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

Jean-Francois Gauvin gauvin at fas.harvard.edu
Fri Jul 29 08:57:02 EDT 2005

Dear all,

a follow-up from today's NY Times:


After Canada, France. Ah, those French-speaking people...


Jean-Francois Gauvin
Ph.D. candidate
Department of the History of Science
Harvard University
1 Oxford Street
Science Center 371
Cambridge, MA 02138

gauvin at fas.harvard.edu

On Thu, 28 Jul 2005, Christine Dianne Wenc wrote:

> Hi parents,
> I have always found the whole American 'family values' thing a load of
> (expletive deleted).  Here is one reason why.
> Christine
> >
> >
> >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
> >it."
> >
> >     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
> >October.
> >
> >     "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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