So we're back here again. I like it here. This soapbox is warm and makes me feel happy.
Today's economic topic? Workplace equality. Well, part of it anyway. A big part of it, in my opinion: parental leave. Everyone who's ever had a kid or wanted to have a kid has asked a simple but often scary question: how will we afford the time off? It seems obvious that women need time off to recover from birthing a baby, hence maternity leave. But parental leave is one of the stickiest issues in how US companies view female hires both in how they calculate perceived short-term hiring risk and long-term cost. Like it or not, thanks to our terrible leave policies, we put women in a shitty position both at home and at work, reducing their happiness and long-term incomes.
But dads, right? They can just keep working. Besides, moms are better caretakers, right?
Not necessarily, if the Swedes are any indication. In Sweden, a couple shares a generous pool of paid leave:
Forty years ago Sweden became the first country in the world to introduce a gender-neutral paid parental-leave allowance. This involves paying 90% of wages for 180 days per child, and parents were free to divvy up the days between them in whatever way they pleased. But the policy was hardly a hit with dads: in the scheme's first year men took only 0.5% of all paid parental leave.
Today they take a quarter of it. One reason is that the scheme has become more generous, with the number of paid leave days for the first child being bumped up from 180 to 480. But it has also been tweaked to encourage a more equal sharing of the allowance. In 1995 the first so-called "daddy month" was introduced. Under this reform, families in which each parent took at least one month of leave received an additional month to add to their total allowance. The policy was expanded in 2002 so that if the mother and father each took at least two months' leave, the family would get two extra months. Some politicians now want to go further, proposing that the current system of shared leave be turned into one of individual entitlements, under which mothers should be allowed to take only half of the family's total allowance, with the rest reserved for fathers.
Seems great, right? But this has seemingly had an important effect:
Since Swedish men started to take more responsibility for child rearing, women have seen both their incomes and levels of self-reported happiness increase. Paying dads to change nappies and hang out at playgrounds, in other words, seems to benefit the whole family.
Bingo. Once you incentivize childcare as a society, people will take more equal care of children. This means that women spend less time out of the workplace relative to men, and get seen as equal in that regard. Men now become "leave risks" like women, and you can no longer use leave as an excuse to underpay women for the same work.
Simple: when everyone is special, nobody is. The fact that women have much of the childcare burden associated with them is one of the easiest ways for companies to justify treating women necessarily as risks (because we, as a society, force them to be!)
This is insane. We should be screaming at Congress non-stop, demanding better laws and institutions surrounding having a baby. Forget telling women they need to "Lean In." Forget all this corporate wage slave nonsense that has co-opted so much of feminist thought. Want better treatment of families, women, and even men? Demand fair and equal leave and encourage men to be involved fathers.