2 weeks of birthleave for fathers

by Ingrid Robeyns on January 3, 2008

When last September Ronald Plasterk, the Dutch minister of Education, Culture and Science, who also holds emancipation in his portfolio, released his Policy Paper on Emancipation, he was criticized for not mentioning men at all. Basically his view is that women should be encouraged to perform more paid work so that they can be ‘financially independent’, and the government should provide the conditions for making this possible, for example by expanding the supply of formal child care facilities. I agree with the critics that what is missing is a vision of what fathers need to be offered, both as a matter of justice for fathers, but also as a precondition for women’s emancipation. So I would like to suggest to Mr. Plasterk, as a first and minimal step towards the inclusion of men in his emancipation policies, that he introduces the right for fathers of a minimum of 2 weeks of fully paid birthleave (and, of course, also for co-mothers in the case of lesbian parents).

The first argument in favour of 2+ weeks of paid paternity leave is that the current legislation is discriminatory towards fathers (I am borrowing for this argument from the doctoral dissertation of the Belgian legal scholar Petra Foubert – see her book or a short interview (in Dutch, at page 5) that she gave for a university newspaper).
Female employees in the Netherlands are entitled to 16 weeks of maternity leave, paid at 100% of their current salary (there is a ceiling, but the ceiling is very very high). They have to take minimum 4 and maximum 6 weeks of leave before the due date. This leaves them with 10 to 12 weeks of leave after the birth, extended for the number of days the baby was born after the due date. According to Foubert’s review of the medical literature, women need 6 to 8 weeks to physically recover from giving birth. So that means that for their pregnancy, birth, and birth recovery, women need somewhere between 10 (4 weeks before + 6 weeks after) and 14 (6+8) weeks of leave; hence between 2 and 6 weeks are given to women for non-medical reasons; it is given to them as parents, rather than as mothers. Fathers and co-mothers could rightly complain that they are discriminated against. Treating men and women equally given current Dutch maternity-legislation seems to imply that fathers and co-mothers are entitled to somewhere between 2 and 6 weeks of leave after the birth (under current legislation fathers and co-mothers are entitled to two days, which they will need for the birth itself and for the official paperwork that has to be done within three workingdays).

Secondly, many mothers can use all emotional and practical support after childbirth they can get, certainly if they had a difficult delivery or if it is their first child (which means they are inexperienced and also with many questions about what this means for their lives), or if they have older children who need to be cared for. For most parents, the first weeks with a newborn are incredibly moving and amazing, but also utterly exhausting and hard. So it is not a luxury for both parents to be home in those weeks; rather, it is a normal human need. It’s more about being able to adjust to this new life, and also to try to relieve the mother of the entire burden of caring and nurturing in a condition in which many of them are physically unable to do so.

This second argument has recently become more urgent in the Netherlands, since women are not allowed to stay in hospital after delivering their babies (except, of course, if there is some medical reason, such as excessive blood loss or a c-section with complications). Instead, a professional carer comes to the mother’s home to take care of mother and child there, paid for (largely) by the national health insurance. Yet this kind of care has been scaled down considerably – since 2006 the task of these careworkers is limited to checking the health of mother and child, cleaning the bedroom and the bathroom, doing the laundry, advising on breastfeeding, and preparing lunch. Until 2005 these care workers would also take care of older children, do grocery shopping, prepare the evening meals, clean the house, make coffee for visitors, and do anything else that needed to be done so that the mother could stay in bed. But how can mothers who just gave birth do what is medically necessary (that is, try to rest and minimise walking around for about a week), if they only receive care for 4 to 5 hours a day, and their partners have no legal right to stay away from work?

Thirdly, many women want men to be more involved in childcare. Yet these first months of caring for the infant set in motion a gendered division of caring. Fathers can easily withdraw from the hard work of caring for the infant by arguing that if only they were entitled to paid leave, they would be happy to do so, but they do not have such a luxury. Or they may say that they don’t know how to care for an infant, since they never were told how to do so. If they are at home in the weeks after the birth, they will have all the time they need to learn how to care for infants (in fact, in the Dutch context the professional carers who come at home in the week after the birth provide another good reason for fathers to be there: they can learn from a very experienced person how to care for an infant.) Women who want to negotiate a gender-egalitarian divison of labour have a strong stake in fathers being able to spend much time with the newborn; it will make the fathers de facto as competent as mothers to care for the infant (apart from breastfeeding), and the closer bond between father and child makes it more likely that he will be more practically and emotionally involved after his leave ends.

Yet the argument about the intra-household negotiations regarding the division of care and work can also be applied in another context, namely those whereby fathers want to be more involved in childcare, but the mothers basically want to claim this as their terrain. Some mothers become overly possessive and protective of their babies, thereby denying fathers an equal chance to bond with their child, and learn how to become a good carer. Some women are quite happy with the traditional gendered division of caring for infants, since it gives them a sphere of power which they do not want to share with the fathers. If fathers were entitled to several weeks paid paternity leave, it would imply that they had time off to (learn how to) care for the infant, which would make it easier for fathers who are partnered with a child-possessive woman. For fathers in such relationships, the right to paid paternity leave would strengthen their bargaining power to negotiate a more equal division of childcare.

