Friday, August 1, 2008
Babies and Bosses
For those with a love of statistics, the OECD website is a goldmine of fascinating information; one could troll for hours through the piles of reports on topics ranging from development to education, from trade to migration. Alas, for I have but one short blog to write, which (at least for today!) will focus on just one subject area that captured my attention: a five-volume report, aptly named Babies and Bosses, on "reconciling work and family life." The authors, beginning in 2002, examined policies relating to work/life balance as well as family outcomes in the thirty OECD countries. Some interesting findings: while the United States scores relatively high in fertility rates and participation in childcare services for children under three years old, it also has strikingly high rates of child poverty (second only to Mexico) and a gender pay gap that's significantly above average. The latter two statistics may be explained at least in part by the OECD Family Database's analysis of key characteristics of parental leave systems (and in part by the availability of free, high-quality childcare, to be discussed in next week's post). Of the 29 countries examined, the United States is the only one that does not provide public support payments for maternity leave, let alone paid paternity leave, which is available in seventeen European OECD states. In Iceland, for example, fathers are entitled to 12 weeks of leave, or 10 weeks of pay at 100% of last earnings. In stark contrast, U.S. federal law protects only 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. This policy violates the International Labor Organization's Maternity Protection Convention, which provides that women shall be entitled to at least 14 weeks of maternity leave (Art. 4), and that cash benefits "at a level which ensures that the woman can maintain herself and her child in proper conditions of health and with a suitable standard of living" shall be provided to such women (Art. 6). Unfortunately, the Convention has only fifteen States Parties, which, needless to say, do not include the United States. It seems that we value our bosses more than our babies -- and our working mothers. A short-sighted stance on work/life balance, to say the least.