Than Candy And Flowers, Working Parents Need Paid Time-Off
More than half of all U.S. mothers were employed when
they gave birth in the year 2000 and more than half returned to
work within three months of giving birth. By the time their children
reached their first birthday, 63 percent of mothers were back at
work. Many of these mothers returned to work sooner than they would
have liked because their right to a leave was brief or because of
financial pressures. Is this in the best interest of the child and
the mother? Do we provide adequate opportunities for mothers to
physically recover from childbirth and for parents to bond with
their newborns? What infant care options are available to working
parents? What opportunities are parents in other industrialized
The United States first enacted a national parental leave policy
in 1993. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires certain
employers to allow eligible workers to take up to 12 weeks unpaid,
job-protected leave each year. Parents can use the leave to care
for a newborn, newly-adopted, or foster child. The law has made
it possible for more parents to stay at home with the arrival of
a newborn, but because the leave is unpaid, and too brief for many,
there are many who continue to feel economic and job-risk pressures
to return to work sooner than they are ready to.
Once again, the United States is an outlier compared to other countries,
both industrialized and developing, when it comes to policies that
support parents' ability to be at home to care for their babies.
Around the world, statutory childbirth-related leaves, both paid
and unpaid, average about a year and a half. Some 128 countries
currently provide paid and job-protected childbirth-related leave.
The average paid leave is for 16 weeks, which includes pre- and
post-birth time off. In some countries leave is mandatory and in
most cases, paid leave is a maternity leave. In nearly half the
countries, the paid leave replaces the full wage (or the maximum
covered by social insurance). This policy affords mothers, and sometimes
fathers, time to spend with their children at a critical time and
reduces parental economic anxieties and pressures.
Despite the growing pressures from both liberal and conservative
camps in the United States to give pregnant working women and new
mothers more time to prepare for and spend with their babies, parental
leave policy in the United States stands in sharp contrast to the
policies that exist around the world, especially among its peer
countries. The well-being of young children, mothers, and fathers,
too, are compromised by this gap in U.S. social policy.
Do Parental Leave Policies Accomplish?
Rising rates of maternal employment both internationally
and domestically, especially among mothers of infants, has
pushed parental leave policies to the "front burner".
Concern over developmentally appropriate care options and
skepticism about group care as an appropriate alternative
for infants, have increased the attractiveness of parental
leave as a policy option.
Cross-nationally, the goals of parental leave policies are:
1. to support family work and child rearing and to create
an incentive for women to leave the labor force when children
are very young; or
2. to facilitate women's work outside the home and help reconcile
work and family life by protecting and promoting the well-being
of children while their parent(s) are in the labor force;
3. to permit women and parents to choose between the above
options to suit their own preferences.
Do Current Policies Come From?
Paid maternity leaves were first established as part of the
invention and enactment of social insurance by Bismarck in
the Germany of the 1880s. The first national social insurance
law was enacted in 1883, providing for health insurance, paid
sick leave, and paid maternity leaves. France followed soon
after. In 1919 the International Labor Organization (ILO)
adopted the first convention on maternity protection, stating
that women working in industry and commerce should be entitled
to a maternity leave of 12 weeks in two equal parts proceeding
and following childbirth, with the part following birth being
compulsory. It also declared that while on leave women should
receive a cash benefit that would be at least two-thirds of
prior earnings. Although the convention was revised and extended
further in 1952, the dramatic expansion of parental leave
policies occurred in the 1970s.
The unprecedented rise in labor force participation rates
of women in many of the advanced industrialized countries
during the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, led to the
provision of longer and more generous maternity leaves in
the OECD countries; and launched a movement toward parental
leaves. There emerged a recognition, that continues to grow,
that leaves constitute an important component of child care
policies, in particular policies regarding infant care. The
policies that were put into place in the 1970s were driven
not only by the concern for the mother (as they had been in
earlier policies), but for the well-being of children as well.
A European Union (EU) directive mandating a paid 14 week maternity
leave was adopted as a health and safety measure in 1992 and
a directive mandating a three-month parental leave was enacted
in 1998. New parental leave policies were adopted in several
EU countries as a result.
leaves from employment for employed women at the time
they are due to give birth and following childbirth
(or adoption in some countries). In some countries the
pre-birth leave is compulsory as is a 6-10 week leave
following birth. In most countries beneficiaries may
combine pre- with post-birth leave.
job-protected leaves from employment that usually follow
maternity leaves and permit either men or women to share
the leave or choose which of them will use it. If there
is no specified maternity leave, a portion of these
leaves is usually reserved for women, to ensure a period
of physical convalescence and recovery after childbirth.
