And, while such policies might often be successful in that regard, there may also be some unintended consequences for the employees who take advantage of them—particularly mothers.
The New York Times’ Claire Cain Miller analyzed some of those consequences this week, in a piece that looked at the effect such policies have had on working women in the United States as well as other countries. And the research she cites on the subject doesn’t paint an especially positive picture.
For instance, Miller references a new unpublished study from Cornell University’s Mallika Thomas, who found that women in the United States are 5 percent more likely to remain employed, but 8 percent less likely to get promotions than they were before the Family and Medical Leave Act became law in 1993.
Thomas, who will soon take a position as an assistant professor of economics at Cornell, attributed these numbers partly to companies’ reluctance to invest in female employees who may wind up leaving.
“The problem,” Thomas told the Times, “ends up being that all women, even those who do not anticipate having children or cutting back in hours, may be penalized.”
The issue extends well beyond the U.S. too, as Miller points out.
For example, the most recent version of a child-care law in Chile—which became effective in 2009—was intended to increase the percentage of women who work in the country, which is below 50 percent.
Maria F. Prada, an economist at the Inter-American Development Bank, authored a study analyzing the effects of the law. While she says it may ease female employees’ transition back into work and aid children’s development, it has also led to declines in women’s starting salaries in the range of 9 percent to 20 percent.
“That was thought to be a provision to help them participate in the labor force and achieve more work/family balance, and it’s doing the opposite,” according to Prada, whose study was recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Miller notes a law passed in Spain in 1999, designed to give workers with children under the age of seven the right to ask for reduced hours “without fear of being laid off,” she says, adding that those who have taken advantage of the law “were nearly all women.”
A study led by Daniel Fernandez-Kranz, an economist at IE Business School in Madrid, found that, in the decade since the law’s passage, companies were 6 percent less likely to hire women of childbearing age, compared to men. In addition, employers were 37 percent less likely to promote women and 45 percent more likely to dismiss them, according to the study, which also saw the probability of women of childbearing age being unemployed increase by 20 percent.
As Miller acknowledges, there’s no simple solution to these problems. There are, however, lessons to be learned from both here and abroad in terms of alleviating some of the unpleasant byproducts of parental-leave policies.
For example, employers in three U.S. states—California, New Jersey and Rhode Island—that offer paid family leave finance it through employee payroll taxes. Or, consider Sweden and Quebec, where both men and women are encouraged to take time off when a new baby arrives.
Indeed, looking at parental-leave policies as being truly gender neutral would be a big step in the right direction, Sarah Jane Glynn, director of women’s economic policy at the Center for American Progress, told the Times.
“It has to become something that humans do,” said Glynn, “as opposed to something that women do.”Twitter It!