President Obama once remarked that the United States is the only advanced country that does not provide paid parental leave to workers. Around 70 countries ensure paternity leave and 182 nations worldwide guarantee paid maternity leave, but the United States only ensures limited and unpaid parental leave. In this country, there is less emphasis on a policy to allow parents to take leave, albeit some organizations have a voluntary policy allowing their members to take paternity leave (Covert par. 1).
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The paternity leave debate goes on, albeit many do not consider it debatable. The fathers’ choice for parental leave is quite cautious and an individual decision, filled with the possibility for various forthcoming actions, effects, and impressions founded upon their institution, affiliation, history, and the various individualities at play. In other words, it is not just a question of allowing fathers to take leave; rather, fathers must also make their choice. New fathers have to deal with identity issues and values associated with their decision to take leave, including exceptional communicative encounters (Sellnow-Richmond 2).
Organizations might show to the world, and policymakers argue, too, that they have offered women a better work-life balance because of their flexible policies. But we should not miss the point that parenting should be equally shared, more so that this is the start of a new life in which both parents must always be there by the newborn’s side until the child reaches a certain age. At first, it might look improper that in order to help women, husbands must be given paternal leaves. But it is logical because the aim is to help both the mother and the baby. At the end of the day, the entire family gets benefitted, and that is what work-life balance is all about.
In this essay, I will demonstrate using examples from different countries how parental leave benefits people and organizations and that legislation of paternal and maternal leaves can benefit fathers and mother and their newborns.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA, and. in Sellnow-Richmond 2) provides U.S. citizens sick or vacation leave for up to 12 weeks for health reasons, such as birth or child adoption, a situation that tells us that there is no definite policy on the subject of paternal or parental leave. The decision to take paternal leave has to be weighted down, and most factors include the benefits that both parents can have, including the paternal love expressed upon the newborn child.
It will have an impact on the personality of the father because it allows him to express his fatherhood by giving care of the child, and his “masculinity” figure. Moreover, the impact will be on the entire family. Children who are raised by both parents grow up healthy, physically, and psychologically, and many are perceived high achievers (Rege and Solli 2256).
The ILO standard provides for at least 14 weeks paid leave for mothers, and about 107 countries are complying with this, having instituted the practice in their social security systems. Paid paternity leave is instituted in 78 countries, which shows the trend of greater involvement of fathers in child-rearing and nurturing. Five developed countries have paternity leave exceeding two weeks (“ILO: Maternity, Paternity at Work” par. 4).
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Paid paternity leave can benefit the firm and deliver the necessary work-life balance for the employees and their families because maternity leave is not enough. The company Blue State Digital (qtd. in Covert par. 3) increased leave from 2 weeks to 6 for both paternity and maternity leaves, with its management saying that the policy was not only a question of values, but it was beneficial for the employees and business as a whole. Long-term benefits include longer stay of valued employees and higher productivity, and the company will be able to attract more talented people (Covert par. 4).
One of the important reasons for providing work-life balance in the company is retention. Firms spend a lot of time and money looking for new talented employees than retaining excellent ones. Paid parental leave is one way of telling employees that the company is willing to invest in them (Covert par. 6). Commitment is a by-word: if the company commits to people, they would, in turn, commit their talent and a big part of their life to them (Rege and Solli 2256).
Johansson (qtd. in Sellnow-Richmond 4) studied and interviewed fathers of different backgrounds. One participant commented that in nurturing his baby, he was able to assess his own identity. This father was formerly focused on his work, but with the new experience, he learned new values in life. Other participants in the study also commented that through parental leave, they discovered what it was to be a man and to be masculine, quite different from their traditional beliefs of masculinity.
Some states have paid parental leave. In California, the paid leave program has motivated fathers to take advantage of it and more are now taking time taking care of newborns and helping their wives for the transition back to work (Covert par. 14).
The mother and the newborn are the most benefitted with paternity leave because the father can help with the job of nurturing and caring the newborn and the wife can have easy transition period in going back to work (Brill 540). Most women organizations support paternity leaves as this is good for women and the family as a whole.
Paid paternity looks like a comfortable benefit for Americans, while many fathers may not want it, but the Facebook CEO suggested that this should be introduced and supported with legislation in America. In a survey of 22,000 companies conducted over 91 countries, the researchers found that the countries with most women leaders at the executive level, gave paternity leave several times more than the lower developing countries which ignored parental leave (Peck par. 2).
The Peterson Institute for International Economics and the firm EY made this particular study on paternity leave, which revealed that paternity leave is a measure that the government upholds working parents. In countries which support families and provide better playing field for child nurturing, lady executives perform the best and become very successful, so says Marcus Noland, head of the Peter Institute (Peck par. 5). The study further revealed that the U.S. had a negative report about maternity leave, and that many countries knew the benefits of giving maternity leave. However, few countries had known the benefits of paternity leave.
Voluntary practice by some companies in providing paid paternity leave is also good as it would put pressure on larger organizations. Work-life advocacy organizations rank firms according to such practice but there is no law to support this. Some firms provide few weeks’ parental leave for both parents, and this would put pressure on the corporate world that rearing a child is a dual role and a common responsibility of both parents (Brill 540).
Many countries see parenthood as separate from the workplace. But families and business organizations are indeed affected when obsolete societal regulations and values restrict women’s and men’s involvement at work (“ILO: Maternity, Paternity at Work” par. 1). Likewise, overcoming conflict to deep-seated labels of masculinity may oppose to men’s changing beliefs of fatherhood. Paternity leave is now growingly perceived as a positive way of promoting work-life balance and identifying the role of fathers in the globalized workplace.
