

Take Action! Advocate for paid parental leave for all parents at your place of employment.