Support Our Parents

Unlike the majority of industrialized countries in the world, the U.S. provides little legislative protection to ensure that new parents are granted paid leave after child birth.

Just one week ago, the United States celebrated the reason we are all here: mothers giving birth. In other words, Mother’s Day happened as usual with citizens thanking their mothers. However, John Oliver, the host of “Last Week Tonight,” reminded the U.S. in his typical hilarious fashion how we can better thank mothers: paid maternity leave. While that’s true, there’s an even better solution: Offer paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers.

First, let’s get the facts straight. Currently in the U.S., there is no federal government requirement for any type of paid leave, paternal or maternal. The United States is one of only four countries with no national paid maternity leave, along with Swaziland, Lesotho and Papua New Guinea, according to the UK Guardian. Instead, the New York Times tells us about the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 which requires companies within the U.S. with more than 50 employees to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new parents.

There are two key things to note about this. Although legally mandated, this is still unpaid leave. For new families who are usually strapped for cash, spending three months getting no pay is unrealistic. More often than not, mothers and fathers will shorten their leave because they cannot afford to spend so much time while not receiving pay. Thus for maternity and paternity leave to be effective and for it to be used, it’s crucial that parental leave includes pay.

Second, though the act dictates that leave must be offered for fathers as well as mothers, the New York Times points out that 20 percent of companies illegally fail to offer any paternity leave. This will be discussed as an equally crucial detail that cannot be left out of the equation. Despite this, there is a small silver lining. There are three states within the U.S. that require paid family leave: California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, according to Politifact.com. However, three out of 50 states leaves out the vast majority of the country, showing the need for a national solution.

It’s clear that the U.S. does not have paid parental leave, but why is it even important to have? The most obvious reasons are the benefits mothers get from maternity leave. Today, 70 percent of mothers are working, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Paid leave gives working mothers a chance to recover from the difficult task of childbirth while not having to worry about income or losing their job. In addition, studies show that when companies offer paid maternity leave, working mothers are significantly less likely to drop out of the workforce, according to Slate Magazine.

However, if we really want to help the situation, paternity leave must be offered as well. This helps fathers, benefits families and supports women in the workforce. The New York Times reported that men who take a hands-on role in their children’s lives, have healthier children and their wives have a lower risk of getting depression after childbirth. Social scientists have published many studies showing that children are less likely to develop a mental illness later on in life when both parents play an active role in their upbringing. In addition, a study in the journal Public Health shows that fathers who took paternity leave actually lived longer. In Sweden, a study which offered paid leave for fathers from 1978 to 1979 shows that these men had a 16-percent decreased risk of death. The study also showed that the longer the paid leave, the better the life expectancy.

This also ties into the aspect of equal pay. Harvard Business Review did a study on “off ramps,” also known as breaks from a career, which causes lower wage earnings later on. Women statistically take more “off ramps” than men, and taking leave to give birth is a common example of an “off ramp.” It should also be noted that the loss of career earnings that women face for taking maternity leave apply to men who take paternity leave as well.  However, according to the New York Times, when men take parental leave, their wives face greater career earnings later on. When both parents take the same time off work, this lessens the gender gap in wages.

Altogether, this reflects a bigger trend. No longer do traditional families have one sole breadwinner and one sole caregiver, nor should they. Instead, caregiver and breadwinner roles should be shared by both parents. This leads to healthier families and more diverse companies with more equal pay. As a service that would benefit mothers, fathers, children and the workforce, it’s incredibly disappointing that the U.S. doesn’t have it yet. The point is that when you offer paid parental leave, everybody wins.

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