Paid paternity leave can also be justified from the point of view of the child. It is to be expected that paid paternity leave would contribute to fathers being more involved with care, not just for those few weeks after birth, but for the entire childhood. It is in the interest of children to have two caring and competent parents. One argument is that shared involved parenthood is a risk-spreading strategy: if the mother unexpectedly becomes unable to care for the child (for whatever reason), then the child still has another parent with whom he has a strong bond. Moreover, parents have different characters and may be complementary in the parenting skills they are good at, which makes it good for children to have two involved parents rather than only one.

Given all these arguments, I think the Dutch government should introduce paid paternity leave. The argument that this will cost money is a bad argument in the Dutch context, since the government is officially committed to children’s wellbeing and to emancipation, and is also spending taxpayers’ money on a range of items that are much less urgent (such as the absurdly generous tax deductions for mortgages).

There is probably a case to be made for much longer paternity leave, and/or for much more generous paid parental leave. What counts as the politically most feasible strategy will differ from country to country; and if I were to live in a country without decent and affordable health care provisioning, I would probably also give that higher priority than the right to paid paternity leave. Yet in the Netherlands, with the relatively well developed welfare state that we have, but with its strong mother ideology, 2 weeks of fully paid paternity leave should be on the agenda of politicians and citizens who care about justice, families and children.

{ 1 trackback }

Real Family Values « Philosophy On The Mesa
01.03.08 at 4:59 pm

{ 54 comments }

1

magistra 01.03.08 at 8:51 am

The two weeks would be a good start, but the UK experience when they introduced this showed there can be problems with work cultures. Fathers who have the right to paternity leave don’t necessarily take it, either because they’re pressurised by their employers not to or because they themselves think it shows lack of career commitment to do so. For example, there have been several recent cases of prominent male politicians becoming fathers again and I think many of them, while they support paternity leave, take very little themselves. But then the UK has a culture in which working excessive hours is expected and a lot of people already don’t take the holiday they’re entitled to, for fear they’ll lose out at work. The Netherlands may be different in that respect.

2

frumiousb 01.03.08 at 9:09 am

I’d tend to agree with this. It’s a good thing, and probably an important thing.

But I would prefer to see some other changes here in the Netherlands first. The expansion of child care facilities seems to me a much higher priority– and this includes forcing schools to set schedules and parental requirements that are respectful of the fact that both parents may have a career. On the practical side, I see this as *much* more important, particularly for low income women.

And on the unfair and shocking side, I would prefer to see the Dutch government extend maternity/paternity leave rights to adoptive parents. The current policies are shameful.

In an ideal world, we would be able to get all these things, I suppose.

3

Katherine 01.03.08 at 9:09 am

I have to say, Magistra, that my anecdotal experience is that pretty much all fathers take their allocated leave. And I used to work in one of the most excessive-hours professions going. Do you know of any figures suggesting that fathers don’t?

Bearing in mind here that the UK provision isn’t two weeks’ full pay, it is two weeks on Statutory Paternity Pay (c.£112 per week), which might well be a serious barrier for many people.

4

Nils 01.03.08 at 9:38 am

In Sweden, where I live, there is a 13 month paid parental leave at 80 % of the salary (many employers, such as my own, add another 10 % to the government funded part).

Two months of the parental leave cannot be “given away” to the other parent; these are called “father’s months” since it is still the mother who normally stays at home longest with the children.

There is also an “equality bonus” for parents who divide their parental leave equally.

Directly after the birth, the father gets 10 “father’s days” at 80 % of his salary.

When the child is one year old, you are entitled to daycare/kindergarten. The cost of putting your firstborn in daycare is 3 % of the household income, but maximally 1.260 SEK (roughly 130 euros) and gets lower with each new child.

5

Doug 01.03.08 at 10:10 am

What are Dutch norms on regular, paid, vacation? Here in Germany, many unionized or salaried positions come with four to six weeks of annual vacation. It doesn’t seem unreasonable for fathers to plan to use some of that time after the birth of a child. This doesn’t affect the equity arguments Ingrid is making; on the other hand, expecting everything to come from the state may not be the best way to start parenting.

6

Katherine 01.03.08 at 10:34 am

…”expecting everything to come from the state”… erm, what now? How is expecting some parental leave expecting “everything”? Unless I’ve got this wrong, parenting needs a lot more than just presence.

7

Z 01.03.08 at 11:36 am

Thank you for this post, Ingrid. My wife and I have tried for a long time to defend the argument that paternity leave is an important step towards equality between men and women, as it both advances the cause of women and men. I have always been enraged to hear doubts about hiring a young woman because she will probably take maternity leave at some point, implying both that this is a fair reason for not hiring a young woman and that a young man has no right to such leave.

8

Tracy W 01.03.08 at 11:46 am

1. Politicians are in a weird world. Things can blow up very quickly in politics and while an MP can only be voted out at an election, higher positions within an English-style parliament can be changed much more frequently. Jim Bolger lost his position as PM when he was overseas for a week in the late nineties. Jenny Shipley used that time to organise a coup. Obviously this does not apply to all parliaments, but constitutionally the NZ parliament is quite similar to the UK one. I think those British politicians have reason to fear taking time off.

9

Tracy W 01.03.08 at 12:03 pm

Secondly, many mothers can use all emotional and practical support after childbirth they can get

Traditionally this is the job of the grandmother. In many of my friends’ cases, their mother was determined to come down after the birth and help. In some friends’ cases, this appeared likely to happen whether the parents-to-be wanted it or not (I suspect the parents changed their mind after the birth).

My grandmothers would come and stay with us when my younger brothers were born. (And presumably when I was born but I don’t remember that).

