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24 March 2013

TIME OFF WITH BABY IV: Western Europe, in Her Infinite Wisdom

As we now consider the effects of paid parental leave policies studied in Time Off With Baby: The Case for Paid Leave Care, let's remind ourselves what the purposes of paid care leave are:
       "The Primary motivations for providing rights to parental leave are to:

  • more easily balance the competing demands of work and child rearing,
  • to enhance the labor market position of women, and
  • to improve child health and development." pp. 112
Let's just take a moment to breathe with that sentence. 
I defy even the GOP to find anyone on God's Green Earth who believes these aims are not worth fighting for.

So, what are the policies in Europe and Canada and how do they affect children and families?
  • The nations studied offer:
  1. a minimum of 3 to 4 months of paid time off;
  2. often at least 6 months off but as much as a year or more of paid time;
  3. frequent rights to additional unpaid leave with job protection; and
  4. benefits that can be split between mothers and fathers (often giving additional supplements when fathers take a minimum of 2 weeks time).
  • For the most part parents took the full available allotment with women especially taking advantage of benefits, suggesting that policies must ameliorate the challenges of work-family balance.
  • "Short and intermediate duration" leaves have positive effects on women and employment: increases in female employment and reemployment after giving birth; and there were either no effect or small positive effects on women's wages. Fun fact: Danish researchers saw women's wages increase when leave time was increased from 14 to 20 weeks! (More women choosing to return to the same position after a period with baby rather than quit altogether?)
  • Possible effects of the "glass ceiling" were seen in employment segregation due to stymied female advancement, but only in nations where leave is extensive - over 1 yr. In the U.S. such long periods are not under consideration, so this is moot.
  • Some research showed child health benefits including reductions in infant and baby mortality, especially from 2 to 12 months when parent involvement is most crucial -- except in terms of education. However, raising a child is not building a computer. I'll wager that every parent out there who is involved in their child's life is as interested in psychological well-being, relationships, communication, self-reliance, and recently highlighted qualities like resilience of character - perhaps even more than educational achievement. It is in these developmental arenas that our children thrive due to our closeness, attention and love in the early months (see previous posts)- for we are raising human beings who feel, express, engage, enjoy, experience, and love other people, the world and themselves.*
  • However, research in Norway found that when paid care leave was, again, increased from 12 to 18 weeks, there were educational benefits, especially for girls and less educated children (the most vulnerable) suggesting that this increased bonding and support time in emotional care does contribute to a child's ability to learn - something, I think, frankly, is so obvious it's almost embarrassing to have to mention.
This is what paid care leave the world over looked like a month ago:

While I believe the U.S. can learn a lot from our brother and sister nations on Earth (and use a dose of healthy competition), I also know each nation has its own challenges, and the governmental policies of each nation reflect the culture of its peoples. So next week we'll take a closer look at our homeland through the policies of California answering what we tried and how it went down.

See you next week!

For more on character development I recommend The Social Animal by David Brooks or The Soul's Code by James Hillman, not to mention the poetry of Joy Harjo.

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