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When It Comes to Paid Maternity Leave, the US Is Not a Developed Nation

The arguments over whether companies can afford to offer paid maternity leave go on, but the evidence that what is good for working families is also good for business continues to stack up. In addition to the experience of businesses who do offer paid leave, we must consider that the U.S. is alone as a developed nation that does not mandate paid parental leave. And yet, the other countries are not bankrupt.

The arguments over whether companies can afford to offer paid maternity leave go on, but the evidence that what is good for working families is also good for business continues to stack up. In addition to the experience of businesses who do offer paid leave, we must consider that the U.S. is alone as a developed nation that does not mandate paid parental leave. And yet, the other countries are not bankrupt.

maternity ward 

(Photo Credit: Mike Klein/Flickr)

In the United States, federal law allows new parents (mothers and/or fathers) to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave around the arrival of a new baby. This is assuming that the new parent has been employed by the employer for at least 12 months, and the place of business employs 50 people or more.

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If you are lucky enough to have worked for a big company for at least one year, you may still suffer complications with pregnancy that require you to start taking maternity leave before the birth of your baby. This leaves less time after the birth for recovery, bonding, and nursing, if the mother chooses to breastfeed.

Worldwide Statistics

Remember: the United States guarantees 12 weeks for some employees. Twelve weeks is 84 unpaid days.

As this infographic from 2013 displays, the United Kingdom wins the prize for best maternity leave policies with a whopping 280 days at 90 percent of pay. Benefits are offered to both mothers and fathers in the United Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia is the only country listed that offers fewer days than America, but the Saudis offer 40 percent pay for the 70 days of maternity leave. Germany, France, Russia, China, and the Netherlands offer 100 percent pay during their longer maternity leaves. It is reasonable to ask, therefore, why America still does not treat working families as well as other countries do.

(Graphic Credit: The Huffington Post)

Gender Pay Gap

Some argue that longer maternity leaves widen the gender pay gap. The crux of the argument is that mothers make less money than childless women.

“We can also look around at other parts of Europe and the pay gap tends to be least in those places where women with children tend not to work at all,” writes Tim Worstall at Forbes. “Their complete absences from the workforce, rather than their working part time or in more flexibility and child friendly jobs, means that average wages for women rise. Or, as we could put it, the more patriarchal the society, the lower the gender pay gap.”

Even if we were willing to throw in the towel and accept a patriarchal social structure, this obviously can’t be an answer in an era when most families need two incomes just to survive. Further, PayScale’s data indicates that the gender pay gap is in part a function of job selection. Women tend to choose jobs that pay less, and give back to society, and offer more flexibility. That latter factor is crucial, given that the U.S. makes no provision for paid maternity leave or child care subsidies. Erase the need to account for those factors, and we might well see women choosing to pursue higher paying jobs. 

Paid Leave Is Good for Business

“In a 2011 survey of 250 California businesses by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, 87 percent thought offering paid leave had no negative effect on costs,” writes Lauren Sandler at Bloomberg BusinessWeek. “In fact, 9 percent said it reduced costs.”

Companies that offer reasonable amounts of paid parental leave are on better economic footing than companies that don’t. They keep their well-trained staff and have little turnover; turnover is costly in time and money spent hiring temporary workers, interviewing, hiring permanent replacements, and training new people. Companies that treat their employees well also have loyal employees who have the energy to do a good job.

It’s time for the United States to join developed nations and pay families for parental leave.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think the federal government should mandate paid parental leave? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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Wow.. this is very interesting. useful information. Awesome i am very Happy Thanks.

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