Of course this is not doable when a woman’s mother is not alive, or is otherwise incapable or refuses to help. But then parental leave won’t help mum if her partner is not alive, or is otherwise incapable or refuses to help.

Fathers can easily withdraw from the hard work of caring for the infant by arguing that if only they were entitled to paid leave, they would be happy to do so, but they do not have such a luxury.

I think a father who wants to withdraw from the hard work of caring for an infant will not be deterred by two weeks holiday. Equally for the mother who wants to be child-possessive.
I once spent a merry time with my husband removing all his excuses for failing to put the washing on. Eventually, he ran out of excuses and I got him to negotiate a deal by which I did the washing and he did some other chore. I think you underestimate the ingenuity of human beings.

It is to be expected that paid paternity leave would contribute to fathers being more involved with care, not just for those few weeks after birth, but for the entire childhood. It is in the interest of children to have two caring and competent parents.

My father did not have paid paternity leave. But he was deeply involved in our care, for our entire childhoods. He was competent in every area except cooking, and even there he did manage to feed us when Mum was away. Though it was a happy day for our tastebuds when he discovered that the supermarket would sell cooked foods, turning dinner preparation into a matter of moving food from containers onto plates. Paternity leave is not a necessary condition for a parent to be caring and competent. How much would parental leave contribute to increased parental competence is the relevant question, which you do not answer.

There is probably a case to be made for much longer paternity leave, and/or for much more generous paid parental leave.
Do you have any case as to when paternity/maternity leave is too much? Is there any point in which you would stop and say that justice does not require any more parental leave?

10

Jacob Christensen 01.03.08 at 12:06 pm

Just a follow-up to Nils’s comment: Parental leave is of cause longer in Denmark and Sweden. The political discussion is not so much about the overall length of parental leave as about 1) (Denmark) if a part of the parental leave should be reserved for the father/co-parent and 2) (Denmark and Sweden) how big a part should be assigned to fathers/co-parents.

As Magistra points out, there is an issue with work cultures. At my present job parents have actually without exception split the leave 50/50 (but that is at a university), anecdotal evidence from Denmark and Sweden points to norms against fathers taking more than their minimal allotment.

Oh, and one more thing which is not directly linked to the materal/parternal leave: As part of the last round of wage negotiations in Denmark a parental leave fund was set up for some parts of the private sector. The idea was that employers would pool the risk of hiring younger women – and in that way be more open to hiring women.

11

Matt 01.03.08 at 12:21 pm

My understanding of the system in Norway (I’m working from memory so probably have the details at least somewhat wrong) is that fathers have the option of taking a fairly short (perhaps two weeks) _unpaid_ leave or else a longer (maybe 5 or 6 week) _paid_ leave. Some leave can also (like in Sweden, I guess) be transfered from the mother to the father if desired. This was designed to encourage fathers who otherwise claimed they could not afford to take time off to do so. It seems like quite a nice idea to me.

12

aaron_m 01.03.08 at 12:51 pm

“transfered from the mother to the father if desired.”

Leave is not transferred from the mother to the father in Sweden. Framing it that way is simply a reflection of a norm that says women are responsible for child care. There is X amount of paternity leave associated with a child that its caregivers can divide among themselves. You can even finance your neighbour to take care of your child through the state insurance system for some limited number of days if the child is sick and you have to work.

#10: I do not think that the norm against fathers taking out more than the minimum is all that strong in Sweden today. A much larger factor explaining why father’s take out less of the 13 months is that they earn more (i.e. men on average earn 20%-30% more than women). Thus it is a larger economic cost for the family if the father is on leave. That is why the Swedish government is now going to offer a fairly large equality bonus. There are of course lots of other factors at work in explaining the difference, e.g. women leverage gender norms to negotiate more of this very valuable social benefit for themselves or men that leverage gender norms to avoid work in the home. But talking about these factors entails admitting that one is not perfectly gender neutral…. while in Sweden better to just be quiet.

13

Slocum 01.03.08 at 1:58 pm

This kind of thread is always makes me appreciate life where the central government doesn’t try to engineer changes in gender relations.

But that aside, I have to say that I doubt two weeks of father’s birth leave would make any difference. Fathers at home with their wives and new babies for the first couple of weeks would almost certainly find themselves running interference (cleaning, shopping, cooking, looking after older children) so that the new mothers could focus even more intensely and exclusively on care of the new infant. I’d argue that, in general, only when fathers care for their young children regularly and for significant amounts of time when the mothers are not present do things really change.

Men being the primary caregivers of young children happens here, in the U.S., more out of necessity than anything else, but it is not all that unusual, really, for that. It seems to occur when the wife earns more (which isn’t typical but is increasingly common), and when there is either a strong family commitment to avoiding daycare (likely to be found among social conservatives, actually) and/or the income of the lower earning parent (after taxes and other costs of working) doesn’t much exceed the cost of day-care.

The arrangement has been common and normal enough for quite some time. A couple can choose it intentionally and not worry that they’ll be socially ostracized as oddballs who are threats to the social order. My wife and I did so, in fact, way back in the ‘dark days’ of the late Reagan and Bush I administrations.

But if free, state-supplied daycare or long periods of mandated paid maternity leave had been available here, I doubt this trend would ever have gotten started.

14

Z 01.03.08 at 2:04 pm

I think a father who wants to withdraw from the hard work of caring for an infant will not be deterred by two weeks holiday.

