How much maternity and paternity leave should employees get?
Just nine months after Marissa Mayer had her first baby — and sparked a national debate by taking only two weeks leave — Yahoo's 37-year-old CEO is making headlines again, this time for expanding maternity and paternity benefits. New moms will get 16 weeks paid leave after a baby is born, while new dads will get eight. And employees who have been with the company for five years or longer will receive $500 for expenses like onesies and babysitters.
Though it may look like a peace offering to Mayer's haters, Huffington Post's Alexis Kleinman says it's actually "Yahoo's latest attempt to lure talent by offering benefits in line with other Silicon Valley powerhouses." Indeed, big tech companies, including Mayer's ex-employer Google, offer some of the best benefits in the country. Google gives moms 22 weeks paid leave, and Facebook offers four months for both moms and dads. Facebook also offers $4K in spending cash. Compare that to Ford, which gives six to eight weeks paid maternity leave and only unpaid paternity leave.
And compare that to how much companies are legally required to offer under the Family and Medical Leave Act: 12 weeks unpaid.
So how does the U.S. measure up to the rest of the world? As this infographic shows, some countries require employers to give nearly a year of paid maternity leave.
And here's a more complete chart that shows paid leave requirements around the world.
The vast range in legal minimums leads to the question: How long of a break do new parents need after having or adopting a child? Judging from the debate surrounding Mayer's pregnancy, there's no easy answer.
Some argue that months of paid leave is essential, not just for the workers, but for society at large. Sarah Jane Glynn and Jane Ferrell of American Progress say:
Other countries recognize the many benefits of offering paid parental leave, from increased breastfeeding rates and better child health outcomes to greater paternal involvement in a child's life when leave is offered for men. Another well-documented effect of paid maternity leave is higher maternal employment: When women have access to paid leave after the birth of a new child, they are more likely to return to work than women who do not have access to paid leave. As a result, there is a strong relationship between maternal employment and women's access to paid maternity leave.
It should not be surprising, then, that countries guaranteeing longer paid maternity leave tend to enjoy lower child poverty rates as well... This is because the majority of women must take at least some time off from work to physically recover from childbirth, and paid leave makes them more likely to return to employment after. It is also because paid leave is associated with higher maternal wages. In the United States, access to paid maternity leave makes mothers less likely to rely on public assistance after the birth of a child. [American Progress]
Jessica Grose of Slate argues that it's not just a question of quantity, but flexibility as well:
The problem is with the rigidity of maternity leave, which instills in us the mindset that the only time new moms should not be working is in the immediate aftermath of a child's birth. For 12 weeks, minimum. I have a radical proposal for how to fix this: Allow women to take a set amount of time off in chunks, as needed, from the time they become pregnant up until a year after the baby is born.
I know, I know: This seems like an astronomical, possibly insane ask when you are already up against an American maternity leave policy that is among the worst in the industrialized world (we are only entitled to 12 weeks, unpaid, and only if you've worked at a company more than a year and the company has more than 50 employees). But it could be the policy that benefits new parents, babies, and employers the most, by letting women have a break when they're at their least productive — and encouraging new moms to spend time with their kids when, within that first year, they need it most. [Slate]
But some think companies shouldn't be required to pay workers for maternity leave. Jenny Erison from The Stir argues, "It's not your right to ask other people to support you while you fulfill your baby dreams."
There. Now that we have the tough love portion out of the way, let's talk about why a federal law requiring paid maternity or paternity leave is a bad idea for the United States: Because we're different.
America is nation founded on personal responsibility and self-sufficiency. It takes nine months to make a baby, surely that's enough time to save some dough to take time off when the little one arrives. [The Stir]