[Parentsgroup-list] Fwd: maternity leave in cross-cultural perspective (fwd)

Christine Dianne Wenc wenc at fas.harvard.edu
Thu Jul 28 22:24:51 EDT 2005

Hi parents,

I have always found the whole American 'family values' thing a load of
(expletive deleted).  Here is one reason why.


>US Stands Apart from Other Nations on Maternity Leave
>     By Jeff Geissler
>     The Associated Press
>     Tuesday 26 July 2005
>In Santa Fe, Linda Strauss McIlroy, a first-time mother, is trying
>to get used to the thought of soon putting her two-month-old boy in
>day care so she can get back to work.
>     "It's hard for me to imagine leaving him," she says. "Just not
>being with him all day, leaving him with a virtual stranger. And
>then that's it till, you know, I retire. It's kind of crazy to think
>about it."
>     Across the border in Vancouver, Canada, Suzanne Dobson is back
>at work after 14 months of paid maternity leave.
>     "It was great," she says. "I was still making pretty good money
>for being at home."
>     Across the ocean, in Sweden, Magnus Larsson is looking forward
>to splitting 16 months of parental leave at 80% pay with his
>girlfriend. They are expecting their first baby in a week.
>     With little public debate, the United States has chosen a
>radically different approach to maternity leave than the rest of the
>developed world. The United States and Australia are the only
>industrialized countries that don't provide paid leave for new
>mothers nationally, though there are exceptions in some U.S. states.
>     Australian mothers have it better, however, with one year of
>job-protected leave. The U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act provides
>for 12 weeks of job-protected leave, but it only covers those who
>work for larger companies.
>     To put it another way, out of 168 nations in a Harvard
>University study last year, 163 had some form of paid maternity
>leave, leaving the United States in the company of Lesotho, Papua
>New Guinea and Swaziland.
>     How did it end up this way?
>     "To me it's a puzzle. I can give you all the arguments that have
>been used, but that still doesn't really solve the puzzle," says
>Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, a professor of child development and education
>at Columbia University.
>     According to Brooks-Gunn, some countries, like France, expanded
>maternity leave after World War II to fight falling fertility and
>encourage childbearing. That argument has been missing in the United
>States, where immigration has ensured population growth.
>     Jane Waldfogel, also a professor at Columbia, says another part
>of the puzzle is that the European and American feminist movements
>had differing goals.
>     In Europe, feminists emphasized special treatment for mothers,
>including maternity leave and child care.
>     "The American feminist movement didn't want to hear anything
>about mothers," Waldfogel says. "They wanted equal rights for women
>and didn't emphasize special treatment."
>     The U.S. feminist movement has moved away from this viewpoint,
>but that hasn't led to a change in maternity rules. One reason is
>that U.S. women are used to having about three months off and
>consider it the norm, Waldfogel says.
>     For many, of course, that norm feels alien. To Strauss McIlroy
>in Santa Fe, those three months certainly feel inadequate.
>     "I thought, being kind of a career woman, that I might be one of
>those who'd be kind of looking forward to going back, that I'd be
>all babied out," she says. "But I'm really very apprehensive about
>     In Canada, Dobson's feelings about her son, Gavin, and the
>country's maternity leave rules are a better fit.
>     "I don't think I would have been ready to hand him over to
>anyone at six months," Dobson says. "At 12 months, he's a little
>person, and he can kind of tell you what he wants and doesn't want."
>     There have been several attempts at introducing paid maternity
>leave in the United States. The Clinton administration wanted to
>allow states to use unemployment funds for maternity leaves, but
>that was shot down by the Bush administration after opposition from
>business groups concerned with increased contribution to state
>unemployment funds.
>     A bill introduced in the House by Reps. Pete Stark and George
>Miller, both D-Calif., would establish a fund that would replace 55%
>of pay for workers on FMLA leave. Contributions to the fund would
>come from employers.
>     "There are a couple of central problems when we look at paid
>leave legislation. The first is: who's paying for it?" asks Michael
>Eastman, director of labor policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
>     U.S. employers already pay $21 billion a year in direct costs
>related to the FMLA, Eastman says, in addition to indirect costs
>like additional overtime for those who fill in for workers on leave.
>     Waldfogel agrees that it's too much to ask employers to shoulder
>the cost of introducing paid maternity leave.
>     "As long as what we have in mind ... is asking employers to both
>hold the job open and pay the salary, we're going to get tremendous
>resistance from employers," she says.
>     California went a different route, and last year introduced
>family leave with around 50% pay for six weeks, paid from a fund
>that employees, not employers, pay into.
>     "Once they did that, there were no longer any objections from
>employers," Waldfogel says.
>     Five states - California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Rhode
>Island - and Puerto Rico require employers to have temporary
>disability programs, which pay benefits if the pregnancy is defined
>as a disability by a doctor. A few others have infant care programs
>that pay subsidies to low-income families for up to two years.
>     In New York City, Kelsey Goss, a public-school teacher, is
>trying to build her tutoring business so she and her husband can
>stay afloat financially when she goes on unpaid maternity leave in
>     "When I tell people that as a teacher I get zero paid maternity
>leave, they're stunned," she says. "In a job like that, that's about
>taking care of kids, those are the benefits?"
>     How does she think her benefits compare with Europe?
>     "I don't even want to know," she says.

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