Recently, in some countries, some portion of the parental
leave is reserved for fathers, on a "use it or
lose it" basis, to create an incentive for fathers
to play a more active parenting role. In some countries,
there are supplementary leaves which are unpaid.
leaves from employment for fathers, for many of the
same purposes as maternity and parental leaves, but
especially for reasons of gender equity. They are usually
much briefer than maternity leaves, function as supplements
to such leaves, and are especially important when a
second child is born and the first child requires care
while mother and newborn may need help. Take-up is usually
quite high for these leaves, in contrast to fathers'
use of parental leaves.
rearing leaves: Leaves
from employment which developed in some countries as
a supplement to maternity leaves or as a variation on
parental leaves. Longer than maternity leaves, sometimes
not limited to parents with a prior work attachment,
and paid at a much lower level, the benefit is often
described as a kind of "mother's wage". In
some countries the cash benefit may be the equivalent
of the government subsidy for out-of-home ECEC and used
either to supplement family income while one parent
is at home or to purchase private care.
Job- and benefit-protected leaves for
working parents including maternity (birth or adoption),
paternity, parental, child-rearing, care for an ill
child, time to accompany a child to school for the first
time, or to visit a child's school, personal leaves.
May be paid or unpaid. When paid, benefit is usually
included in taxable income.
The ILO Convention on Maternity Protection (1999, No. 103,
1952) was also revised and adopted in June 2000, this time
strengthening job protection and broadening the scope of coverage.
The ILO recommends a 14 week, job-protected maternity leave
(including 6 weeks prior to birth) and that leave should be
extended "in the case of illness, complications or risk
of complications arising out of pregnancy or childbirth."
The new world standard adopted by the ILO says that cash benefits
should be publicly funded and "at a level that ensures
that the woman can maintain herself and her child in proper
conditions of health and with a suitable standard of living."
Internationally, the trend in the 1980s and 1990s was to
establish parental leave as a supplement to maternity leave,
to extend leave policies to create a real alternative to out-of-home
infant care, and to make leave policies a critical instrument
of gender equity.
Does the United States Offer Parents?
Efforts to implement family leave policies in the United States
date back to at least 1942 when the Women's Bureau of the U.S Department
of Labor proposed that employed women have six weeks of prenatal
leave and eight weeks after childbirth. Unlike its European counterparts,
the United States did not enact or expand national family leave
policies in the 1960s and 1970s when maternal employment was on
the rise. Instead, family leave policy in the United States was
initiated by state level actions. By 1987, nine states had unpaid
maternity leave laws in place and by 1989, another 14 states added
maternity (3 states) or parental (11 states) leave. Interest in
enacting federal family leave legislation began to grow after this
and in 1985, the first family leave bill was introduced in Congress.
It wasn't until 1993 that the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
was passed and signed into law. The act requires employers with
50 or more employees to provide up to 12 weeks unpaid, job-protected
leave each year to eligible employees to care for 1) a newborn,
newly-adopted, or foster child, 2) a child, spouse, or parent with
a serious health condition, or 3) a serious health condition of
the employee, including maternity-related disability. Employees
may be required to use accrued sick leave or vacation time to cover
some or all of the leave. Employers may deny leave to an employee
within the highest paid 10 percent of its work force (a "key"
employee), if letting the worker take leave would create a problem
for the firm.
FMLA provides important workplace protection for millions of American
workers, but it still falls short of meeting the needs of American
families. There remain 45 percent of workers who are not covered
by the Act, and among those who are covered, many are financially
unable to afford taking the unpaid leave to which they are entitled.
States continue to lead the fight for expansions in parental leave
policies. Some job-protected maternity leave is provided in 20 states,
and 10 states plus the District of Columbia have laws that give
at least some male workers the right to job-protected paternity
leave. The length of leave varies from four to 18 weeks and coverage
is not universal either. The availability of paid leave in the states
is not typical and information regarding this is not systematically
collected. Most state policy initiatives focus on two potential
funding vehicles to fund paid parental and family leave: expanding
the Unemployment Insurance (UI) system to cover the costs of paid
family leave also known as Baby UI; and, expanding state Temporary
Disability Insurance (TDI) funds. While either of these expansions
would considerably broaden parental leave coverage, each has its
shortcomings. Extending state UI systems to allow states to compensate
parents who take leave to care for newborns or newly adopted children,
could be costly and would still leave many parents uncovered. Using
state TDI to fund parental leave is a policy instrument already
in place. There are mandatory TDI programs in five states (California,
Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island) and Puerto Rico.
Employer or employee contributions, or contributions from both,
fund these plans. Employers in the nonparticipating 45 states may
voluntarily participate in group TDI plans for their workers, with
full or partial premium coverage, as a fringe benefit. Employees
can also purchase individual policies. It is a very inexpensive
benefit. The main drawback of TDI programs is that they provide
no guaranteed right to return to work.
High-quality group care for infants and toddlers can enrich children's
early experience and provide critical support to their families.
Neuroscientific research has highlighted the importance of early
experiences, noting that early care and nurture have a decisive,
long-lasting impact on how children develop, their ability to learn,
and their capacity to regulate their own emotions. Studies show
that the existing supply of infant care falls far short of the current
need, and that about half of all existing home-based and center-based
infant care programs can be rated as of poor quality, a substantial
portion of which can be considered detrimental to young children's
long-term health and social well-being.
