Earlier this week, the Pew Research Center released a report that stated that a record 40% of American households contain a mother that is either the primary or sole breadwinner for her family. This statistic is confirming what many Americans already know: the fact that women and men are beginning to share responsibilities in the workplace and in the household. Therefore, the idea of separate spheres, in which the women occupy the household and the men the workforce, is slowly but surely being broken down. It is amazing that women have made so much progress, considering that women still face a wage gap and considering the fact that the United States does not have a paid maternity leave scheme.
Therefore, despite this reassuring statistic, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before women can truly claim equality in the workplace. According to the White House website, full-time working women earn $0.77 for every dollar a full time working man earns. The United States is currently one of three countries that does not offer paid maternity leave (the other two are Swaziland and Paupa New Guinea). The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which was the first law that President Clinton signed, offers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth of a child and is the closest thing we have to mandated maternity leave. However, FMLA comes with its own set of restrictions. In order for an individual to qualify for FMLA leave, they need to be working at a company that has at least 50 employees and they need to have worked at the company for 1,250 hours, the equivalent of one year of full-time work. Therefore, it is difficult for many mothers to qualify for even unpaid leave after the birth of a child.
Paid maternity leave is not an issue that solely impacts women. A lack of paid maternity leave costs companies in regards to higher turnover rates of employees and higher training costs. Paid maternity leave also has many positive effects on infants including an increased likelihood that a child will receive the recommended and necessary immunizations at the correct age.
In order for there to be progress in regards to maternity leave, it is vital to acknowledge the role that men play in the feminist movement, especially in regards to equality in the workplace. Fathers need to teach their daughters that they can accomplish anything their brothers can. Congress (which is currently comprised mostly of males) needs to work together to pass national paid maternity leave schemes, and beyond that, parental leave. Husbands need to support wives by taking on more household responsibilities. CEOs (men and women) of large companies need to consider the positive impacts that paid maternity leave schemes can have on their workers and on their company overall, and implement policies such as those that have been adopted by Facebook, Google and Yahoo in regards to paid maternity leave and parental leave.
Many individuals argue that the wage gap can be attributed to choices that women make in regards to balancing careers and families. It would be easier for women to make such decisions and achieve a healthy balance if national legislation corresponding to paid maternity leave was achieved.