By Julia Kurnik
When it comes to parenting duties and work-life balance, America has a problem. We’re one of three countries not to provide paid maternity leave — alongside Oman and Papua New Guinea. This doesn’t begin to discuss parental leave, a paid option across the Western world. This affects all parents, but especially mothers.
Women make less than men, but it’s more a mother gap than a gender gap. Unmarried, childless women earn $0.96 to a man’s $1 but married mothers earn just $0.76. Women also bear the brunt of the burden at home. Mothers spend twice the time as fathers on childcare. As an educated married 31-year-old, is this really my future?
Sweden has a fix- paid parental leave with incentivized fathers. If Dad takes at least one month then the parents get a bonus month — a “daddy month.” Today, 90% of fathers take leave. Not only are they spending time with their children, but mothers are flourishing. Excitingly, “a mother’s future earnings increase on average 7% for every month the father takes.” This is fantastic, but there’s more. Now “companies have come to expect employees to take leave irrespective of gender… Women’s paychecks are benefiting and the shift in fathers’ roles is perceived as playing a part in lower divorce rates.”
Other countries have noticed. Germany copied Sweden; within two years the paternity leave rate jumped from 3% to over 20%. Quebec embraced it and discovered long-lasting results. They say “fathers who take paternity leave are more likely, a year or so down the road, to change diapers, bathe their children, read them bedtime stories, and get up at night to tend to them.”
America needs this. We should pass a law modeled after California’s (offering 6 weeks paid parental leave at 55% salary, paid for by a small worker tax) but with Sweden’s “daddy month.” I propose a minimum standard of 12 weeks paid at 75% salary. If a father takes at least four then the parents get to split a bonus month. The cost will be shared by government, employees, and employers. Workers will contribute the small amount those in California currently do. Federal government will chip-in on a sliding scale. Truly small businesses won’t have to pay anything while major corporations will see no government funding. Everyone will have skin in the game; everyone will benefit.
Liberals will argue against taxing families, but benefits outweigh costs. First, we’re discussing a very small tax. In California it’s about $2.25 monthly. Second, women‘s income is higher even when taxed. In California, women with one-year-olds “increase their weekly hours of paid work by 16%.” Those increased hours are at a higher rate because “young mothers who benefit from the California programme see 5% higher hourly wages than those who do not.” And this is only based on California’s law- don’t forget about the “daddy month.” By using paid paternity leave a family’s lifetime earnings can increase quite a bit, as described earlier.
Liberals may argue this is prejudiced against gay families. Fixed! That “daddy month” is actually a “second-parent month.” If both parents take leave, they qualify. Let’s just not change the “daddy month” name to avoid scaring off conservatives. It’s our little secret.
Traditional conservatives will argue about a burden on business, but it’s light. Small businesses won’t pay anything. Employees will split the cost with government. Even at large companies without government benefits employees will still be shouldering about 40%. For companies already offering paid parental leave, this could end up a savings. Even for those who don’t, the benefits are huge. Paid parental leave decreases employee turnover.
Tea Party Republicans will argue government shouldn’t be involved. But, again, benefits outweigh costs. First, Sweden has seen a statistically significant decrease in divorce. This is a huge bonus (family values!) and good economics. Less divorce means fewer costs on parents and society; single parents are most likely to be recipients of government transfers. Second, we’ll lower healthcare costs. Paid maternity leave leads to longer breastfeeding and healthier children. Finally, remember how women will be earning more? That means more tax revenue — offsetting the additional spend.
It’s time for the US to offer paid parental leave and address bias against mothers. Women shouldn’t be doing more at work and home; they definitely shouldn’t face discrimination. Luckily, there’s a solution. The US can utilize proven strategies by offering paid parental leave with a “daddy month”. What’s not to like? Women will see a boost in pay, fathers will be more involved, divorce will drop, happiness will rise, health will improve, turnover will decrease… This is truly a win-win-win.
Let’s catch up with the rest of the world. We may not be Sweden, but surely we can do better than Oman.