Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Will maternal leave disadvantage women?

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-01-31

I have a couple of concerns about the idea of up to 12 months of maternal leave now mooted by the Rudd government.  These relate to the damage this might do to gender equality in the workforce (even for those women intent on spinsterhood or childlessness), and to the environment.

The environmental harm from encouraging multiple (if not annual) children is clear.  There are too many people, needing too many resources, producing too much waste.

If benefits dropped 50% with each subsequent pregancy resulting in a live birth (not wanting to discriminate against twins and triplets), then this environmental (and consequent long-term economic) damage could be minimized.  It’s the first child that demands the most time off anyway while first-time parents learn the ropes.

One of the problems with a focus on maternity leave is the way it can cause economic disadvantage to women because it reinforces gender roles as discussed in the following quotes.

One important lesson from this analysis is that gender equality in the labour market is intimately linked to equality in the household division of labour.  Policies aimed at reducing gender disparities in earning opportunities are likely to fail if they do not include provisions to reduce women’s contribution to home production relative to men.
    …Sweden seems to have moved in the right direction with the introduction of a father’s month requirement that compels fathers to take at least 30 days of parental leave.  By directly reducing the gender asymmetries in the allocation of parental responsibilities, this policy decreases the potential for statistical discrimination that leads to gender inequalities in wages.

From the VoxEU post "Gender roles and technological progress" a.k.a "Gender, medicine and papa leave"

… because of the perception that females do more of the household work, they’ll be less devoted to work, and are less attractive to employers, so wages and career prospects suffer.

There also needs to be a good examination of work-life balance, including the ability to take placid infants to work.

Although getting the flexible work conditions necessary was very "career limiting", I was very lucky, and wish that all single parents had my options.  When very young, my daughter, who was very difficult to settle, would doze in a sling on my chest at work (not great ergonomically, reaching around her to the three keyboards on my desk).  I was able to arrive at work late and leave early so I could get her to and from school (public transport – I’m epileptic and can?t drive, and I did more work at home late at night).  When she was older, I was even able to have her sit at a spare desk at some client sites on curriculum days.
While I’d been lucky with a good boss (thanks Gerry) I must admit that I was probably only able to get the working conditions I needed because I was a single dad, rather than a single mum.  Have any single mums out there wangled the latitude I was blessed with?

(Excerpt from "Single parenting for Bluemilk" (2007-11-27) a post on single daddydom)

See Also:


One Response to “Will maternal leave disadvantage women?”

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