Tracy W, what you write might be true, but I have the opposite perspective. I want to care for my infants and I fully expect none of their grand-parents to be able to help in any way. Will I be able to do so or will I be bound by professional obligations? Worse, will I be bound because the society I live in believes that it is the sole job of my wife to care for infants and thus offers only paid leave to mothers?

Do you have any case as to when paternity/maternity leave is too much? Is there any point in which you would stop and say that justice does not require any more parental leave?

You ask a personal opinion about a matter of public policies and this is always a bit awkward to answer (even if granted this power, I would not decide any public choice on the basis of my sole preferences). Also, I don’t want to answer for Ingrid, but as for me (and I agreed with just about every word of the post), I would be more than satisfied by the swedish plan described by Nils at 4 (in fact, even less would already be beyond my greatest expectations). Then again, if the society I live in somehow democratically decides to give even more generous leaves, it would have to go very far before I start actively campaigning against it.

15

Slocum 01.03.08 at 2:25 pm

Oh, and although it goes against my libertarianish grain to offer suggestions for centralized gender-role engineering, if you really wanted to do it effectively, here’s what I’d suggest:

1. Do not offer full-time maternity leave past the first couple of weeks, offer half-time leave only.

2. Make #1 conditional on the father taking half time parental leave also.

16

Patrick 01.03.08 at 2:27 pm

I don’t think this really counts as a discrimination issue. Differing treatment is justified under differing circumstances, which clearly exist here.

Paternal leave is still probably a good idea. If nothing else, it can help in the workplace. If you have maternal leave but not paternal leave, that gives employers an incentive to hire male employees who won’t take leave. Grant both genders leave, and that incentive to discriminate is mitigated.

17

praisegod barebones 01.03.08 at 2:54 pm

‘This kind of thread is always makes me appreciate life where the central government doesn’t try to engineer changes in gender relations.’

It’s presumably fine for governments to take action designed to make sure that gender relations stay more or less as they are?

18

lemuel pitkin 01.03.08 at 4:20 pm

It’s presumably fine for governments to take action designed to make sure that gender relations stay more or less as they are?

No no, to a libertarian “maintaining things as they are” = “not interfering.” This principle has applications well beyond gender relations, for instance in the distribution of income and wealth.

19

GreatZamfir 01.03.08 at 4:21 pm

“It’s presumably fine for governments to take action designed to make sure that gender relations stay more or less as they are?”

Can you give examples of this? I am not debating her, I don’t have much of an opinion about this, I am just curious what government actions you see as explicitly or even implicitly aimed at keeping gender relations as they are.

20

GreatZamfir 01.03.08 at 4:23 pm

“debating HERE”, not “her”

21

Uncle Kvetch 01.03.08 at 4:47 pm

I am just curious what government actions you see as explicitly or even implicitly aimed at keeping gender relations as they are.

Please tell me that was meant to be a joke.

Huckabee: I don’t think the issue’s about being against gay marriage. It’s about being for traditional marriage and articulating the reason that’s important. You have to have a basic family structure. There’s never been a civilization that has rewritten what marriage and family means and survived. So there is a sense in which, you know, it’s one thing to say if people want to live a different way, that’s their business. But when you want to redefine what family means or what marriage means, then that’s an issue that should require some serious and significant debate in the public square.

Yes indeed, how lucky Slocum and I are to live in a country where government doesn’t take it upon itself to engineer gender relations.

22

Alan Bostick 01.03.08 at 5:03 pm

Slocum: This kind of thread is always makes me appreciate life where the central government doesn’t try to engineer changes in gender relations.

I don’t know where you live, Slocum. Here in the United States, the government engineers gender relations through tax policy, Social Security, and the legal definition of marriage, and very likely through other means as well.

23

Tracy W 01.03.08 at 5:04 pm

Tracy W, what you write might be true, but I have the opposite perspective. I want to care for my infants and I fully expect none of their grand-parents to be able to help in any way. Will I be able to do so or will I be bound by professional obligations?

So since you can’t rely on your grandparents, you want to place the burden on your employer? (I presume that your professional obligations are of some value to your employer, if you are in fact a politician I apologise since Belgium and NZ experiences imply that a country can get along quite happily for many months without a formal Government, let alone two weeks).

Worse, will I be bound because the society I live in believes that it is the sole job of my wife to care for infants and thus offers only paid leave to mothers?

Just because a government only offers paid leave to mothers doesn’t mean that you will be bound by beliefs that it’s the sole job of wives to care for infants. When I was born there was no paternity leave in NZ, and as far as I know no maternity leave. However, my parents were part of a society that believed that both parents should share in caring for infants and children (they both went to university in the 60s and 70s, and so did most of their friends so they were fully exposed to the second wave of feminism), and my father was deeply involved in our care. He was completely hopeless at breastfeeding, and as I’ve said, a terrible cook, but that didn’t stop him from washing nappies, bathing babies, reading bed-time stories, cleaning house, heating up cans of baked beans, etc.

Incidentally, just because a society believes something doesn’t mean you are bound by it either. There have been a lot of cases in history where people have gone ahead and changed their society’s beliefs. My own grandmother was the very first woman to be elected to her school board. If you want to be involved in your infants’ lives, I will be absolutely furious with you if you let society stop you.

You ask a personal opinion about a matter of public policies and this is always a bit awkward to answer even if granted this power, I would not decide any public choice on the basis of my sole preferences

What’s personal about it? I have absolutely no desire nor power to make you dictator of the Netherlands, nor do I want the Dutch to be making choices based on your, or Ingrid’s, personal preferences. Instead I want the Dutch to make public choices democratically based on informed and publicly-debated propositions, evidence, etc.

