Paid maternity leave is a hot topic in the United States’ policy realm. In his efforts to appeal to female voters during his campaign, President Donald Trump promised to implement paid maternity leave as part of his Presidency . And recently, in his first speech to Congress, the President also promised “paid family leave” .
In a study done by the OECD’s Social Policy division, the U.S. is the only country without paid maternity leave among the 41 countries included in the study [3,4]. Both the International Labor Organization’s Maternity Protection Convention (2000) and the EU’s Council Directive 92/85/EEC—neither of which the US is party to —require nations to provide paid maternity leave [4,5,6].
So, why doesn’t the U.S. have paid maternity leave? The explanations are vast, and they include the oft-repeated uniqueness of American democracy and the need for Europe —but not the U.S. — to replenish their war-ravaged populations following World War II . One of the loudest arguments is economics: paid maternity leave is costly for businesses [7,8,9].
In the short run, it seems that paid maternity leave would be costly for businesses. Several studies have shown that these fears are largely unmerited.
California has had paid maternity leave in place since 2002 (effective in 2004) . One survey of California employers showed that 87% of employers reported no cost increases because of the paid family leave program .
Paid maternity leave is in fact frequently beneficial to businesses. Rather than pushing new mothers out of the work force, paid maternity leave often allows mothers to keep their pre-pregnancy jobs. This reduces training costs for businesses and improves productivity . Paid maternity leave policies increase labor force participation, which improves the economy as a whole .
Paid maternity leave benefits extend far beyond economics. California’s paid maternity program, under the umbrella of paid leave programs, has shown to benefit “minority women, those with less education, and unmarried women be able to afford to take more leave” . For all families, paid maternity leave is important in increasing crucial bonding time between children and parents .
Paid maternity leave will also help change attitudes towards mothers in the workplace. In her speech about paid parental leave at the UN on International Women’s Day, actress and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Anne Hathaway mentioned the “motherhood penalty.”
Hathway described this phenomenon as mothers who take more of their unpaid leave time being “perceived as less dedicated to their job and will be passed over for promotions and other career advancement” . Not only does paid maternity leave help businesses and families from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, but it is also crucial in creating full gender parity in the workplace.
While the issue is less frequently discussed, paid paternity leave is just as important as paid maternity leave. An article from The Economist cites three reasons why paid paternity leave is important:
- A study from the University of Oslo indicated that increased father-daughter time in early childhood advances secondary school performance, particularly for girls.
- More paid paternity time means more dads taking part in roles that are typically seen as “mothering” roles.
- Leave from work can often hinder women from advancing as quickly in their careers: “When men shoulder more of the childcare burden, the effect is lessened” .
Paid parental leave is critical for families and society. Ambassador Hathaway eloquently explains why in her statement saying that “paid parental leave is not about taking days off work; it is about creating freedom to define roles, to choose how to invest time, and to establish new, positive cycles of behavior” .
Fighting for paid parental leave does not devalue women who choose to be stay-at-home moms; it does not put a higher value on women who choose to pursue careers more than women who choose to stay at home.
As we fight for women and men to be able to thrive in the choices they make, we build a brighter future for our children.
Economics of Paid Maternity Leave: