Equal Maternity and Paternity Leave
Should parents be forced to take equal maternity and paternity leave?
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Forcing equal maternity and paternity leave leads to better decisions about childcare: it is difficu...
Forcing equal maternity and paternity leave leads to better decisions about childcare: it is difficult to know whether you would like to care for a child until you have tried it. Forcing equal leave encourages both parents to develop the necessary skills to care for a child, such as changing nappies, preparing food or bathing. This means that couples are in a better position to make long term plans about care arrangements for the child. Furthermore, social conditioning may undermine a couple’s ability to choose under the status quo. From a young age, women are encouraged to play with dolls and to be caring, leading to expectations within both society and individual couples that the mother is more suited to caring for children. This means, firstly, that some women may choose to sacrifice their careers when it may not be in their interests. Secondly, other women may sacrifice their careers because they think that society expects this of them, even though they may not want to. Forcing both parents to spend a period of time with the newborn child is a necessary means for overcoming such expectations: it strengthens the claim that both parents should care for children.
Couples can best decide how to divide childcare for themselves: individual couples are in a better position to know what is in the interests of their family than the state. There are many cases, for example where one parent has a more successful career, where decisions about childcare can be made in an informed way without the need for both parents to spend time at home. The idea that women (or men) are unable to make informed decisions because of social conditioning misunderstands the idea of choice. If we see choice as a decision between competing options based on our individual preferences, the source or origin of those preferences makes no difference. Social conditioning could be argued to influence all of our choices: is my preference for tea really a ‘true’ preference, or is it merely socially conditioned since other people like to drink tea? If fulfilling my preference to care for my children makes me happy, why should the state tell me that my interests would be better served through different choices which would make me less happy? Such claims are likely to lead to resentment. Furthermore, if some women are indeed socially conditioned to want to sacrifice their careers for childcare, forcing men to spend a few months at home after the child’s birth is unlikely to make any difference to society’s expectations.
Forcing equal maternity and paternity leave will improve society as a whole: under the status quo, t...
Forcing equal maternity and paternity leave will improve society as a whole: under the status quo, there is a persistent inequality between men and women in the workplace. Young women are often perceived by employers to be a risk: there is a serious possibility that they will become pregnant and take long periods of time off work. When choosing between men and women with equal skills, employers have an incentive to choose the man. The consequence of this is that women, whether they wish to have children or not, find it harder to secure employment or promotion, and earn less as a result. Unfortunately, this inequality within the workplace spreads to the household. The fact that women earn less means not only that they are more likely to give up their career to care for children, but also that they are also more likely to be the victim of breadwinner dominance: men can legitimately claim that they earn more money and so should have a greater say in decisions about their choice of house, car, holiday or child’s school. This inequality in both the workplace and the home affects the way that women perceive themselves and are perceived in society as a whole. Forcing men and women to take equal maternity and paternity leave prevents employers from identifying one gender as a risk, removing the incentive to employ men ahead of women. This leads to greater equality within the workplace, reduces inequality within the home as a result of breadwinner dominance, and improves equality between the genders in society as a whole.
Forcing equal maternity and paternity leave will not improve society as a whole: firstly, it is not evident that equality within society will improve. Women are presumably perceived as a risk not just because of maternity leave but because of the fact that a greater percentage of women than men abandon their careers altogether. Unless this changes (and it is unclear that it will so long as the social conditioning identified above continues) equality in the workplace will not be achieved, undermining the claims of equality within the home or within wider society. Secondly, this policy will increase parental leave at the expense of those without children. Wages for parental leave are, in effect, docked from the salaries of all workers (on the basis of the average number of weeks of leave taken by each worker). This is paid for by people who never take leave, generating another subsidy for parents, paid for by the non-child bearing. Given that those without children have none of the pleasures of raising children and already subsidise education and child benefit, it is unclear why they should suffer a further burden. Thirdly, maternity and paternity leave are incredibly disruptive, particularly for small businesses and it is important to minimise parental leave for this reason. Allocating parental leave to women is more pragmatic than allocating such leave to men: women need time off work to recover from pregnancy and labour. Moreover, their ability to breastfeed and the hormonal bond which develops between mother and child during pregnancy indicate that women may have comparative advantage in caring for the child at this stage.
Forcing equal maternity and paternity leave is better for children: firstly, children are more likel...
Forcing equal maternity and paternity leave is better for children: firstly, children are more likely under this model to develop meaningful relationships with both parents. Parents who care for children immediately after their birth when they at their most dependent and vulnerable are likely to develop stronger emotional bonds with that child. Having close relationships with two parents enhances a child’s development, providing different perspectives and role models. Secondly, reducing the likelihood of male economic dominance within the home impacts on the way that children perceive gender roles as they grow up. Studies show that children who witness domestic violence at a young age are more likely to be the perpetrators of domestic violence as adults: this suggests that the relationship between a child’s parents affects their relations with the other gender in adulthood. If more children grow up in homes where their parents view each other as equals, this will increase their expectations of equality within society as a whole, in turn making society more equal.
It is unclear whether forcing equal parental leave is better for children: parents with little interest in childcare are unlikely to develop skills even if encouraged to stay at home. In the worst cases, parents who would rather be at work may resent their child as the cause of their forced leave, increasing perceptions of the child as a burden. This is unlikely to improve the relationship with that child. In addition, there is nothing to stop paternal interaction with a child at evenings and weekends: it is unclear why a parent needs time off work to interact with their child. Finally, if we want to improve relationships between parents and children we should encourage parents to spend more time with children when they are older and more aware of their surroundings.
Forcing equal maternity and paternity leave would underscore equality of parenthood: under the statu...
Forcing equal maternity and paternity leave would underscore equality of parenthood: under the status quo, mothers are often expected to be better parents and the burden of childcare is more likely to fall on women. If parents separate, judges are more likely to place children with their mother. Forcing parents to take equal leave would emphasise the fact that parenthood is a joint enterprise between the two parents, both of whom are equally important. This would be important for fathers’ rights more generally. In addition, given the growing number of non-traditional families (for example those with two fathers or two mothers) it is valuable to show that society regards such social parents as equal and that biological mothers have no greater claim to children.
Equal paternal leave is unnecessary to underscore equality of parenthood: firstly, equality of parenthood is not about who spends the early months with the child but rather about parents providing mutual support for each other and raising the child together. It is obvious that different parents have different skills and can contribute different things to a child’s upbringing. One parent may be better at looking after a baby, or simply happier to do so, but that doesn’t mean that they will be a better parent for the next eighteen years of that child’s life. Maternity leave, as argued above, is about allowing women to recover from labour as well as simply caring for the child. Secondly, parents with little interest in childcare are unlikely to develop skills even if encouraged to stay at home. Thirdly, social parents will only be perceived as equal when society views different familial structures as being of equal importance and worth. Giving social parents more time off work is unlikely to change views on their families as a whole.
What do you think?