The gender differences in the workplace oftentimes trigger a conflict that sets people into one of two groups. One group might reason that the workplace has always been inimical to women at times more indirect and deceptive than we had to face in the sixties and the seventies. For this situation, the state should take a definite stance, probably through legislated benefits for women, or such proactive system. On the other hand, some have also reasoned that the tenacious breaches among employees prove what traditional views state: that women probably want to come home and care for children and do not want the hectic work schedule and stiff office competition. If this could be true, then there is no need for more policies for gender equality as it would become futile and expensive.
Analysis: The FMLA
The United States’ Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) give new parents unpaid leave of up to 12 weeks for the whole year, provided that the firm qualifies. But across different countries throughout the world, women who have given birth are provided paid leave.
Paid leave entitlements are limited for U.S. working parents under the 1993 FMLA. The U.S. has never introduced paid maternity leave, unlike most of developing countries. More than 170 countries guarantee paid maternity leave (Ruhm 38).
Added to this, most developed countries provide parents with new-born children paid vacation which may last into early childhood. And there are more important policies that give financing for early childhood education and care (ECEC) (Ruhm 38). In many countries, parents mostly have rights to wide-ranging leaves that cover a big portion of childhood period. Leaves also apply to serious illness suffered by the employees or relatives.
The FMLA has several restrictions, such as unpaid leave. Employers are only encouraged to implement other insurance coverage, such as sick or vacation leaves. The FMLA has a few benefits that workers could make use. Another limitation of the law is that it does not cover small companies which employ fewer than fifty persons “within seventy-five miles of the work site” (Ruhm 39).
In Canada and some European countries, women are allowed paid maternity leave and in some countries this privilege can be used by either the wife or the husband. The program of early child education and care (ECEC) is a model practice in Europe and this is applicable until the child reaches a certain age in life. The United States looks at ECEC as a private responsibility and the state, or society, has nothing to do with it (Ruhm 37). However, there are government programs that help cover costs of preschool education.
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Two factors worsen the situation for parents in the United States. First, there is greater percentage now of mothers with children below six years who have to work. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2008, 60 percent of mothers with young children had to work, an increase of about 30% from the last survey in 1975 (qtd. in Ruhm 38). There is a general increase of working women, and also of employment, in the U.S. Second, more children grow and are raised by single mothers. According to the
The U.S. Census Bureau states that the ratio of under-aged children raised by single parents increased from 23 percent in the eighties to 30 percent in the last decade (qtd. in Ruhm 38).
It is clear that single parents do not have a choice as in two-parent families where the husband or the wife works while the other cares for the children and the home. Most young children now live in families with parents working full time. In the United States, the percentage of children living with a nonworking parent declined from 64 percent in 1967 to 34 percent in 2009 (Ruhm 38). Adequate and guided growth of children is hampered when both parents are working full time, and with the availability of technology and the Internet at home, the children will be left on their own.
Helping parents fulfill their family obligations, which is a policy change that is expected to be controversial, needs to be carefully weighed down as to its advantages and disadvantages, at the same time considering potential effects on contradictory American values.
Work-life balance is a challenge for husbands and wives and the difficulty lies on parents with young children, especially those that are newborns through age five. Young mothers and fathers struggle to find adequate time both to accomplish work responsibilities and deliver the thorough care that young children need.
Research on the outcomes of differences in policies is not fully defined (Ruhm 37). This is because there is that difficulty in pinpointing effects of leave and early childhood education and care (ECEC) issues from other effects on employment and children’s outcomes. However, policies granting parental leave rights are increasing and this provides job continuity for mothers and therefore long-term consequences for the mother and child. Policies should be geared at extending leave entitlements to several months. Paid leave should also be afforded to less advantaged parents and there should be measures to improve ECEC.
U.S. policies for granting parental leaves are not encouraging for fathers. The U.S. is the only country which does not have paid parental leave, which makes it at the level of Swaziland and Papua, New Guinea (Hall and Spurlock par. 3). The policies we have in the United States considered to be radical are perceived as modest by foreigners (Ruhm 37). The U.S. should learn from the experiences of other countries and use these lessons to apply on a workable policy for parents with newborn children.
The government, particularly the U.S. Department of Labor, should improve and enhance a non-obligatory set of standards to support paternity leave. It might be counterproductive to set it as part of the law of the land because, as mentioned, it has to be weighted carefully considering contradictory values of men, but a consultative body employing the public and private sectors would provide more positive results about paternity leave in the United States.
As mentioned in my thesis, the best solution is to provide legislation where new fathers will be able to enjoy 4 to 12 weeks paid leave to take care of their newborn. The FMLA has some restrictions.
Brill, Sofia. “Strengthen Paternity Leave by Encouraging Voluntary Standards for Businesses.” Policy Studies Journal. 35.3 (2007): 540-541. ProQuest LLC. Web.
Covert, Bryce. How Everyone Benefits When New Fathers Take Paid Leave. 2015. Web.
Hall, Katy and Chris Spurlock. Paid Parental Leave: U.S. vs. The World (Infographic). 2013. Web.
ILO: Maternity, Paternity at Work 2015. Web.
Peck, Emily. Paternity Leave Offers a Surprising Benefit to Women, New Study Finds. 2016. Web.
Rege, Mari and Ingeborg Solli. “The Impact of Paternity Leave on Fathers’ Future Earnings.” Demography. 50.1 (2013): 2255-2277. ProQuestLLC. Web.
Ruhm, Christopher. “Policies to Assist Parents with Young Children.” The Future of Children. 21.2 (2011): 37-68. ProQuest LLC. Web.
Sellnow-Richmond, Scott. “Communication and Identity: The Paternity Leave Decision”. PhD thesis, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, 2015. ProQuest LLC. Web.