How many women are taking maternity leave these days compared to prior years? While the federal government provides data about employers offering maternity leave, it does not track how often these benefits are utilized. Jay Zagorsky, a research scientist from Ohio State’s Center for Human Resource Research, decided to investigate. His research reveals some startling facts about the current state of parental leave in this country.
“There’s a lot of research that shows the benefits of allowing parents, especially mothers, to spend time with newborn children,” Zagorsky said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the number of women who receive those benefits has stagnated.”
Leave Policies Vary by Employer
The maternity, paternity, and adoption leave benefits currently being offered to parents in the United States vary from employer to employer. Some provide paid leave for moms and dads. But, other workers need to take unpaid time off. The Family and Medical Leave Act mandates that private employers with 50 or more employees allow workers to take 12 unpaid weeks during any 12-month period. But not all employees will qualify for leave, and many may not be able to afford to take unpaid leave when they can get it.
If our society truly understands the benefits of giving parents time to spend with their children right after they’re born, then something needs to change. If more paid time off were the norm here in the U.S., as it is in other industrialized countries, surely more parents would take advantage of the opportunity.
The Economy Has Grown, but Maternity Leave Rates Haven’t Budged
This study reveals just how sluggish progress has been when it comes to family leave opportunities. Zagorsky used data from a monthly U.S. census survey between the years 1994 and 2015 in order to calculate rates. He found that an average of 273,000 women take maternity leave each month. That number held surprisingly steady month after month, and year after year. So despite a growing economy, about as many women take maternity leave as they did 20-plus years ago.
Only about 12 percent of women have access to paid family leave, according to Zagorsky, so this shouldn’t surprise us. Widespread policy changes might help to begin to reverse the trend. A few states have expanded family leave mandates, but it hasn’t been enough to shift the bottom line for maternity leave rates on a national level.
Things Have Changed For Dads
When working dads take parental leave, everyone in the family benefits. The number of men taking paternity leave increased from about 5,800 men a month 20 years ago to about 22,000 per month in 2015. This is a good thing, although it’s important to note how few men still take leave compared with women.
Men are much more likely to be paid for their time off then women. Over 70 percent of men who take parental leave are compensated for their time. Women, on the other hand, are paid just 47.5 percent of the time. Men may be less likely to take time off when they aren’t compensated. New moms often don’t feel they have a choice. This might help to explain this difference. The bigger picture here is that it’s discrepancies like this that lead to larger injustices like the gender pay gap and the opportunity gap. Progress in these areas will also be more difficult without policy changes.
For more information, be sure to check out the report from Ohio State University.
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