Many women face a difficult situation to choose work or family when they have to take care of their newborn child. To solve this problem, some countries passed care leave policies. This essay argues that paid leave benefits parents to do care work. However, it also has consequences for women’s employment, consolidating gendered roles within the family and preserving social hierarchy.
Parental or care leave policy regulates workers that leave their jobs because they have to look after their children. Morgan and Zippel (2003) examine countries in Western Europe and Scandinavian that have similar care leave policies. They found that the centre-right governments created such policies from the male-breadwinner norm that sees women as caretakers in the house. Governments tried to encourage women to give birth and rejoin the workforce after doing care (Vos, 2009; Morgan and Zippel, 2003). Some parties also mentioned how paid leave aims to value care jobs in the family and give more alternatives for parents to harmonise their work-family balance (Morgan and Zippel, 2003). Measuring the benefits and setbacks of paid leave should be done within these frameworks.
Since early age is a crucial period of child development, paid leave allows women to leave work and care for their children. Additionally, most women face no difficulty re-entering the workforce after taking care leave (Morgan and Zippel, 2003). The case of West Germany showed that women go back to the job market faster than the period before the introduction of long leaves (Bird, 2001, cited in Morgan and Zippel, 2003). Furthermore, many studies indicate that family policies–including paid leave–increase fertility, even though the effect is insignificant and depends on how much money families gain from paid leave (Vos, 2009). High paid leave may become an incentive for parents to have a child because their income is not affected. In addition, paid father leave also encourages gender equality. Father who receives paid leave tends to work fewer hours than their counterpart that does not have a child (Bünning and Pollmann-Schult, 2016). Hence, they have more time to do care work in the house and further decrease the family’s gendered division of labour.
Despite the benefits, paid leave policies also have several shortcomings. First, care leave has negative impacts on women’s employment. Even though women are easy to rejoin the workplace, studies underline that care leaves diminish women opportunities in the workforce. These leaves expand unemployment risks, increase the likelihood of doing part-time jobs, and limit promotion, career, or salary increase (Morgan and Zippel, 2009). Thus, women positions become more precarious since they are forced to follow the market’s demands, resulting in the flexibilisation of labour (Morel, 2007). Even worse, care leave is a strategy of some governments to bring women out of work. The Conservative minister in France saw care leave as the key to solving rising unemployment by replacing some job positions from women to men (Morel, 2007).
Second, care leave reinforces gendered roles within the family. The root of the problem was the initial intention of centre-right parties to implement care leave. As mentioned earlier, they follow the traditional view of the ideal family in which men become financial providers and women have to give birth (Morgan and Zippel, 2009). Moreover, the amount of paid leave is minimal; thus, men are not interested in taking care leave. Ninety-nine per cent of the beneficiaries of care leave are women (Morgan, 2003). It further strengthens the division of labour in the family, with men working and women caring. Finally, care leave preserves social hierarchy. Because of the small amount of paid leave, high-income women tend to neglect paid leave because they can afford other kinds of child care, i.e. private child care (Morel, 2007). Hence, care leave is only attractive for low-income women, making them leave the job market with only a little money.
In conclusion, care leave is essential because it allows parents to care for their children early years. It also has several benefits for women employment, fertility rate, and gender equality. However, the benefits are primarily limited. Further research of care leave policies shows that care leaves are harmful towards women employment, strengthen traditional gendered division of labour, and sustain social inequalities.
This essay was written for the final assignment on Comparative Public Policy.
Bünning, M & Pollmann-Schult, M (2016) ‘Family Policies and Fathers’ Working Hours: Cross-national Difference in the Paternal Labour Supply’, Work, Employment and Society, 30:2, 256–274.
Morel, N. (2007). ‘From Subsidiarity to “Free Choice”: Child- and Elder-Care Policy Reforms In France, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands.’ Social Policy & Administration, 41: 618–637.
Morgan, K. (2003).’The Politics of Mothers’ Employment: France in Comparative Perspective,’ World Politics, 55(1): 259–289.
Morgan, K. and Zippel, K. (2003). ‘Paid to Care: The Origins and Effects of Care Leave Policies in Western Europe.’ Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State and Society, 10(1): 49–85.
Vos, A. E. 2009. ‘Falling Fertility Rates: New Challenges to the European Welfare State.’ Socio-Economic Review, 7(3): 485–503.