The Case for Paid Leave

Over the past couple of years, there’s been more interest and attention on providing paid family leave to individuals. This landscape can be a bit confusing as there are many opinions on whether or not the government should provide paid family leave at the national and state level, or if it should be up to businesses to provide this benefit to employees on a voluntary basis.

Paid Family Leave (PFL), either provided by a government program, or funded as an employee benefit has specific and measurable positive outcomes. These benefits serve not only the individual and family members, but employing business, and our government as well. Our current system, or lack of Paid Family Leave system is far behind on catching up to the modern family unit. It could be argued that the lack of established PFL is rooted in cultural norms where women run the home and raise the family, while men go work and earn the household income. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Today, more women are breadwinners than ever before- with 40% of households having female lead earners. Additionally the nuclear family structure is changing, with same sex parents and single parents creating families in ways many were prevented from before.

As the societal landscape has shifted, and thankfully leadership and employment opportunities for women are advancing in progressive ways- one biological truth remains. Women bare children. This is a sole biological fact impacts the way women craft their lives- choosing to have children, or not have children;  controlling fertility, or having difficulty conceiving; planned and unplanned pregnancies- are all areas that shape women’s lives, careers, and the ways we interface with society.

Paid Family Leave has the opportunity to promote gender equality through a few key ways. By offering PFL to both birthing and non birthing parents, as well as adoptive parents equally, there is the opening to, over time, de-stigmatize women specifically taking maternity leave, thus breaking an engrained societal pattern and norm that mothers are the default caretakers within the family unit.

On the home front, by both parents having the opportunity to take paid parental leave, this increases bonding time equally. Studies have shown that fathers who take 14 days or more of time off after a baby’s birth are more engaged with their children and carry out more infant care duties in the first few months of the infant’s life. A pattern that we’ve noticed tends to happen when mothers are home on maternity leave is mothers begin to fulfill the role of a stay at home mom, since they are home and adjusting to the new life demands of an infant. Once these patterns are set, when the mother does return to work, these patterns can unconsciously continue if both parents aren’t aware. Paid family leave can help families equally divide household labor right from the start.

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The benefits for mothers are vast, and have an impact beyond the immediate postpartum period. It’s been shown that paid leave as been linked to lower rates of postpartum depression. Additionally mothers typically breastfeed for twice as long than mothers who don’t have access to paid maternity leave. This has impacts on infant health, as breastfed babies have lower instances of asthma and type II diabetes. Which further impacts the grater public health, and over all decreases medical costs over a lifetime.

Individual infants benefit from PFL include increased bonding with parents. Studies have shown a 10% decrease in infant mortality through access to paid leave. Additionally babies with parents who have paid leave are more likely to attend their well baby visits, and vaccination rates increase by 22-25%.

PFL benefits the government by decreasing the dependency of women and infants on government social programs during the first year of life. Studies show that women who receive paid maternity leave return to work more often than women who don’t receive paid leave.

Jen Mayer