Paid Maternity Leave in America: Why are we the only developed country not to have it?
“When new Moms first come back to work, they need someone to tell them, ‘You are going to feel crazy, It’s ok to feel crazy. You won’t always feel crazy”- Overheard at She Runs it Working Mother of the year Awards. In the United States, with only 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave as a direct result of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, it is easy to feel insane coming back to work as a new mom. Imagine wanting to build a family but not knowing if you will have job security if you choose to do so. This is what women in the United States face on a daily basis, choosing their career over their family or vice versa as a result of non guaranteed paid parental leave. Why is the United States, a first world developed country, the only developed country not to have government mandated paid maternity leave? In a country built on the foundations of justice, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it is remarkable to think in the year 2019, we are still fighting to give women government mandated paid maternity leave because women should not have to choose between having a family or a career. Women should be able to live the “American Dream” in this land of opportunity. The majority of countries have government mandated paid maternity leave regardless of their economic status. Comparing the various social, economic, paid maternity leave and gender equality policies of Sweden, Canada, Tajikistan, and Mongolia, all countries with different economic backgrounds and government mandated paid maternity leave, to the United States will allow us to comprehend and grasp the reasoning behind the nonexistent paid maternity policies in the United States.
First, in order to understand paid maternity policies, it is crucial to define and elaborate on the definition. According to ABC of women workers rights and gender equality, maternity leave is the leave from work to which a woman is entitled for a continuous period before and after giving birth. An essential part of maternity leave is the right to return to the same work or one with the same pay, upon returning from leave. According to Convention No. 183 (Art.8), this provides that “while a women is absent from work on maternity leave or during a nationally specified period following her return from work, it shall be unlawful to dismiss her, except on grounds unrelated to the pregnancy or birth of the child and its consequences or nursing with the burden or proof resting on the employer.” Government mandated maternity leave allows a woman to have job security after she has a child, but this does not guarantee her to receive an income while on maternity leave. Most countries have maternity protection for employed women. According to ABC of women workers rights and gender equality, maternity protection is “an essential element in equality of opportunity” and “seeks to enable women to combine their reproductive and productive roles successfully, and to prevent unequal treatment in employment due to women’s reproductive role.” According to convention No. 183 and Recommendation No.191 (2000), maternity leave protection includes maternity leave, cash and medical benefits, protection of the health of the mother and child during pregnancy, the mother’s right to breastfeed a child after her return to work, and employment protection and non discrimination which guarantees women employment security and the right to return to the same job with the same pay. The United States, as a result of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, guarantees 12 weeks of maternity leave, which gives mothers maternity protection and leave. This leave, however, is not guaranteed to be paid.
Although there are a series of conventions protecting the right of women to maternity leave protection and maternity leave, there are many myths surrounding what may happen in the United States if there is government mandated paid maternity leave. Myths that surround paid paternity leave are based on inaccurate perspectives. Some people view maternity leave as a vacation. We remember an episode of The Office where Jim created an excuse that he had jury duty to hide the fact he was at home with Pam, taking care of their two children, where one was a newborn. Many people in the office believed he was staying at home, hanging out with his wife. After he was accused of lying, he and Pam came into work, and their new chaotic life was shown. They were then asked to go back home because they realized Jim staying at home to help with his two children was no vacation. Another myth that people believe is that lack of productivity happens after people return to work from maternity leave. Additionally, working people already have a paid leave that can be used to take care of their family and children, which in many cases is false because very few people receive paid time away from work.
In addition to the myths surrounding paid maternity leave, there are many pros and cons. Pros of paid maternity leave include more time to bond with the baby, less pressure on providing for family during leave, allowing women to earn wages that are normally lost during leave, and retaining valuable employees. Cons of paid maternity leave include costs for more companies to pay someone who is not working. Non parents may also become upset about new moms getting paid maternity leave and them not receiving paid time off. They also fear the leave will be abused. Despite the cons of having paid maternity leave, the benefits exponentially outweigh the cons. According to a recent study done by the University of Maryland, by having paid maternity leave, new moms are more likely to bond with their baby without the stress of finances, which can limit postpartum depression. According to UMD right now, "In the United States, most working women are back to work soon after giving birth, with the majority not taking more than three months of leave," Dr. Dagher said. "But our study showed that women who return to work sooner than six months after childbirth have an increased risk of postpartum depressive symptoms." This means that women in the United States are at an increased risk for postpartum depression because they only receive 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave as opposed to other countries who receive at least 14 weeks of paid maternity leave.
One of these countries with a well-developed maternity leave policy is Sweden. In fact, Sweden has government mandated paid paternity leave. Their paternity leave policy offers up to 480 days off for each child, and they are encouraged to split the time with their partner. Those on paternity leave will receive up to 80 percent of their salary. They have a quite generous policy for paternity leave, and it is the only country that allows for parents to split their time off. The compensation that parents receive has had a great effect on their economy, and they plan to continue to develop this as their economy develops.