Ingrid’s advocating a public policy. I was asking Ingrid if she has a basis as to what is enough. As far as I can tell, Ingrid’s arguments in favour of paid paternity leave would apply as much as if she took up advocating 1 year, or 18 years, of paid paternity leave per child. I’ve certainly heard parents complain enough about the hard work of raising teenagers, and 18 years of paid paternity leave would give far more opportunities for fathers to get involved in raising their kids than two weeks. The only thing she mentions as a limiting factor is the cost. I’m curious as to what level of obligation Ingrid thinks the general population of the Netherlands have to fund parental bonding.

24

Matt Austern 01.03.08 at 5:13 pm

Only two weeks? That doesn’t sound like a very generous amount even by American standards, let alone European. Why not just push for full equality?

I’m male, and I took a month off when my daughter was born. (My employer has much a better parental leave policy than US law requires.) That time at home helped a lot.

25

Uncle Kvetch 01.03.08 at 5:28 pm

Only two weeks? That doesn’t sound like a very generous amount even by American standards, let alone European.

She’s talking about two paid weeks for fathers. US law only allows for unpaid family leave.

26

Slocum 01.03.08 at 5:32 pm

Yes indeed, how lucky Slocum and I are to live in a country where government doesn’t take it upon itself to engineer gender relations.

First of all, I was talking about male-female gender relations in the context of child care, not gay marriage. And get back to me when Huckabee is actually elected President (which I expect and hope will never happen) AND he implements policies in Washington that reinforce stay-at-home motherhood (which even if, God help us, he were elected I still doubt very much that we’d see).

In the U.S., I think you could make a much better argument about income taxes being rigged against married couples with equal incomes. A couple with two $75K/year earners pays considerably more in tax than a couple with one $150K/year earner even though the egalitarian dual-income couple has much less free time and has additional costs associated with dual careers. The obvious fix would be to allow married couples to file their taxes as singles, but given the cost (and other political realities) I’m not holding my breath for that. Also, get rid of the provision that allows lifelong non-workers to collect their dead spouses higher benefits. Hell with that. You want the higher benefits? Fine — then get out there and work and contribute to the system like the rest of us. But I’m not holding my breath for that change either.

So there are mild tax and government benefit incentives in the U.S. for couples to focus their energies on a single, high-paying career. But the twist is that more and more here, the higher-paying career isn’t necessarily the husband’s. So oddly enough that both contributes to maintaining traditional roles but also pushes an increasing number of families into non-traditional roles that they might not have chosen otherwise.

27

christian h. 01.03.08 at 5:33 pm

Plac[ing] the burden on the employer?? Poor employers, so burdened by the fact that their nasty employees aren’t machines, but in fact, human beings.

Anyway, seen from the US, a discussion such as this is sadly almost surreal. Paid leave? Not so much. I like the Swedish system, as described above, though.

28

Uncle Kvetch 01.03.08 at 5:46 pm

First of all, I was talking about male-female gender relations in the context of child care, not gay marriage.

Then you should have said so. But you chose not to, because it wouldn’t have been nearly as smug and self-satisfied.

Silly me, thinking that a self-described “libertarian” should give a shit about anything other than their sweet, sweet self. But I know you favor gay marriage, Slocum, so it’s cool!

29

R 01.03.08 at 5:58 pm

Do you have any case as to when paternity/maternity leave is too much? Is there any point in which you would stop and say that justice does not require any more parental leave?

I think two slightly different questions are being conflated here… One is to what extent society (through government mandates or payments) wants to subsidize the care of very young children. One can look at this not only from the point of view of benefits to parents, but benefits to the children (and the people the children will live with the rest of their lives). Many societies decided a century ago that it was in the public interest to subsidize the education of children — not because of the benefits it gave their parents, but because of the overall social benefit. And I think there are similar arguments to be made about supporting the care of very young children, at least for societies that still see having children as a benefit to society (which don’t think is really a consensus view in the U.S., where a significant minority would argue children were a “lifestyle choice”).

The second question — once you have a handle on the first — is how to provide that subsidy. Childcare centers? Reimbursement for childcare expenses? Paid leave for one parent? Paid leave for both parents? Those issues get into the question of whether society wants to try to nudge gender roles/relationships into a particular direction. But I think that’s separate from the question of overall support for the care of very young children.

30

GreatZamfir 01.03.08 at 6:30 pm

“Please tell me that was meant to be a joke.”

No, really not. I’m also from the Netherlands, and accidentally our right-wing nuts love gay marriage as a shining beacon of civilisation, mostly because muslims don’t have it. So I personally wasn’t thinking of marriage as a way government is keeping traditional patterns fixed, but I guess this might be different elsewhere.

But aside of this, did you have other things in mind? Are tax systems favouring single-earner families? I don’t even know whether they do that here, let alone in other countries. And, as Slocum mentions, with rising numbers of women as large earners, such policies are not necessarily favouring tradional women-at-home patterns.

31

lemuel pitkin 01.03.08 at 6:41 pm

29 is very good. We will have enough paid family leave when (a) we have sufficient investment in the care of young children and (b) the burden of that care is shared equitably between both parents, the employer, other interested parties and society at large.

While — like other Americans here — I think the Swedish system sounds like heaven, i suspect that even there the resources going to the care of young children is less than optimal (by whatever standard) and that the burden of that care falls excessively on parents and especially mothers.

