- Twelve workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for:
- The birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth;
- the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement;
- to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition;
- a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job…”
Although the Family Medical Leave Act does provide some coverage for family leave, only some employees are eligible, and the Act only provides unpaid leave. According to a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, out of 41 countries, the United States is the only nation that lacks mandated, paid leave. Out of the 40 countries with paid leave, the minimum amount of paid leave was two months. While most countries reserve paid leave for mothers, 31 out of the 41 countries have paternity leave, although it was usually for two weeks or less. Many nations are passing policies to improve paid maternal and paternal leave, but it is very low on the list of priorities for President Trump and Congress despite economic benefits for companies and employees well as important health benefits for all family members.
Although Kurtzlebne’s account only considers European nations and the United States—thus excluding many others—it does highlight one of the possibilities as to why Americans do not receive paid maternity leave. An article from The Washington Post argues that the lack of paid maternity leave forces many women to feel as though “they have to choose between working and raising a family. This gender inequity undermines their prospects of equal opportunity at work…”
Even though paid maternity and paternity leave would cost the United States government and employers upfront, the return benefits are worth the investment. A 2014 report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research states that paid leave increases the chances of employees returning to work after childbirth, improves employee incomes, and reduces employers’ costs through increased retention of employees. The Institute also reports that “paid leave for fathers helps to foster gender equity, both in the workplace and in the home, since it shortens leaves for mothers, increasing their job tenure and potentially their wage growth”.
Maternity leave can also influence the mother’s health. According to a 2012 study, working mothers who had less than 8 weeks of maternity leave were more likely to express depressive symptoms and a decrease in overall health status. Another study found that mothers with complete coverage from their paid maternity leave present a 14% reduction in their depression scores compared to mothers with limited coverage.
Although more research has been conducted on the benefits of paid maternity leave, there are also major benefits of paid paternity leave. The United States Department of Labor’s Paternity Leave policy brief argues that longer paternity leave is associated with stronger father-child bonds and increases fatherly engagement in the family. The policy also states that fathers who have more than two-weeks of paternity leave were more likely to be involved in the child’s care, helping with changing diapers, feeding, and getting up at night. Fathers who are more engaged are more likely to have children with fewer behavioral problems, higher cognitive test scores, and improved mental health outcomes.
It is clear that paid maternity and paternity leave benefit the entire family, and the absence of this benefit can greatly harm both the parents and the children. Even with this supporting evidence, the United States fails to acknowledge the importance of paid family leave and does not provide appropriate support for families. Although it is low on the priority list for President Trump and Congress, paid family leave is an issue that needs to be addressed. Contacting your local representatives, sending letters to organizations, and spreading the word about the importance of paid family leave could push this topic to the top of the policy agenda, aiding families and communities alike.
 Chatterji, P., & Markowitz, S. (2011). Family Leave after Childbirth and the Health of New Mothers. The Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics ,15(2), 61-76. doi:10.3386/w14156
 Avendano, Mauricio and Berkman, Lisa and Brugiavini, Agar and Pasini, Giacomo, The Long-Run Effect of Maternity Leave Benefits on Mental Health: Evidence from European Countries (May 12, 2014). Netspar Discussion Paper No. 05/2014-015. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2436913
 Heymann, J., Raub, A., & Earle, A. (2011). Creating and Using New Data Sources to Analyze the Relationship Between Social Policy and Global Health: The Case of Maternal Leave. Public Health Reports, 126(Suppl 3), 127–134.
 Berger, L. M., Hill, J. and Waldfogel, J. (2005), Maternity leave, early maternal employment and child health and development in the US*. The Economic Journal, 115: F29–F47. doi:10.1111/j.0013-0133.2005.00971.x