What do Netflix, Adobe, Twitter, and Goldman Sachs have in common? Aside from being words that would serious confuse a person from the past, they’re all companies that have opted to extend maternity and family leave to their employees in more comprehensive ways than currently required by U.S. law.
Netflix, for example, offers news parents unlimited paid leave for one year. They believe new parents should be able to bond with their child during its crucial formative year, and therefore allow their salaried employees to take as much time off as they need during the first 12 months of their new baby’s life. This time off applies for families who have adopted a child, as well. In addition, employees have the choice to come back part-time, full-time, or to “return and go back out as needed.”
This begs the question: if private companies like Netflix are opting to extend parental leave, should other companies be required by law to offer a more extensive maternal or paternal leave policy? Some readers may feel such regulation would unfairly affect small businesses, but the facts speak for themselves.
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, half of all mothers of infants work outside of the home. Of that half, most of them return to work within three months. But research has shown “that longer maternity leaves may benefit infant health and development – children whose mothers take longer leaves have been found to have lower mortality rates and higher test scores.”
In a research paper entitled “Does the Length of Maternity Leaves Affect Maternal Health?” researchers Pinka Chatterji and Sara Markowitz attempt to determine how longer maternity leaves affect the health of mothers. The results are telling:
“The authors find that returning to work later is associated with a reduction in the CES-D scale. This means that mothers who return to work later are reporting fewer symptoms of depression, such as “my sleep was restless” or “I could not get going,” or are experiencing such symptoms with less frequency or both.”
The authors note that women who were already severely depressed may not experience the same benefit, but a positive correlation between mental health and longer maternity leaves was identified in healthy women.
But what about the economic effects of extended paid leave? Wouldn’t government regulations requiring longer maternity leave time negatively affect businesses? Wouldn’t it be too heavy of a financial burden for employers to carry? Not necessarily.
In an article for the New York Times, Claire Cain Miller cites new legislation in the states of California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Examining the economic affects, she writes:
“Economists have found that with paid leave, more people take time off, particularly low-income parents who may have taken no leave or dropped out of the work force after the birth. Paid leave raises the probability that mothers return to employment later, and then work more hours and earn higher wages. Paid leave does not necessarily help businesses — but it does not seem to hurt them, either.”
Ruth Milkman, a sociologist at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, says the worry about financial burden is highly overblown. “The business lobby’s predictions about how these programs are really a big burden on employers are not accurate,” she said.
Of course, this is all ignoring the fact that long parental leave has already been successfully implemented in countries like Sweden, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. In fact, the United States ranks near to last on the index of developed countries with parental leave programs.
What about Tennessee? Is longer paid parental leave really a possibility for The Volunteer State? Changes in family law aren’t unprecedented, and the state does currently have a maternity leave program on the books. The TN Family Leave Act does provide limited financial assistance to new mothers, but it’s hardly as comprehensive as the facts of new motherhood demand.
Nashville itself is capable of passing new legislation to extend required maternity leave. We may not be ready to pass into law regulations requiring a full year of paid time off, but it’s clear both mothers, fathers, and their children deserve more bonding time with children in their formative years.