32

Slocum 01.03.08 at 7:38 pm

“First of all, I was talking about male-female gender relations in the context of child care, not gay marriage.”

Then you should have said so. But you chose not to, because it wouldn’t have been nearly as smug and self-satisfied.

I chose not to because the post concerned ‘maternity’ leave for fathers and how to promote more equal gender roles. Ingrid did mention lesbian co-mothers, but that was obviously not the main thrust.

Silly me, thinking that a self-described “libertarian” should give a shit about anything other than their sweet, sweet self. But I know you favor gay marriage, Slocum, so it’s cool!

Well, I do favor gay marriage, but that just wasn’t what this thread was about.

I do think, though, that one is generally better off pushing for even-handed government policies that will leave the space to lead the kind of life you and your family want rather than trying to elect a government that will subsidize your own preferred forms of family structure and gender roles. That’s particularly true in a diverse society where there are widely diverging ideas about gender roles and how children should be raised.

I do think the U.S. currently offers more scope for different approaches to marriage and family, but it’s hardly nirvana and, yes, the restrictions on gay marriage are a particular problem.

As a libertarian, I do find statements like this one from ‘z’ sad and also a little puzzling:

“Worse, will I be bound because the society I live in believes that it is the sole job of my wife to care for infants and thus offers only paid leave to mothers?”

No you aren’t and won’t be bound — you really don’t have to wait for society as a whole to validate and subsidize your preferred choices. It’s fun to be eccentric. Will people think you’re a bit odd? Will there be professional tradeoffs? Probably yes and yes. But if you live a first-world country, it’s just not likely those tradeoffs will be debilitating.

33

jdkbrown 01.03.08 at 7:55 pm

“Will there be professional tradeoffs? Probably yes and yes. But if you live a first-world country, it’s just not likely those tradeoffs will be debilitating.”

This is just silly. I know very few people who could afford to take several unpaid weeks off of work, and even fewer whose jobs would be waiting for them afterward if they did so. You are viewing the situation through a particular socio-economic lens that’s turning the majority of Americans invisible.

34

leederick 01.03.08 at 8:15 pm

When you say ‘paternity’ leave is what you actually mean leave discretionarily awardable by the mother to a nominated co-parent? Many paternity leave schemes don’t have much to do with paternity – other than branding – when you look at the detail. I’m not complaining about the mechanics, but there’s something very interesting going on with the disconnect between these schemes ideological motivations, how they work, and how they’re presented.

Feminists advocate these schemes to stop women having the oppressive burden of childcare while the fathers of their children (i.e. the men who knock them up) don’t do their share of the work. But at the same time they’re very sensitive about discriminating against ‘hippyish’ (that’s descriptive, not pejorative) family forms. You get this real dissonance; on the one hand they profess biology doesn’t matter, on the other the whole motivation is to make sure the biological father mucks in. You seem pretty studious about not linking any of your three arguments to actual paternity at all. What are your thoughts? Would you be happy with the mother just being able to name whoever she pleases as a co-parent and recipient of the leave?

35

Ingrid Robeyns 01.03.08 at 8:49 pm

A few replies:

to Magistra (@1): men not taking up their leave (whether by choice or influenced by fear or whether they are pressured not to do so) is a very valid worry; and we see that in those sectors/companies where employees are entitled to partly paid parental leave for, say, 3 montsh full time or 6 months half-time, men are less likely to use it than women. I think the advantage of introducing “only” 2 weeks fully paid is that these effects will be smaller, yet it may add a little to changing the view (both publically and in workplaces) that only female employees become parents.

To frumiousb (@2): I haven’t argued that paid birth leave for fathers is the most important thing. The waiting lists for day care for under 4s and after school care for the older kids is indeed a very serious problem. And there are other problems parents in the Netherlands face, such as the fact that women who are self-employed have no rights to paid materntiy leave (in Belgium, for example, they would be covered by the social security system); and clearly private insurance companies only offer very expensive income insurances to the female self-employed who are in child-bearing age. But I think that the case of 2 weeks birht leave for fathers is strong based on the discrimination aspect, and it could very easily be introduced (you don’t need to set up childcare facilities or anything like that), and the current Dutch government is only taking about women when they talk about ’emancipation’. So they have an eaasy policy to implement here, if you’d ask me.

Tracy (@9): grandmothers these days are much more frequently (a) disabled, or (b) living far away, or (c) holding jobs, or (d) very old or indeed dead. It’s much less likely that (a), (b), or (d) hold for fathers, and my proposal is meant to deal with (c) in the case of fathers. Of course if fathers are unwilling, then leave doesn’t help, but one would expect these days most fathers to be equally happy with the birth of their children. And the proposal doesn’t help for the particularly difficult situation of single mothers, but I have not claimed to defend a complete package of welfare state reform proposals which should make life for parents easier and which would create social justice.

I agree that parental leave is not a necessary or sufficient conditions for parental competence, yet it may be one thing that can help. Moreover, the competence argument is only one argument that I offer; I think the main one (or the strongest one, perhaps), is the first one on discrimination of fathers, and personally I would think that argument should be sufficient to implement paid parental leave.

I certainly think there is a ceiling on how much paid parental leave can be argued for based on claims of justice since those who do not have children (whether voluntary or non-voluntary) have to contribute to those paid leaves through the tax sytem or through costs for their companies/organisations. Yet concerns of justice are not the only concerns that play a role in deciding on parental leave regulation – there may also be efficiency concerns, or arguments that start from the interests of the children.

