Maternity Leave Essay

Maternity Leave Policy in the US falls behind other industrialized countries in regards to compensation, duration and employer support. Despite the historical efforts from feminists to achieve equality in the workplace at the expense of forgoing maternity leave privileges, women are still suffering from wage inequality in the workplace. Studies demonstrate that maternity leave policies do not widen the wage disparity gap as long as a wage structure exists that will achieve egalitarian income distribution.

As a result, wage disparity can be minimized and maternity leave can be improved if we impose a tax on men to subsidize both income for new mother’s while on leave and the cost to employers who have to replace those employees with temporary workers. Maternity Leave in the United States, is perhaps the worse policy amongst all other industrialized countries. The average maternity leave in other peer countries is 16 weeks with pay and with job security upon return (Kamerman & Gatenio, 2002).

In the United States there are no national paid policies for maternity leave and many women refrain from taking leave because of financial constraints, lack of employer support, and a fear of losing opportunities for promotions. A study published in the Academy of Management Journal (January 2000) compared 523 managerial-level level employees who have taken leave within two years versus employees who have not and found the following results for leave-takers: 18% less likely to have been promoted, on average 8% lower pay-raise and lower performance atings from their employers (“Family Leave,” 2005). The fact that the burden falls almost entirely on women in taking care of their newborns, they become more costly to employers since it is more likely that they will be taking leave.

According to the Department of labor, almost 46 times as many women as men are on parental leave in any given time (“Family Leave”, 2005). For this reason mainly, women are paid less than men in the United States. In order to resolve the problem, the U. S. hould offer paid Maternity Leave to women by taxing men to offset wage disparity between men and women in the work force. Family and Medical Leave Act History The federal Family and Medical Leave Act was signed in the Untied States in 1993 to meet the needs of the workforce that has been dramatically changed in last few decades as more women have entered the workplace (Harvard Law Review, 2009). The FMLA is intended to facilitate balancing work and family responsibilities. Parents can take advantage of the leave to take care and bond with the newborn without the fear of losing their job.

The policy entitles parents to take a 12-week unpaid leave only if they are eligible. Eligibility is only granted to those employed by businesses with 50 employees or more. “There remain 45 percent of workers who are not covered by the Act” (Kamerman & Gatenio, 2002, p. 3). Prior to the FMLA, the employee could only take leave at the employers’ discretion. Request for legitimate leave can be denied and if the employee took leave without employers’ authorization, dismissal is the most probable consequence.

One must wonder why it is that the U. S. has fallen behind other countries in improving maternity leave policies. After World War I, many countries in Europe wanted to increase birth rates and women’s participation in the labor market so they encouraged this by offering women the incentive of paid leave to take care of their newborns without the fear of losing their jobs. As the years progressed, feminists in Europe fought for better maternity leave benefits which resulted in longer leaves and higher payments.

Consequently, the wage disparity between men and women in the workplace widened. In the U. S. feminists took a different approach. Since entering the work force, women have fought to have equality. There was no focus on trying to have maternity leave because that was distinguishing them apart from men in the workplace. Also, the United States didn’t depend on birth rates to increase its’ population growth, instead they relied on immigration. Benefits There are many benefits to maternity leave.

First, maternity leave increases women labor participation by offering them job security as they return back from childcare. The FMLA says that generous leave policies also improve workers’ morale and 84% of businesses surveyed in 1998 have reported that employee’s are more productive, less likely to be absent from work, less likely to leave their jobs and that these benefits of providing leave were equal or greater than the costs (“Family Leave”, 2005). Second, maternity leave which offers the mother the opportunity to breast-feed her child has many health benefits for the infant.

Children that are breast-fed develop better immune systems, are less likely to get sick, and as a result decrease the rate of national infant mortality (Winegarden & Bracy, 1995). Third, maternity leave offers American families a better Family/Life balance. Mothers will no longer have to choose between work and caring for their newborn. Current United States Situation The current situation in the U. S. has not progressed as much as other European countries, however there have been some advances to the policy from a state level.

California was the first state to offer paid Family Leave to its’ residents. Employees are funding the benefit by paycheck contributions. New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Washington have also started to implement paid Family Leave in their states (“Family Leave”, 2005). Despite the small improvements, the United States are far behind its’ peer countries. Maternity Leave participation is 36% in the U. S (Kamerman & Gatenio, 2002). The low participation rate is mainly due to the financial constraints.

Families in America that are not entitled to paid leave cannot afford to take time off work to care for their newborns. The new revised FMLA published in 2008 was considered useless for many workers whom the FMLA was enacted to protect since it no longer gave the employee the right to substitute accrued paid leave (vacation, personal and sick days) for unpaid leave unless authorized by employer (“Employment Law”, 2010). Other Industrialized Countries There are many differences among countries in terms of duration of leave and the amount of wages paid.

For example, according to the analysis by Kamerman and Gatenio (2002) on Parental Leave in other industrialized countries, Canada, has 100% participation in maternity leave policy that consists of a full year paid leave at 55% of the mother’s salary funded by the government plus an additional subsidy provided by the employer. In Germany, the maternity leave policy consists of 14 weeks paid leave at 100% of the mother’s salary funded by the government. In Germany, there is a 95% participation in Parental Leave for women and a 1% take-up by men.

In both countries, Maternity Leave is not frowned upon employers or co-workers. There is however, a wage disparity in the workforce between men and women. Gender Inequality Double Burden Studies have shown that childcare falls almost entirely on a women’ shoulders. It is called a double burden when a woman has to do both, earn money and take care of the household responsibilities including raising children. Since women are the ones to bare children and breast-feed it is more common for the woman to stay home and take care of their newborns in the first months of giving birth.