Sweden is a high income country with a diverse and successful economy. They have a liberal approach to trades and business. Sweden is a major world exporter, and they are known for exporting forest products, such as timber. In the past Sweden dealt with low growth and high inflation. However, they have completely remodeled their economy and have had a steady economic growth over the past few years. Sweden’s social policies are highly developed compared to other countries. Their social welfare system has led to low poverty and low income inequalities. Sweden’s health care is excellent, and they are quite efficient in taking care of their citizens, especially families. They are advanced in their gender equality policies and plan on making a “dad month.” During this month, fathers will take a month off of work for paternity leave. This month off would help with postpartum depression in new mothers and also allow for bonding time between the child and father. Sweden has made great strides in their economy and they are well-known for having one of the best paternity leave policies.
Another progressive country that has taken action with maternity and parental leave is Canada. Canada compared to other countries has a high income. It has a market economy and is considered competitive among other countries. Their natural resources are responsible for their economic growth, and many countries choose to do business with them. Canada also emphasizes the importance of education and keeping crime rates low. While there is discrimination against indigenous women, there are many women in the workforce who benefit from their policies regarding maternity and paternity leave. Globalization has affected many of their social programs concerning maternity leave. These new policies have reformed a woman’s place in the workforce and have recognized the importance of women’s health and recovery while caring for a new child. These policies also apply for adoption. They have not overlooked the importance of bonding with a new child, whether it be after birth or adoption. Canada began with 12 weeks of maternity leave and has expanded to 52 weeks. The paid time off may be applied to either parent, but it is usually taken up by mothers rather than fathers. It was in 2001 when Canada changed their policy from 12 weeks to a year. Canada took action earlier than other countries and stands out in their paternity leave policy. “For example, in the UK, 26 weeks of paid maternity leave was introduced in 2003, but parental leave is unpaid. In 2002, New Zealand introduced payments for new parents for a total of 12 weeks” (Evans). While these other welfare countries have adjusted to fit the needs of new parents, many have not. Canada still stands as one of the countries with the best paternity leave policies. Having said that, paternity leave is valued in Canada. It is just as important for the father to have time to bond with his new child along with the mother. The significance of bonding during the first year of life can be seen in other countries’ paternity and maternity leave policies as well.
In Tajikistan, maternity leave can be used before and after giving birth. In the case of difficult pregnancies or births, more time will be given upon discretion. While on maternity leave, women will receive a full benefit that is equal to what they would make while working. Along with maternity leave, women are able to take up to 3 years off to care for their child. This policy is called child care leave and originally begins at 1.5 years and can expand to 3 years depending on the needs of the family. In the case of child care leave, full payment is not provided for the mother. The benefits of maternity leave can be given to a father, grandparent, or any guardian as well. “Labour Code envisages similar terms of maternity leave and child care leave for persons who have adopted a child or are exercising custody over a child or children” (Article 166). Having said that, whoever has custody is allowed to take time off to bond with their child. Tajikistan has flexible policies depending on the needs of the parent and the time they would like to have off to care for their child. While the extended period of time is not a paid leave the option is still available.
Tajikistan has high poverty rates. That being said, their income status is low, and they are dependent on other countries for maintaining their economy. This country is not as progressive as other countries analyzed in this essay; Tajikistan continues to have a patriarchal society, and women do not have the same rights as men. Culture plays a major role in social policies, but the importance of family confirms maternity and paternity leave for working citizens. Another law in Tajikistan forbids pregnant women, women with children, and single mothers with children under 16 from being terminated. The only exception to this law would be a liquidation of a company. If a company must terminate an employee they are required to find employment for the individual. Tajikistan recognizes the importance of caring for one’s family and ensures benefits for these women. This law can also be applied to fathers caring for their children if a mother is absent from the family in any circumstance.
Mongolia’s law on maternity leave requires a period of 120 days, 60 days prior to birth and 60 days after birth. Mongolia does not have paternity leave; only mothers can take this paid time off. Similar to Tajikistan, baby care leave is an extended option of maternity leave. This option is given to mothers and single fathers with children under the age of 3. Ultimately, baby care leave is up to the employer but when it is granted, the employer is required to pay the employee during their time off. Termination is not permitted, and when the parent returns back to work they will either have the same position or a new one.
Mongolia’s economic status is mid-income, meaning they have higher poverty levels but they are not dependent on other countries for survival. They have a market economy and are largely focused on agriculture and mining. Mongolia takes a traditional approach in societal norms and has not changed much over time. Compared to other countries women have more rights, but the struggle to find jobs or a secure workplace remains a problem in this country. Gender roles are still prevalent in their society, and the role of the mother caring for children is seen as more important than the father’s role. This may be why maternity leave is seen as more important than paternity leave.
After analyzing different forms of maternity and paternity leave in different countries, it is clear that they all value their employees and are willing to adjust the paid time off according to the family’s needs. All of these countries have different economic backgrounds but they all have something in common, the importance of paid maternity leave. From the research done we have seen that any country is capable of providing for their citizens in this manner.