By the way, it seems to me legitimate that I offer some arguments without having to have an opinion or a well-thought-through view on every aspect of the topic of the post; if that’s what you’re demanding, I should perhaps stop writing.

To Slocum (@13): the government has engineered gender relations for centuries; like the laws that forced women who married to withdraw from the labour market upon marriage, or the legislation that made married women legal minors to their husbands (both until the middle of last century); and I think that right now the Dutch government is unfairly treating fathers for the arguments I give. So it’s, at least in my view, not primarily about ‘gender engineering’, but about rectifying an injustice towards fathers.

Patrick (@16): Could you please elaborate why you think this doesn’t count as a discrimination case? After women are physically fit to go back to work, all additional weeks of paid leave are given to them on grounds that men can claim too (namely, having become a parent). I fail to see why this is not discrimination of fathers (assuming 6-8 weeks is indeed what is needed for physical recovery from giving birth).

more tomorrow.

36

Nadav 01.03.08 at 8:59 pm

While I agree a paternal leave is justified, two weeks out of 14 just won’t be effective. the takeup of paternal leave is apparantly highly dependent on the entire parental leave length.
Here in israel, we have a paternal leave for 10 years now – half of 12 weeks total leave (now up to 14). the takeup is minimal – less than 1% of all fathers go on leave.
data for canada is similar – when the entire leave was ‘short’ (thirty-something weeks) takeup was minimal. only when the leave became 50 weeks a meaningful amount of fathers began taking paternal leave.

If your looking for a valuable way to extend fathers share of caring, look somewhere else.

37

Matt Austern 01.03.08 at 10:02 pm

Oh, I realize this is about two weeks of paid leave, and I realize that it’s better than what the US government requires — it’s just not as much better than the US as I would have expected. There are already some US companies (like my employer) with better paid parental leave policies than that..

Maybe what this means is just that my prejudices about the well developed European welfare state are wrong, and that some parts of Europe aren’t as far ahead of the US as I had thought.

38

Z 01.04.08 at 9:50 am

To Tracy W and Slocum, I apologize for the misunderstanding: of course my personal opinions and inclinations will not change in the slightest because of the absence or presence of parental leave. However, if I lived in a society with paid maternal leave and no paid paternal leave, I, as a father, have to pay an extra cost if I want to take care of my newborn children and my wife, as a mother, has to pay an extra cost because she will likely be discriminated against on the basis that she is more likely than a man to take parental leave. This is not the worse thing in the world but I don’t see an argument that this is optimal (giving the same number of paid parental leave and allowing couples to split them whichever way they want seems a clear Pareto improvement). One last thing, in the country I live in, fathers are entitled 14 days (days, not work days) of leave paid not by the employer but by social security, so my point was largely rhetorical.

So since you can’t rely on your grandparents, you want to place the burden on your employer?

I guess this is a valid argument against parental leave (note however than in many countries, it is not the employer that pays directly but rather some socialized fund, maybe it is even worse in your opinion). However, if you suppose that paid parental leave is a good thing, then yes, the whole point is to place (part of) the burden of child care on the society.

39

Ingrid Robeyns 01.04.08 at 10:50 am

Matt Austern (@38): in the Netherlands, both parents have a right to 13 weeks of UNPAID parental leave (this right would now be extended to 26 weeks under the present government, but still unpaid – which means men will overwhelmingly not use it).
Some companies/organisations voluntarily pay a certain % of one’s wage, but there are strings attached (for example, in my university employees are entitled to 66% of their wage if they have been employed for at least a year; yet one is not allowed to take it fulltime, and if you leave the organisation within one year after the end of the leave you have to pay it all back. Still that’s a generous deal compared with the previous university where I worked, which did not provide any such extra’s for employees hired on temporary contracts).

Each European country has its own policies for maternity/paternity/parental leave, and many are much more generous than the policies in the Netherlands.

40

Tracy W 01.04.08 at 11:17 am

Plac[ing] the burden on the employer?? Poor employers, so burdened by the fact that their nasty employees aren’t machines, but in fact, human beings.

Indeed. I assume that z does something that his employer finds useful. Since I have no idea what z does for a living, I don’t know what exactly. But if z is, say, a teacher, then his students are going to be disrupted by every day of leave he takes, and the school must find and pay for an alternative teacher, who won’t know the class as well and will have to spend some time getting up to speed. If z is a foresensic scientist then the other scientists in the lab are going to have to cover his workload or some court cases are going to be delayed because the police can’t get the tests done. If z is a vet, then again the increased workload falls on others.

There are jobs where of course this doesn’t happen. If z is an artist, then the difference in his lifetime output if he takes a couple of weeks off each time he acquires a new kid is pretty minimal. And I’ve already stated my opinion about the need for politicians to work full-time.

Of course people do get sick, or resign, or get pregnant (well, maybe not ‘z’) and in various ways do impose extra workloads on their fellow colleagues. Every extra right of leave adds to this burden. To dismisss this burden as “poor employers, so burdened by the fact that their nasty employees aren’t machines, but in fact, human beings” strikes me as rather harsh as a generality.

By the way, it seems to me legitimate that I offer some arguments without having to have an opinion or a well-thought-through view on every aspect of the topic of the post; if that’s what you’re demanding, I should perhaps stop writing.

