Paid Parental Leave for Both Parents: New Research on the Benefits

In a recent conversation, my dear niece, who is about to give birth to her second child, expressed some concern about how she is going to cope once the new baby is born. She has just started a new job as a contract worker and, consequently, is not eligible for paid leave. Her husband is a salaried employee in a new job but has not been employed long enough by his company to be eligible for paid family leave. They must both take leave without pay to care for the new baby, and they cannot afford to go without any income for very long. In addition, because she just started this new job and is a contract worker, she feels she will risk losing her job if she takes leave for more than a short time. And did I mention the high cost of day care for their two-year-old? No wonder she feels worried.

My niece’s situation is a common one for working parents and by itself makes the case for the need for extended parental leave for both parents. New research, however, adds to our understanding of the need for extended parental leave: a new mother’s health and the health of her new baby may depend on the father or other parent being available on a flexible basis to care for both the mother and baby. Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times reports on a new study by researchers Maya Rossin-Slater and Petra Persson, economists at Stanford. Miller notes, “The researchers . . . studied the effects of a 2012 Swedish law that allows fathers to take up to 30 days, as needed, in the year after a birth, while the mother is still on leave.” Miller explains that in the first couple of months after giving birth, often referred to as the fourth trimester, mothers are particularly vulnerable for multiple reasons:

  • Physical and mental recovery from pregnancy and delivery
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Exhaustion from round-the-clock care giving and possibly breast-feeding
  • Potential need to work to earn a living wage during this vulnerable period

The researchers found several positive effects when Sweden changed its law to allow fathers or other parents to take up to thirty paid days on a flexible basis:

  • A 26 percent drop in antianxiety prescriptions
  • A 14 percent reduction in hospitalizations or visits to specialists
  • An 11 percent decrease in antibiotic prescriptions

The key to these changes, according to the researchers, was that “the policy allowed fathers [or other parents] to take intermittent, unplanned days of paid leave” when the mother needed it to sleep, seek preventive care, or get antibiotics early in an infection. In fact, the typical father in Sweden took only an extra couple of days of time off, but his flexibility when it mattered most had a significantly positive impact on the physical and mental health of the mother.

Miller points out that the United States is the only industrialized nation that does not have mandated paid leave. Shamefully, this leads to some alarming statistics:

  • American maternal mortality—which includes childbirth-related deaths in the year after a birth—has increased 50 percent in a generation.
  • African American infant and maternal mortality is especially high due to the added stress of dealing with racism.
  • Other developed countries have much lower maternal mortality.
  • Sweden offers sixteen months of paid parental leave for parents to divide between them. In the United States, only seven states offer paid leave for between four and twelve weeks but often only for the mother.

We are actually moving backward in the United States. The United States Department of Labor is reviewing the Family and Medical Leave Act with a goal of reducing “the burden on employers” of being required to offer even unpaid leave. We can do better than this, but we will have to put pressure on our lawmakers at both the state and federal levels to pass laws requiring flexible paid leave for both parents for reasonable periods of time—more than four weeks and probably more than twelve weeks. Research such as this new study reported by Miller can go a long way to help make the case. We must all call and write our legislators and vote for candidates that support paid leave.


Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

More Young Single Mothers in the Workforce

In a surprising change, the number of young single mothers in the workforce has been steadily climbing since 2015. Claire Cain Miller and Ernie Tedeschi, writing for the New York Times, report that the increase is being led by single mothers without college degrees, according to an analysis by the New York Times of Current Population Survey data. These single mothers face many barriers to employment, such as the challenge of finding affordable childcare and the lack of predictable work schedules. The authors note that many safety net programs have been shredded and work requirements have increased. The single mothers tend to be poorer and less educated than other working mothers, and no one has developed new federal policies to help them, so what factors account for this increase in their participation?

One obvious answer is that with a shredded safety net, they have to work. The authors note other factors probably at play:

  • Local state and city policy changes like paid leave, sick leave, and minimum wage increases have made it more feasible for single mothers to work and afford childcare. In fact, areas that raised the minimum wage saw the largest rise in the rate of single mothers who work.
  • The rate of participation in the workforce by young single mothers increased four percentage points more in states that expanded Medicaid in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act.
  • Five states and the District of Columbia enacted or expanded paid family leave since early 2016.
  • Eight states and thirteen cities enacted or expanded paid sick leave. Some companies have also extended paid leave to hourly workers.
  • State spending on public pre-K has significantly increased since 2015, and many cities have begun offering public pre-K. Since the District of Columbia instituted public pre-K, the rate of single mothers in the workforce has increased four percentage points more than the increase for married mothers.
  • The tight labor market may mean that some employers have made an effort to offer more predictable work schedules.
  • The gig economy, such as driving for Uber, also offers opportunities for single mothers to work with a flexible schedule.

No one factor seems to account for the increase of single mothers in the workforce but rather a patchwork of policies. Yet these single moms remain vulnerable to the whims of employers and the winds of economic change. We need federal policies that ensure living wages, paid leave, and subsidized childcare so parents can provide a healthy start for their children.


