Gender Issues: America’s Maternity Leave

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Jan 14, 2013    •    845 Views

By Lilli DeBode, guest blogger, senior at Kent Place School

The United States is the only first world country in the world that does not mandate paid maternity leave. Not only is this embarrassing and disconcerting, but this also harms our nation’s women, children, and productivity.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which requires employers to provide job-protected, unpaid leave for medical and family reasons. Through FMLA, new parents are eligible to take up to 12 weeks off from work, although few people can afford to take this offer.

Many women have found that three months is simply not enough time for maternity leave. In the US one third of women return to work within three months of having a baby, while in other first world countries such as the U.K., Sweden, and Germany, only five percent of new mothers return to work within that same timeframe. Many American women have no choice but to resign from their jobs in order to get the amount of leave they need. Understandably, if a woman quits her job, she is not guaranteed employment when she is ready to return to work. Because of America’s already high unemployment rate the chances of her finding another job when she returns to the workplace are slim.

A recent study found that children in the US whose mothers return to work within the first three months are less likely to be breastfed, to have all of their immunizations and checkups up to date, and are more likely to exhibit behavior problems by age four. Another study found a connection between longer maternity leave and decreased occurrence of depression among mothers.

Another factor further complicating this problem is the high price of childcare. If a woman returns to work, she needs someone to take care of her baby. Having a child can cost a family $11,000 dollars for the first year including childcare services. Such a steep price can force women, (especially single mothers) out of the workforce and back into the home because they are actually losing money by going to work and not taking care of their babies themselves.

Currently, the U.S.’s policy on maternity leave is a lose-lose situation.  The first option is that the new mother can return to work within the three month time period, jeopardizing her infant’s and her own health as well as adding the high price of childcare to her annual bill. The other option is that the new mother decides she needs more than three months to be with her child and becomes one of the millions of Americans looking for work when she is ready to return. President Clinton got the ball rolling, but how long will it take for America’s women to get paid maternity leave like virtually every other first world country in the world?

Sources and Resources: Click here to read a great Huffington Post article about maternity leave in America. For interesting maternity leave statistics from around the world provided by The Economist, click here.

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