By now you probably know that the U.S. is the only developed country without paid maternity leave. But what you might not know is just how much that policy hurts everyone—not just new moms.
The solution is simple: paid family leave, which lets workers earn a paycheck while taking care of a new baby or sick family members. If you need more convincing, just check out these 20 impressive reasons that paid family leave benefits babies, parents, companies and everyone else.
How Paid Family Leave Benefits Babies ...
1. Paid maternal leave lowers the infant mortality rate.
A 2011 study of 141 countries with paid leave policies found that an increase of 10 weeks of fully paid maternal leave was associated with a 10 percent lower neonatal and infant mortality rate. Keeping babies alive is a pretty damn good reason to support paid leave if you ask us. But if you need more …
2. It also increases the likelihood a child will be vaccinated.
Kids in the U.S. are 25 percent and 22 percent more likely to get their measles and polio vaccines, respectively, when their mother has access to paid maternity leave. That holds true across the globe. More recently, a 2015 study of 20 low-and-middle-income countries found that paid maternity leave increased the probability of kids receiving DTP1, 2 and 3 vaccines.
3. It increases the rate of breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding has been tied to a bunch of big benefits: It helps reduce the number of infants who die from SIDS. It helps reduce ear infections, respiratory illnesses and bouts of diarrhea in babies. It even lowers a baby’s risk of asthma and allergies. And a huge factor in helping moms breastfeed is giving them the time they need to actually do it. A 2016 study concluded that employed women who received 12 or more weeks of paid maternity leave were more likely to initiate breastfeeding and still be doing it at six months than those without paid leave.
4. And the duration of breastfeeding too.
Since nursing is good for babies, it makes sense to help women do it longer—and paid leave does just that. After California passed a statewide paid leave law, the median duration of breastfeeding doubled among new mothers who used it, from a median of five weeks for all moms to 11 weeks for mothers in higher-paying jobs and nine weeks for those in lower-paying jobs.
5. It makes kids healthier—even seven years later.
An Australian study found that even if a parent only takes a few weeks of paid leave, the health benefits pay off for at least seven years! Kids are significantly less likely to develop a range of conditions, including asthma, hearing and vision problems, if a parent is able to care for them with the support of paid leave.
6. It makes kids less likely to drop out of school—and richer too!
In 1977, Norway increased its national maternity leave from 12 weeks of unpaid leave to four months of paid leave (and an additional 12 months of unpaid leave). Kids who stayed home with their moms as a result of the new leave were less likely to drop out of high school, and earned 5 percent more in wages at age 30.
How Paid Family Leave Benefits Parents ...
7. Longer maternity leaves lower the rates of postpartum depression.
Ask any new mom, and she will tell you the first year after childbirth is challenging. In fact, it carries a high risk of depression—but maternity leave helps combat it. A 2014 paper published in the Journal of Health, Politics, Policy and Law found that the more time a new mom takes off from work (up to six months), the less likely she’ll be to suffer from postpartum depression. (And it should go without saying, but research from other countries shows that women are more likely to take maternity leave when it’s fully paid.)
8. And make women less likely to be depressed decades later.
The benefits of maternity leave last for years. A 2015 study found that women who had access to a more generous maternity leave policy were 18 percent less likely to suffer from depression 30 years later when they were 50 or older.
9. Paternity leave makes dads more likely to do household chores.
A Cornell University study found that dads in Quebec who took paternity leave tackled 23 percent more housework—such as laundry, cooking and dishwashing—long after the leave ended. Experts theorize it’s because the habits formed in the first demanding few months of parenthood tend to be permanent.
10. And it makes dads more likely to take care of their kids.
A 2007 study of working fathers in the U.S. found that those who took leaves of two weeks or more were much more likely to be actively involved in their child’s care nine months after birth—including feeding, changing diapers and getting up in the night.
How Paid Family Leave Benefits Companies ...
11. Paid leave helps with retention.
Managers who want to keep their talented female employees on board take note: Women who get paid leave are a whopping 93 percent more likely to be working a year after they give birth, versus women who don’t. When Google, Accenture and Aetna increased their paid leave policies in recent years, the number of female employees who quit after having a child dropped significantly.
12. It helps attract talent.
In the battle to hire the best and the brightest employees, companies that don’t offer generous paid leave policies are bound to lose. In a Deloitte survey, 77 percent of respondents said a company’s paid family leave offerings could sway their choice of employer.
13. It helps with morale.
It’s simple: Employees who have access to paid leave are happier workers. More than 82 percent of companies that offer paid leave say it has a positive impact on morale.
14. It makes workers more productive.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, paid leave actually increases a company’s productivity. Sure, companies may lose a little productivity when mom or dad is out, but it pays off down the road, since it makes employees more likely to stick around (and more loyal, to boot, we’d venture to guess). In fact, more than 70 percent of companies that offer paid leave say it boosts productivity. Another example? As a result of California’s state paid leave, women who took leave and returned to their jobs worked 15 to 20 percent more hours during the second year of their child’s life than those who did not take leave.
15. It helps increase profits.
Opponents of paid leave will tell you it’s too expensive to enact, and it’s true that small businesses in particular have a hard time shouldering the costs—but not when a worker’s leave is paid for by an employee and employer-funded payroll tax. California offers tax-funded paid leave, and guess what? A whopping 91 percent of small businesses said the law had a “positive effect” or “no noticeable effect” on profitability and performance.
How Paid Family Leave Benefits Everyone Else ...
16. It keeps women in the workforce.
Studies show that women who take paid leave are more likely to be working nine to 12 months after a child’s birth than those who take no leave leave at all. And that’s a big deal. Women’s labor-force participation in the U.S. has been falling behind that of other developed countries, and our poor parental-leave policies are partly responsible.
17. It helps reduce the motherhood penalty.
One big reason for the wage gap between men and women? Meet the motherhood penalty: When women take unpaid leave to take care of kids, they miss out on wages, promotions, raises and retirement savings. And those missed earnings really add up. What’s more, studies show the motherhood penalty even hurts women who don’t have kids.
18. It makes both men and women significantly less likely to need public assistance and food stamps.
Funny little fact: A steady paycheck helps people pay their bills. And when they have to take unpaid leave, they often rely on government assistance to fill in the gaps. (This is probably especially true when the leave is tied to a medical emergency, like a baby in the NICU, or a mom with severe postpartum complications.)
19. It’s not just for moms and dads.
This one is huge. Proposals like the FAMILY Act, and New York’s new state paid leave law, don’t just provide paid leave to care for babies. They also provide pay for caregivers looking after sick family members. With a rapidly growing elderly population in the U.S., millions of families will be taking time away from work in the coming years to care for their parents and other family members. So when a friend without kids asks, “What’s in it for me?” you can tell him: The opportunity to take care of a loved one in a time of need, without financial worries.
20. It’s good for the economy.
Boosting the number of women in the workforce isn’t just good for women—it’s good for the American economy. So is ending the wage gap. And putting more money in parents’ pockets. And boosting productivity. And virtually every other benefit of paid family leave. It’s a policy that more than pays for itself.