Even where parental leave extends to fathers, mothers take the majority of time off work for a variety of reasons: cultural norms, differences in earning capacity, and infant health from breast-feeding benefits (Ruhm, 1998). Employer Discrimination Due to childcare responsibilities women have been viewed from potential employers as less reliable workers because of the probable absentees. To an employer, absentees are costly due to expenses related to hiring and training temporary replacements and less productivity especially in more demanding positions.

As a result of this, they prefer to hire males to females, potentially increasing occupational segregation. Sex discrimination is a serious illegal matter in the United States and of course an employer would never admit to it but statistics mentioned earlier show that men make more money than women , and men also hold higher-level senior positions than women. “In a competitive labor market, the groups most likely to use parental leave will pay for it by receiving lower wages, implying that females of childbearing age will continue to obtain lower and possibly reduced compensation if the benefit is mandated” (Ruhm, 1998, p. ). Wage Disparity Despite the fight that American feminists have put up in the labor force to have equality between men and women in the workplace it is still far from perfect and instead we have forgone the importance of childcare in the baby’s first couple of months. The wage disparity is still a more pronounced problem in the U. S. compared with Europe as well as providing better benefits for both mothers and newborns. In Europe, women are paid on average 85. 5 cents for every man’s dollar, with much more generous maternity leave policies (Chubb, Melis, Potter & Storry, 2008).

In the U. S. women are paid on average 77. 6 cents for every man’s dollar and have very limited rights to paid maternity leave (Chubb et al. , 2008). Potential Options For the United States Paid Leave Funded By Public Tax There are several hypothetical options to better the situation of Maternity Leave in the United States. First, Paid leave should be funded nationally for every American family. Imposing a family tax on all citizens can fund this benefit. This would allow women not to have to choose between family and work for a better and more balanced lifestyle.

Women would be able to take leave without suffering the financial burden of not earning while not working. However this does not help improve the wage disparity issue in the U. S. Child Care Subsidized By Public Tax Second, the government should subsidize childcare facilities. Imposing a tax on American citizens too can pay for this benefit. This would relieve families of the financial burden of finding care for their children. It can also shrink the wage disparity gap between men and women because women would be expected to return to work immediately after giving birth and the level of absentees would be minimized.

Employers would no longer discriminate the reliability of both a male or female worker. However, this does not improve family/life balance in American families because it would feel that work is being chosen before family. Infant mortality would also increase due to the lack of breastfeeding benefits that newborns would not be receiving. Paid Leave Funded By Taxing Men Third, Paid Leave should be funded by taxing men only in the U. S. Men, by natural default, are at an advantage over women in the workplace earning 1 dollar for every 77 cents earned by women, as stated previously.

Women are expected to take care of newborns and experience more absentees then men and are viewed as less reliable and less valued in the workforce. Since there are many benefits to Maternity Leave that improve both the economy, family life and infant health it is important to reinforce a better policy which includes paid leave for at least 12 weeks. To impose a tax on all citizens, including women, would be to place an additional tax on women since they have been paying the invisible tax of lower wages and opportunities since they have entered the workforce.

According to the research by Mandel and Semyonov (2005), countries with developed family policies have a lower wage gap if there is a more egalitarian earnings distribution among all workers. Their solution was focused around corporatist economies where labor unions are popular and protect the workers earnings by elevating minimum wage and setting price ceilings. Due to the fact, that women have the majority of lower paying jobs while men are on the higher income bracket, according to Mandel and Semyonov (2005), the wage gap would be minimized by controlling wage structures as stated above.

The same concept can be applied to taxing men and distributing those funds to women’s maternity leave to create a more egalitarian earnings distribution workplace. Conclusion The best option would be to tax men in order to fund Maternity Leave. There are more advantages to this approach then the former mentioned. The only issue that wouldn’t be resolved would be the elimination of wage disparity however, it would offset the difference a little by taxing men and giving it towards Maternal Leave.

This solution is supported by the research done by Mandel and Semyonov (2005) that maternity leave will not increase the wage disparity gap between women and men in the workforce so long as there is a more equal distribution of earnings. Since men make more money than women, taxing them and utilizing those funds to pay for maternity leave would agree with the above research. The program should also be extended to using those funds towards employer’s costs of training temporary staff to replace the employees on maternity leave. This would reduce employer’s discrimination towards hiring women and hopefully create more equal opportunities in the workplace for women in the future.


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Family Leave (2010, March 13). Issues & Controversies On File: Issues & Controversies. Facts On File News Services. Retrieved March 20, 2010 from, http://www. 2facts. com/article/i0501070 Kamerman, S. , & Gatenio, S. (2002, Spring) Mother’s Day: More than Candy And Flowers, Working Parents Need Paid Time Off. The Clearing House on International Developments In Child, Youth and Family Policies. Retrieved March 19, 2010, from http://www. childpolicyintl. org/issuebrief/issuebrief5. htm Mandel, H. , & Semyonov, M. (2005). Family Policies, Wage Structures, and Gender Gaps: Sources of Earnings Inequality in 20 Countries.

American Sociological Review, 70(6), 949-967. Retrieved March 19, 2010, from ProQuest Psychology Journals: http://proquest. umi. com. bakerezproxy Ruhm, C. J. (1998, February). The economic consequences of parental leave mandates: Lessons from Europe. Quarterly Journal of Economics. , 113(1), 285-318. Retrieved March 21, 2010, from Expanded Academic ASAP. Winegarden, C. , & Bracy, P. M. (1995, April). Demographic consequences of maternal-leave programs in industrial countries: evidence from fixed-effects models. Southern Economic Journal. , 61(4), 1020-1036. Retrieved March 19, 2010, from Academic OneFile.