United States: Maternity benefits downsides

EducationWorld July 15 | Education World

At a ˜boot camp™ for parents-to-be in New York, course leaders guide their students through baby maintenance for beginners: what goes in, what comes out, and how to keep them warm and clean. The students have the same questions and worries as expectant parents the world over. But there™s one difference: at this particular boot camp, all students are men.
The City Dads Group, which offers the course to new and expectant fathers, was founded when Matt Schneider and Lance Somerfeld became fathers and discovered that society saw their place as firmly outside the home. New York was full of parents™ support groups, but nearly all were aimed at mothers. Parenting classes focused on birth and breastfeeding, not child-rearing; general-interest groups were needlessly gendered, such as a music class called œMommy and Me. Frustrated, the friends set up their own group, which has spread to 17 cities in America, helping dads who want to get involved from day one. œFatherhood doesn™t start when children join the Little League (baseball), says Schneider.
Around the world, legal and financial support for new parents is better than it has ever been. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), 85 percent of countries now provide at least 12 weeks™ maternity leave. In all but two of the 185 countries it surveys, mothers are entitled to some leave paid for by the state, employers or a combination of the two. (The hold-outs are Papua New Guinea and America, although a few states offer basic support.) Though only a third of countries meet the ILO™s recommended minimum of at least 14 weeks off for new mothers, two-thirds their salary and funded publicly, the picture in the rich world is broadly good, and in the poor world improving.
Most countries have found that when they offer decent maternity leave, they increase female employment. If women have no right to take time off, or are entitled only to short or poorly paid spells of absence, many have little choice but to leave the workforce when their baby is born. If they can take a few months of paid leave before returning to their old jobs, they are more likely to continue working. American states that introduced a right to family leave found women were 5 percent more likely to go back to work within nine months of giving birth.
But it turns out that even shorter maternity breaks have unintended consequences. Time away from the labour market reduces women™s earning power, as their skills degrade and they miss chances to gain experience and win promotion. Moving into senior management becomes particularly hard, partly because of discrimination by bosses and hiring committees, who reject candidates they think may be away a lot, and partly because many high-level jobs are hard to combine with serial leave-taking.
The effect is magnified when lengthy maternity leave is combined with policies to encourage part-time work, which tempt more women back into the labour force but help keep them in junior positions. Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn of Cornell University found that in America, where miserly maternity policies mean relatively few women work outside the home, those who do, are more likely to work full-time and twice as likely to hold managerial positions as women in other rich countries.

(Excerpted and adapted from )

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