We are excited about the mission of our organization: to build a community of working professionals who are fully engaged with their career and their family. However, we know that this idea has limitations, and is subject to important and meaningful critiques. We’ll be writing a series of posts acknowledging and discussing these issues. Today, we’re going to address the most important and common critique: the financial demands of parental leave.
To frame the conversation, we want to make clear that while The Greatest Privilege strongly advocates for new mothers and fathers to exercise their basic maternity/paternity leave rights, our main mission is to encourage working men to take a longer period of parental leave, especially in the first year of their child’s life.
Unfortunately, in reality, we know that many families lack the opportunity to take even basic paid maternity or paternity leave. While most countries now offer these types of leave, the duration of leave provided and amount of cash benefits available to eligible parents are often still insufficient to meet minimum living standards. Furthermore, eligibility requirements screen out hundreds of millions of employees worldwide. Groups commonly excluded from even basic maternity or paternity benefits include:
- Low-wage workers
- Hourly workers
- Part-time workers
- Seasonal workers
- Contractors and self-employed workers
- Those working for small- or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
- Employees (full-time and part-time) who fail minimum time-in-service standards
While the situation is improving for some of these groups – for example, an increasing number of companies are improving parental leave rights for hourly workers – it is clear that significant structural barriers remain.
Those who lack access to paid maternity/paternity leave programs face terrible financial burdens and often risk losing their jobs if they take even a few days or weeks away from work. This problem is particularly acute in the United States, which is one of the only countries in the world that fails to offer paid maternity leave of any kind. Here, it’s not hard to uncover heartbreaking stories of physical and emotional trauma, financial strain, and brutal injustices.
Thus, we know that right out of the gate, the mission of The Greatest Privilege is an impossibility for a large percentage of the working world, including many men in the United States, one of our main audiences.
How can basic maternity and paternity rights be improved in your country? If you want to widen this critical social safety net, we recommend getting involved with an advocacy group that focuses on these issues. Concerned readers living in the United States can and should get involved with some of the many amazing organizations already working in this space. If you live in other countries, please feel free to contact us and we’ll help you find like-minded organizations working for social policy change.
We also strongly encourage readers to share their stories – positive and negative – in comments on this blog and across the site. Your experiences help raise awareness, educate and inspire other members of our community.
For those interested, we wanted to spend a few more minutes analyzing the availability and financial benefits on offer for those seeking to take parental leave. Specifically, we want to understand how this varies across the three types of leave commonly available to new families: maternity leave; paternity leave; and parental leave.
Please note that this section relies heavily on a 2014 report by the International Labour Organization (ILO), which surveyed 185 countries around the world regarding their leave policies. Although the data is now several years old, it remains the most authoritative and comprehensive view of country-by-country policy in this area.
A) Maternity Leave: If there is good news, it is that paid maternity leave – the absolute basic in terms of parental leave standards – is now commonplace. In 2014, only the United States and Papua New Guinea failed to offer paid maternity leave. Unfortunately, the ILO noted that “benefits in more than half [the world] were neither generous nor sufficiently long-lasting.” Worse, the eligibility requirements for paid maternity leave vary widely. For example, in many countries a woman must be employed for a certain period before becoming eligible. Similarly, women working in part-time or contracting positions are often ineligible. The list of common exclusions goes on and on.
Ultimately, the ILO concluded that a “large majority of women workers in the world – equivalent to around 830 million women – do not have adequate maternity protection… only 28.4 per cent of employed women worldwide would receive cash benefits in case of maternity”. That is horrific, and shows just how much the world still needs to change on this issue.
B) Paternity Leave: Again using the ILO as the authority on this issue, a total of 79 out of 167 countries (47%) reported the availability of paternity leave entitlements. Once more, the good news is that where paternity leave is offered, it is typically paid. However, as with maternity leave, eligibility is a major issue: “in the majority of countries with paternity leave provisions, the right to paternity leave is linked to a minimum time-in-service period”. Additional exclusions are common for part-time workers, contractors and a wide range of other fathers with ‘non-standard’ working arrangements.
C) Parental Leave: While the ILO has widely-adopted conventions on minimum standards for maternity and paternity leave, there is no similar agreement on parental leave. Thus, while 66 of 169 countries (39%) assessed offered parental leave, the 2014 report acknowledges that “systems of parental leave differ significantly from one country to another. There is considerable variation in terms of eligibility, payment, duration, possible flexibility in usage, the age of the child to be cared for and transferability between parents.” Importantly, the organization found that while duration of parental leave is longer than that of maternity leave, parental leave is frequently poorly paid or unpaid.
In should come as no surprise, then, that it is not yet ‘normal’ anywhere in the world for working professionals to take parental leave. In countries where this leave is unpaid, uptake rates are very low for both men and women. Yet, even within higher-income countries, the ILO research demonstrated that families “with higher incomes, full-time work, higher levels of education and other indicators of socio-economic advantage were more likely to take parental leave than their less advantaged national counterparts”.
The bottom line is that the financial costs of parental make it an unattractive or impossible option for families in many income brackets.
From this analysis, I hope it is clear why we named our organization “The Greatest Privilege”. We know that the ability to take substantial parental leave is a privilege, not a right. We also know that many families will be unable to participate in our movement because of financial concerns. We are saddened by this fact. But, it is our hope that The Greatest Privilege will help create the cultural and policy changes that are so necessary on this issue, and so badly overdue.