Do Other Countries Provide For Parents?
Worldwide, the average paid leave is about 16 weeks, typically including
six weeks before birth. In most of the countries providing a paid
leave, it is a maternity leave. Some countries, in addition to paid
leave, provide a lump sum "birth allowance", or nursing
allowance, or in-kind childbirth "package" consisting
of clothing, pharmaceutical items, etc.
The standard for the European Union (EU) or the OECD countries
goes well beyond the ILO convention. Among the 29 OECD countries,
by and large the most advanced industrialized countries, the average
childbirth-related leave (maternity, paternity, and parental leaves)
including both paid and unpaid, is almost one and a half years,
with additional time provided in some countries for leaves to take
care of an ill child. The average duration of the paid leave is
36 weeks, typically including 14-16 weeks of paid maternity leave,
supplemented by a paid parental or child rearing leave. In some
cases both the pre-and post-birth "maternity" component
are mandatory, while in others the two can be added together and
used after childbirth.
In most countries, benefits are funded and paid through the same
system as sickness benefits (statutory paid sick leave); and in
95 of the countries health and medical care as well as maternity
leaves and benefits are provided. In almost all but the U.S., health
care or health insurance is available to all women at the time of
Paternity and Parental
Increasingly, especially among industrialized countries, leaves
are being extended to fathers (paternity leave) or parents are being
given the option of which parent can take a leave (parental leave).
Four countries- Denmark, Italy, Norway, and Sweden - have recently
extended their paid parental leaves and mandated that at least one
month of this addition be a "use it or lose it" option
for fathers. In Austria, three years of extended leave is offered,
only if the father takes at least six months of the leave before
the child turns three. Twenty-one countries provide a supplementary
parental leave; in 13 it is paid, in seven until the baby is 1 ½
-3 years old. In all these countries, the policy covers adoption
as well. The only difference in the policies is the adoption leave
is limited to the post-childbirth period and counted either from
the day the child arrives in the parents' home, or the day parents
leave to collect the child, if from another country.
An emerging trend is for parental or "child rearing"
leaves to be offered on a full or part-time basis over an extended
period of time. This allows either parent to remain at home or work
part-time with job-protection and benefits. Usually, it can be taken
over an extended time period, if desired, until a child's third,
fifth, or eighth year. Among the 29 industrialized countries, only
8 did not offer extended leave policies - these were: Australia,
Ireland, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, Turkey and the
United States. In Finland and Norway parental choice is supported
by giving parents a cash benefit that can be used either to supplement
income or to purchase care, at parents' option.
2: National Take-up Rates of Parental Leave
|| Percent take-up
Wilkinson, H. et. al. (1997). Time out: The costs and benefits
of paid parental leave. London: Demos; 1)Eironline, Nordic seminar
highlights equal opportunities from men's perspective (http:
www.eiro.eurofound.ie accessed 4/17/02); 2)2European Commission
(1998). Care in Europe: Joint Report of the "Gender and
Employment" and the Gender and Law" Groups of Experts.
3)Waldfogel, J. (2001). Family and medical leave:evidence from
2000 surveys, Monthly Labor Review.
In countries for which take-up rates are available, parental leave
among women tends to be over 90 percent (except for the Netherlands).
In contrast, take-up rates among men are very low except in Iceland,
Sweden and Norway.
Family leaves to care for an ill child or family members are beginning
to be established in Europe as well. An EU directive has mandated
such leaves. Medical evidence and documentation must be provided
regarding the child or family member's illness. Sweden also provides
paid time off to visit a child's school (and Greece provides unpaid
time off for this purpose.)
In 16 of the OECD countries, the cash benefit provided while on
leave replaces between 70 percent of prior wages and the full wage
(or the maximum covered under social insurance). In another seven
countries the benefit replaces between 50 and 70 percent of the
wage. Only in the UK and Iceland is the overall benefit less than
this. Typically, when the parental (or child rearing) leave is separate
from the maternity leave, the benefit level is lower than the maternity
benefit. On the other hand, paternity benefits tend to be fully
Coverage and Eligibility
Except for Germany's child rearing leave which is available to almost
all parents, Sweden and Norway, where a small minimum benefit is
provided to any woman covered under health insurance (and housewives
can be covered), and Denmark, where unemployed mothers can be covered
by a modest benefit for the extended parental leave, eligibility
for these benefits is restricted to women who have been employed
for at least some minimum time before childbirth. A woman's work
history, and the length of time she has been employed, may affect
the level of the benefit she receives, and the availability of the
benefit creates either a work incentive or disincentive, depending
on how it is designed.
Just about all these benefits - whether maternity, paternity, parental,
or family leaves - are universal, that is they are available to
all working women regardless of income. The only exceptions are
New Zealand, which provides an income-tested maternity leave benefit
to poor single mothers only, Germany, where the income ceiling for
its child rearing supplementary benefit is such that about 80 percent
of all new parents qualify, and France, where the benefit covering
the supplementary parental leave is income-tested, but also at a