Photo by Johann Walter Bantz on Unsplash

Gender Bias at Goldman Sachs: Fired for Taking Maternity Leave

A recent Los Angeles Times story by Sabrina Willmer shines a light on the hypocrisy of many corporate family leave policies in the United States. Willmer explains that Goldman Sachs proudly promotes itself as a family-friendly company that offers four months of paid family leave as part of a widely publicized diversity initiative designed to attract talent. When women take maternity leave at Goldman, however, their careers are often damaged, and some have been fired using “business case” justifications that do not align with their performances. Goldman Sachs is not the only company to offer a family-friendly policy and then punish women and men for using it. Stories like the one reported by Willmer are common in many other organizations as well. The case discussed below is one of many being litigated in a class-action gender bias lawsuit against Goldman Sachs based on complaints of reprisals when women took maternity leave. Willmer presents the case of Tania Mirchandani, a vice president and employee of fifteen years at Goldman Sachs in Los Angeles. When she reported to her supervisor, a father of four children, that she was pregnant with her third child, he expressed skepticism that she could balance the demands of her job with such a large family. Toward the end of her maternity leave, just before returning, her boss called to tell her she was terminated “for strategic business reasons” and that men in the office were also being laid off to cut costs. In Mirchandani’s gender bias complaint she states that, in fact, she was the only person cut in the Los Angeles office and male colleagues kept their jobs even though their performances were not as good as hers. Mirchandani’s experience is not unusual at Goldman Sachs, and other women have also report reprisal and pressure after maternity leave. Specifically, after maternity leave, many women at Goldman

  • Are assigned to a different position when they return and lose the accounts or clients they developed before taking leave
  • Report being passed up for promotions
  • Are pushed onto a “mommy track” where they are not eligible for promotions
  • Are not assigned to a team and are left to develop new business on their own
  • Report that it is “standard practice” for Goldman to pressure women to take shorter maternity leaves than allowed by policy
This same story is playing out for women in many corporations. Is it any wonder that, although most companies have updated their family leave policies, the number of women taking paid maternity leave in the United States each month has remained unchanged since the 1990s, according to a 2017 study by Boston University? Willmer reminds us that family-friendly policies are empty words on paper when the cultures of organizations do not change. The same will be true for all of the new sexual harassment policies being published as a result of the #MeToo movement. Organizations’ cultures do not change without vigilance, transparency, and accountability. We have a long way to go. Is your organization truly trying to change its culture? Please share what is working.   Photo courtesy of NIAID (CC BY 2.0)      ]]>

Millennials Want Paternity Leave

Many industries in the United States are engaged in a fierce competition for talent. Because millennials value paid parental leave for both fathers and mothers more so than did previous generations, Ronald Alsop of the New York Times explains that “an arms race to provide the best parental leave benefits for fathers as well as mothers” has begun in the United States. The United States remains the only developed country that does not require paid parental leave. This combination of competition for talent and pressure from millennials is gradually increasing the number of organizations, including technology, financial services, and state and local governments, offering this benefit to both parents, and increasing the length of time being offered—from six weeks to as long as twenty weeks in some cases. A recent study by Ernst & Young (EY) of 9,700 people for its global generational survey found that 83 percent of American millennials said they would be more likely to join a company offering such benefits. EY reports that “employees who receive paternity leave are far more engaged and trusting of the organization because they can live a full life.” The EY study also details benefits to spouses when fathers take paternity leave. Not surprisingly, spouses whose partners take paternity leave are able to focus on their careers, reduce their stress levels, and catch up on their work more easily after returning from their own leave. While millennials are demanding paid parental leave benefits, paternity leave itself is still relatively underutilized in the United States. While it has technically been available to fathers for some time, most men in the United States will not take paternity leave even when it is offered. A Boston College study found that, while nearly all men feel their employer should offer paternity leave, 86 percent said they would not use it because they fear the loss of income or retaliation that would damage their careers. It seems that millennials are leading an important shift in our culture, but organizations will need to be intentional about changing their cultures to support and encourage both fathers and mothers to take parental leave. Senior men and women will have to be role models and ensure that both men and women can take parental leave without damaging their careers. Millennials are making their mark on our societal culture, and it is a welcome one.   Photo by Rodrigo Castro, CC BY 2.0.    ]]>

New Mothers in the Cockpit: Challenges for Female Pilots

The commercial aviation industry remains one of the toughest and least accommodating for new mothers. Annalyn Kurtz of the New York Times notes that “pilots are exempt from a provision in the Affordable Care Act requiring employers to accommodate new mothers.” Perhaps because only 4 percent of the 159,000 certified commercial airline pilots are women, and only a portion of these are childbearing age, the issues of paid maternity leave and accommodation for breast-feeding are not priorities for union collective bargaining efforts. Many male pilots are also not supportive of fighting for these policy changes on behalf of their female colleagues because they do not see the policies as important. For these reasons, female pilots have begun to join forces to pressure their male colleagues and unions to support demands for paid maternity leave and alternative work assignments so that women can keep their jobs and support their families during pregnancy and while nursing newborns. Female pilots are in a unique situation in that providing accommodation, time, or privacy for breast pumping while on the job is no simple matter. Because female pilots are on the job in the cockpit of an airplane, they cannot easily gain privacy for pumping without leaving the cockpit, usually for about twenty minutes at a time, which can raise safety concerns. While a flight attendant can enter the cockpit while the female pilot is pumping in the bathroom to meet the requirement of having at least two people present at all times in the flight deck, not everyone feels this arrangement is acceptable for safety purposes. For this reason, female pilots are demanding paid maternity leave or temporary ground assignments while pregnant or nursing so that they can continue to support their families. Without paid leave, they must choose between earning a living or breast-feeding their babies. Some airlines also force pregnant pilots to stop flying between eight to fourteen weeks before birth, which means lost wages. While some airlines offer unpaid leave, this does not allow the female pilot to pay her bills. Paid leave and temporary ground assignments would be reasonable accommodations for female pilots. Female flight attendants face many of the same issues. It’s time for the aviation industry to change their antiquated policies and create a more inclusive workplace.   The image in this post is in the public domain courtesy of Poli.]]>