Why economies can’t afford to have just one gender take charge of childcare.
More maternity leave might sound like a great idea, but as long as mothers are the only parents taking leave, longer stints at home actually worsens job discrimination against them and makes them less likely to pursue a career.
One of the questions that a lot of women struggle with is when to end your maternity leave.
Should one re-enter the workforce after the company-mandated three months, or should we perhaps add another six of unpaid leave? Some of us opt to quit the jobs we are in, take a couple of years off (everyone knows that the little ones become exponentially less adorable after the first 18 months); and then look for a job after. Others manage to get their support structures to lean in ready in time for them to be back at work right away.
But a large majority feel a significant shift in the quality of life and work, after they’ve had their children.
And that is why we couldn’t help nodding in agreement with this article from QZ.com that suggests that at the end of the day, if you really want women to come back to the workforce, you must improve your paternity leave laws.
While the article focuses specifically on the Japanese economy, this is a discussion that more countries and organisations should be having. All too frequently, organisations underpay women assuming they will be on maternity leave at some stage, and make it less viable for them to come back to work as the pay gap between them and their male colleagues steadily widens. Conversely, men who take time off for child-rearing are considered less ‘serious’ about their careers , making it near-impossible for them to partake in the raising their own kids, even if they’d like to . Together, these two impulses creates a vicious cycle of women managing most of the burden of child care, and effectively opting themselves out of the work force.
Here are the factors they’re likely weighing. Since it’s assumed the mother will take a long maternal leave after giving birth, businesses systematically underpay women and skip them for promotions in favor of their male colleagues. Their husbands, therefore, likely have a much higher salary and aren’t eligible to take much more than a few weeks, at most, of paid childcare leave.
So women have little choice but to take many months off work to care for their newborn. Even in countries with robust maternal employment protections, low-skilled women in particular still face pressure to quit their jobs. Many who consider returning to work once their child is old enough for daycare struggle to find a job that pays well enough to cover childcare—or, with their skills now outdated, to find a job at all. Highly educated women, meanwhile, often find that taking a lengthy leave jolts them off the management track. And since this group tends to have wealthier husbands, without the professional motivation, there’s no point in returning.
As always, a solution comes from one of the Scandinavian countries with their more gender inclusive policies- Sweden. It is worth noting that a change like theirs doesn’t come overnight but has systematically been introduced over the last two decades step by step. As the author notes, it is not too long ago that men who took time off were derisively nicknamed velourpappa ((velour dads)—a reference to the fabric popular in unisex clothes at the time—and considered, unmanly.
But today, Sweden and its ‘daddy leave’ policies- are responsible for creating a culture where both men and women share the burden of childcare, making it easier for mothers to get back to work.
As it stands now, each parent gets a 60-day “daddy” and “mommy” quota (pdf, p.2) paid at 78% of earnings—all of which must be taken. After that, the couple has 270 days paid at 78% of earnings to split as they choose, followed by another 90 paid at a flat rate. Parents also get additional part-time leave and the right to flexible hours up until their child is eight years old.
Now nine in 10 Swedish fathers take leave, for an average of three to four months each, accounting for a quarter of total leave time taken, and smoothing the mother’s transition back to work.
And what are the results?
The issue is still controversial, but it seems that the longer the leave for fathers, the less time women take out from the job market. A study by the Swedish Institute of Labor Market Policy Evaluation in 2010 found that a mother’s future earnings rose 7% (pdf, p.35), on average, for each month of parental leave her husband took. Sweden now has some of the highest rates of working mothers in the world, with around nine-tenths of mothers (pdf) returning to work after childbirth.
Ultimately, as the writer suggests, the key to enabling women workers to participate in the economy, is to create a framework of policies that encourages both parents to specialise in the ‘business of childcare’ – whether its is through equitable leave policies or through better early year child support. As long as only one parent remains responsible for the children, economies will continue to suffer.
And we couldn’t agree more.
Read further here.
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Graph from Qz.com