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Gender Policy Journal

Topic / Gender, Race and Identity

Opinion: It is past time for the United States to establish a federally paid parental leave policy.

Did you know that the United States is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t mandate paid parental leave?

Data from the World Policy Analysis Center show that the U.S. is the only wealthy country in the world without any guaranteed paid parental leave on a federal level [Miller, 2021]. The vast majority of American workers do not have the option of taking paid time off to care for themselves or their family members [Maureen Sayres Van Niel, 2020]. While the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees most workers at companies with at least 50 employees access to unpaid family caregiver leave without risk of losing their jobs, It’s unacceptable that the United States is one of only six nations worldwide that does not offer paid parental leave. The current system is based on gender-based assumptions regarding primary and secondary caregivers, which restricts parents’ ability to share caregiving responsibilities.

A recent report on maternity leave in OECD countries shows that, on average, mothers are entitled to just under 19 weeks of paid maternity leave around childbirth. Almost all OECD countries provide mothers with at least 14 weeks of leave around childbirth, with the main exception being the US, which is the only OECD country to offer no statutory entitlement to paid leave on a national basis [OECD Family Database, 2022].

The US has the highest health expenditure per capita of all western and developed countries; however, most Americans don’t tap into the benefits of preventive healthcare [Feras A Batarseh, 2020]. As a nation we spend a fortune paying into symptoms rather than causes. In literature, many studies focus on the cure of diseases (research areas such as drug discovery diagnosis and treatment); whilst a minority have examined data-driven preventive measures – a matter that Americans and policy makers ought to place at the forefront of national issues [Levine S, 2019]. Thankfully, Healthy People 2030 focuses on increasing preventive care for people of all ages [U.S. Department of Health and Human Sciences, 2020].

The struggle to expand parental leave rights has been a sustained demand at the bargaining table, and the opportunity to broaden those rights outside of contract negotiations is emerging. This is the fifth time in eight years legislative push have introduced a paid leave bill (depressingly, it has failed in 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019) [Pearlman, 2023].

The major goal of these modifications is to motivate parents to share parenting responsibilities during their children’s formative years. According to the existing system, women predominately use paid parental leave, which hinders their capacity to find employment later. Modifications in new law aims to give both parents the flexibility to care for their children while also allowing mothers to return to the workforce.

Employers must support all moves to improve gender equity in the workplace, as women are far more likely to be the primary caregivers, particularly during a period of parental leave. Only 1% of paid parental leave is taken by men. Recent reports have revealed that the gender wage gap continues into retirement, showing that women have 20% fewer retirement savings than men. The disparity is probably caused by the effects of racial and gender wage disparities, time away from paid job, and more women than men working part-time [Meghan Racklin, 2022; Holly Elser, 2022].

Unsurprisingly, there is a high correlation between paid parental leave and improved new born health [Paid Leave Is Essential for Healthy Moms and Babies, 2021]. Economic support allows parents to spend more on their children’s health and can help improve the mental and physical health of parents so they can better attend to their children. Plus, Mom being home from work makes it easier for her to pump and breastfeed, which has been tied to big immune benefits for the baby. Improving paid parental leave is a critical reform. More family support is one of the best ways to boost productivity.

To conclude, mandating paid parental leave will relieve the pressure that puts many new parents in the difficult position of having to choose between bonding with their child—or earning a pay check. If paid family and medical leave is cleared, it would bring the U.S. in line with most other developed nations that already have paid leave policies. This along with a care infrastructure will yield millions of jobs, billions in wages, and trillions in GDP, and will help every working family in this nation.


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U.S. Department of Health and Human Sciences. (2020, 08 18). Retrieved 02 01, 2023, from Healthy People 2030:,re%20usually%20easier%20to%20treat.