Lack of parental leave in the US appalls me

I continue to find stories like this one shocking, Census Bureau: More mothers back at work a month after giving birth.

“More employed mothers are returning to work within a month of having their first child, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Thursday. Eight out of 10, or 82%, of working women whose first child was born from 2006 to 2008 were back on the job within a month. From 1991 through 1995, only 73% of first-time mothers went back to work in the first month, the bureau said.”

According to wikipedia: “Only four countries have no national law mandating paid time off for new parents: Liberia, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and the United States.”

In contrast, also from wikipedia, in Sweden all working parents are entitled to 16 months paid leave per child. In Estonia mothers are entitled to 18 months of paid leave. In the UK, all female employees are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity (or adoption) leave. In Canada parental leave is 35 weeks divided as desired between two parents. This is in addition to 15 weeks maternity leave.

More here: Paid-leave benefits lag for working moms in U.S..

8 thoughts on “Lack of parental leave in the US appalls me

  1. yes, let’s do get our priorities straight!

    and while i’m sure canada is nice, i refuse to give up on my people here at home. just saying, as they say. we deserve better.

  2. Actually, I think that the L.A. Times piece that you linked to misreported the stats. The Census Bureau webpage discussing the data ( actually indicates that “Eight out of 10 (82 percent) working women who had their first birth between 2006 and 2008 worked within one month of their child’s birth” and other sources (like this one: suggest that what the statistic indicates is that 82% of pregnant working women work until they are 8+ months pregnant. But it appears that 59% of working women were back at work *three* months after the baby’s arrival. That statistic makes more sense to me. While I know some women who returned to work after 6 or 8 weeks, I don’t know too many women who were back within the first month. Of course, that said, I still think that lack of parental leave in the US is problematic.

  3. In fairness, while it may be true (let’s give Wikipedia the benefit of the doubt, for the sake of argument) that “Only four countries [including the US] have no national law mandating paid time off for new parents”, that’s a little misleading. The US also has no national law generally prohibiting murder or rape, either; not because it is benighted or barbaric, but because so much legal regulation is handled at the state level. In fact, there are a number of US states that do mandate paid time off. But even if they didn’t, there is sufficient uncertainty and disagreement about the effects of paid parental leave, and the propriety and fairness of making it mandatory (unpaid leave is already mandatory), to warrant refraining from treating this question as though the correct policy answer were somehow a no-brainer.

    Rational arguments against mandatory paid parental leave exist (e.g. Rational arguments in favor of it obviously exist as well; no point descending into a game of “dueling experts” here, and I’m not taking sides in this post. Suffice it to say that reasonable and very well informed people can and do disagree about the matter.

  4. @Nemo.
    Do you seriously think this is a rational argument against paid leave for new parents? I find the point in the article is deeply sexist, it does not take in to serious consideration the fact that many fathers would and should also like to spend time with their newborns. What about equal leave for mothers and fathers? Say 6 months and 6 months? Paid by a national health insurance plan supported by the taxes now being spent on defense?

    And Germany is not a particularly good country for parents like the Scandinavian countries are. It’s almost impossible to find day care for children under the age of three years old and it’s still socially acceptable that women forfeit their education and careers for being stay at home mothers. I find a society where the reasonably priced childcare from the age of 6 months is unavailable very female unfriendly.

    This is what I find appaling: “As it is, U.S. women work full time at far higher rates than women in many countries, quite often because they have no choice. How is this family friendly?”

    Why is it less family friendly when women work? What about men? Why is it considered normal that they work but not ‘family friendly’ when women do it? It’s this type of deeply rooted sexism + a privatized health insurance system + money spent on war instead of health and education that is the real problem.

  5. @Helga,

    At the risk of repeating myself, I think rational arguments exist on both sides (and in between) and that reasonable and well-informed people can and do disagree. It’s beyond the scope of this thread (or my involvement in it, anyhow) to address whether any particular argument is *correct*.

    I will, however, address something you said at the end of your comment suggesting that defense budgeting is an important part of the problem for US social policy (this was also discussed recently in the comments to another post: As noted in that thread, it seems highly questionable whether a long list of countries (including the Scandinavian countries) would find their current levels and schemes of social welfare sustainable if they were not being indirectly subsidized by US defense spending and the security guarantees it offers. (I leave aside the question of whether they are ultimately sustainable even *with* that US subsidy.)

    So even if we assume for the sake of argument that it may be part of the problem for US social policy, high levels of US defense spending have pretty clearly been part of the solution for the social policies of the other nations that benefit from it.

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