Stepping out of the expectations of parental leave, Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that he would be taking two months of paternal leave when his wife Priscilla Chan gives birth. In his announcement, he stated that studies have shown that it’s better for a child’s health when parents are able to spend formative periods of time with the child and that Facebook gives its workers up to four months of paid parental leave, taken whenever they wish.
Zuckerberg is incredibly fortunate that he runs his own company and is able to do so. His case is not the reality not only for fathers around the United States, but also is unlikely for mothers in the nation. Around the globe, 185 countries regulate paid parental leave, meaning all but two countries are in this group, which excludes Papua New Guinea and the United States of America. This is especially shocking, considering that many internationally regard the U.S. as a forerunner in fixing social issues, and the sheer volume of people who can benefit from such practices.
Some states regulate their parental leave. However, not all do – according to a U.S. Department of Labor fact sheet, only 12% of Americans working in the private sector are given paid parental leave, only a sliver of the more than 86 million Americans who work in the private sector as of 2014. Parental leave pay and time may vary: some may only pay partially, and some vary from just two weeks to a year’s worth of parental leave.
Mothers could greatly benefit from paid parental leave, not only economically, but in the treatment of their children. Given that babies breastfeed in their first months, and are unlikely to sleep on a nightly schedule like full-grown humans do, this can wreak havoc on a mother’s regular lifestyle. Trying to pump breast milk so a baby has adequate supplies for the week, coming into work with little to no sleep, and struggling with other health issues (some mothers experience postpartum depression, for example) can be difficult not only for the mother, but the child.
Fathers are less likely to use parental leave if such paid leave is provided. Many may think that there’s no point to it – after all, they aren’t necessarily the ones feeding the child, and perhaps in more traditional, conservative households, they’re expected to play the role of the breadwinner. This could be changing in the near future, however.
Encouraging parents to take paid time off may seem harsh to businesses in the short-term, but researchers have seen that this has a greater effect on society as a whole in the long run. Not only are more women encouraged to join the labor force (some stay out of it for fear of losing their job or being unable to stay with their child in the short while right after birth), but this encourages dual-income households and children to pursue careers if they know the benefits of working. By not having to worry about whether or not they will receive paid leave, parents are able to work and care in healthier conditioners.
Internationally, parental leave rates vary. Scandinavia is well-regarded for their policies on it; in Sweden, mothers receive 14 weeks of maternity leave at 80% of normal pay. Fathers receive the same rate of pay, but only two weeks’ worth; low, but a start. In Congo, mothers get 15 weeks of leave while fathers get two, but at 100% the rate of normal pay. Fiji awards mothers 84 days of leave at a flat rate.
As for Facebook? Well, it recently just expanded its four month parental leave policy for all of its employees, including the ones outside of the U.S. Here’s to hoping other private businesses will begin to consider doing the same, and the government reexamines its policies on it.
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