The Perspective on Maternity Leave

By Talia Klein Perez
 unsplash / tanaphong-toochinda
The United States of America remains one of only three countries in the world which doesn’t offer guaranteed paid maternity leave. This has been a cause for much debate between opposing opinions. Would paid maternity leave have a positive or a negative effect on women’s quality of life in particular and on society overall?
Here are three arguments for and three arguments against paid maternity leave.


Three Reasons why Paid Maternity Leave is Important


It’s good for business

Companies which offer paid maternity leave found that it’s actually good for their business. Women who can take paid maternity leave are more productive, working 15 to 20% more hours during their baby’s second year than women who didn’t take leave. Paid maternity leave also increases retention rates among companies. Women who can take paid maternity leave are more likely to return to their job at the end of their leave period. The cost of paying an additional ten weeks of salary is far less than the overall cost of finding, hiring and training in new staff to replace women who abandon their job after giving birth.


It lowers the burden on welfare

Many people who are opposed to paid maternity leave argue that it will cause an unfair hike in payroll taxes to cover the extra government payouts. But consider the welfare costs of not taking maternity leave. Many parents can’t afford to live on one income even for just a few weeks. They slip into credit card debt and might be forced to turn to food stamps and other welfare payments. A report from the United States Department of Labor discovered that approximately 15% of people who took unpaid or partly-paid leave turned to welfare payments. Another study in New Jersey, where there is State-mandated paid maternity leave, found that women who took paid leave were 40% less likely to take public assistance or food stamps than women who didn’t take leave.


It’s important for women’s health

Having a baby is a rigorous experience which takes its toll on women’s health in every way. Many women who have to return to work just a few days after giving birth have to lift heavy items and/or stand for long periods of time, even though this is dangerous for their ongoing health. Increasing numbers of women give birth by C-section, but often need to return to work before the recommended period of convalescence. Paid maternity leave has also been found to lower the risks of post-partum depression. Being forced back to work by fear of losing their jobs or the financial pressure of living on one paycheck can seriously impact women’s health for years after giving birth. It’s not just about money. It’s the responsibility of the wider society to support those who bring new life into this world. Our values of loyalty and responsible parenting should urge us to stand by those who risk their health to nurture our future.


Three Reasons why Paid Maternity Leave is a Bad Idea


It’s bad for gender roles

Paid maternity leave can reinforce stereotyped gender roles in a way that’s harmful to both women and men. If only women are paid to stay at home with their new baby, it strengthens the assumption that it’s a woman’s job to care for the children and look after the house. It reinforces the expectation that men aren’t interested in spending time with their children. Today, many men want to be hands-on fathers and look forward to spending time caring for their children, but without paid leave they barely get a chance to see their babies on a working day. As the wage gap increases because of maternity leave, fathers will only have to work even harder to make up for their partner’s drop in pay.


It’s bad for women’s income level

Paid maternity leave sounds good for women but it can actually be harmful. We might not like to admit it, but businesses would be less likely to hire women of child-bearing age so that they wouldn’t have to face the extra cost of paying their maternity leave. People argue that discrimination laws would prevent this from happening, but it’s often almost impossible to prove why a company hired one person rather than another. Alternatively, all women would end up being paid a lower wage to balance out the expected cost of maternity leave. Paid maternity leave would be especially unfair on women who don’t have children, who would be paid a lower wage without even getting the benefit of taking leave.


It’s bad for small businesses and entrepreneurs

Although large corporations can afford to offer paid maternity leave and enjoy higher retention rates because of their family-friendly policies, smaller companies just can’t compete. A small business with only a few workers can’t afford to keep on paying someone who isn’t working for months. It would be too expensive for the business to hire a temp to cover the new mother’s work; then they’d have to pay two salaries for the same amount of work. Government-mandated paid maternity leave could severely harm the chances of small businesses to flourish, which has a knock-on effect on every area of the economy.


Bottom line: Should America join the ranks of nations offering paid maternity leave? Is this even a federal issue, or is it better left up to market forces and individual choice to decide?

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