I was asking, not demanding. When reading your post, something crystalised in my mind that had been hanging around for years and years without me really realising it. I regularly read calls by people for more government spending for one matter or another, say to support fathers in becoming involved in their children’s education, or to support the arts, or music, or sports, and I’ve realised that there are very few times when I’ve heard anyone produce an argument that the government has done enough. More is *always* called for.

I think it is interesting that you don’t have any theory that provides an answer as to when the government has provided enough support to the parents of children. I do not think you should be obligated to think through everything thoroughly before posting, I was simply curious as to whether you had or not.

41

Tracy W 01.04.08 at 11:23 am

However, if I lived in a society with paid maternal leave and no paid paternal leave, I, as a father, have to pay an extra cost if I want to take care of my newborn children

z, I’ve been doing some maths. Assuming that you already get two days off a week (weekend), and two weeks paid holiday a year, and in the year you have a newborn child you devote all your weeks and your paid leave to caring for said child, you will have 114 days a year (52*2+10) to spend taking care. If you, on top of your existing days off, get two more weeks of paid leave this will take you to 124 days, or an increase of 9% in time available. Will an increase of 9% really make a difference between you caring for your newborn child or not? (NB, I have ignored public holidays, time spent after work, etc).

my wife, as a mother, has to pay an extra cost because she will likely be discriminated against on the basis that she is more likely than a man to take parental leave

Well yes, as pregnancy can be quite hard on the female body. One of my female friends was so sick when she was pregnant she had
to stop doing her PhD – she was sick for about six months. If employers are going to discriminate against women of child-bearing age then they are going to do so unless one calls for parental leave of about 8 months pre-preganancy and, what, a year post-pregnancy? (Note, I am a woman of child-bearing age, employed in the private sector).

42

Tracy W 01.04.08 at 11:48 am

Tracy (@9): grandmothers these days are much more frequently (a) disabled, or (b) living far away, or© holding jobs, or (d) very old or indeed dead.

On the whole, I don’t believe you.
– Life expectancies have risen over time. Especially for women due to drastic falls in the fatality rate of childbirth.
– Comparing people who were alive at, say, age 60 to people who are alive now at age 60 shows that people are far less disabled now in the US. See http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/30/health/30age.html?ex=1311912000&en=eea0952d60448481&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss
Are you telling me that the Dutch health care system is worse at results than the US health care system? (NB, measured disability rates may indeed have gone up, as the medical system has gotten better at diagnosing more minor problems. But I don’t see any reason to believe that the health of the Dutch is on the whole degenerating in reality, and if it is, fixing the Dutch health system strikes me as a more urgent problem than parental care).
– Living far away is not a problem as travel is cheaper.
– Holding jobs – does no one in the Netherlands get holidays?

43

chris armstrong 01.04.08 at 12:09 pm

There’s been some very interesting work done recently on the so-called ‘motherhood penalty’, with lots of evidence apparently showing that mothers will attract fewer job offers, lower starting salaries, and worse promotion prospects even compared with identically qualified female non-mothers. On the other hand, fathers are said to attract a ‘fatherhood premium’, where their status as parents increases job offers, salary offers, etc. The reason this is interesting is that it suggests that much of the inequality we observe in the labour market is NOT straightforward gender-inequality (if anything, non-parenting women can often earn more than non-parenting men), but rather that (at least much of it) is specifically an inequality felt between mothers and non-mothers.

Ingrid’s proposal is to be welcomed, but it would not be likely, in my estimation, to detract from the ‘fatherhood premium’. And we would need far more concerted effort (I have no doubt you’re onto this too, Ingrid!) to tackle the so-called motherhood penalty.

44

Z 01.04.08 at 12:55 pm

Indeed. I assume that z does something that his employer finds useful. z, I’ve been doing some maths.
Actually, this (math) is what I do for a living. Whether my employee finds it useful is a hard question about the meaning of useful. Yes, Tracy W, I do think that 2 extra weeks of parental leave is an important step even if it amounts to 9% of extra time, not because it radically changes the opportunity of a father to take care of his children (as you correctly pointed out, this has always been possible) but because it shifts the perception of the society . In a society where women have paid leave and men do not, it is to be expected that employer will put more pressure on male employees to keep working, after all, the mother has paid leave. But on this Ingrid has already spoken eloquently so let me ask you this question: assuming a society has decided that the amount of paid parental leave is not zero, which is best, that couples can choose freely how they split parental leave between them or that the mother always gets a fixed amount and the father another fixed amount (presumably much smaller)?

I regularly read calls by people for more government spending for one matter or another […] and I’ve realised that there are very few times when I’ve heard anyone produce an argument that the government has done enough. More is always called for.

Surely you have heard calls for less spending in the military, if not in your country at least abroad. Spending less on social programs is also the default position of most conservative/right-wing governments currently in power in the western world, but maybe you meant “calls from the left”.

45

GreatZamfir 01.04.08 at 1:16 pm

@tracy w. I think you should take into account that part of the advantage of better health at a given age is cancelled out by the higher age of grandparents at birth. A few generations ago, a grandmother was typically 40 or 45 when her first grandchild was born, while nowadays 55 to 60 seems more common. But perhaps this increase of the age women get children is less strong in the US.

On the other issues I think you are going a bit fast. The traditional grandmother-helps-out system was very much based on the idea that she lived nearby, even in the same town, and didn’t have much to do anyway, since her own children were grown up and child raising should be women’s only important task. Even if this picture wasn’t correct for many actual granmothers, it is the picture from which the social norm that grandmothers should help was derived.

46

lemuel pitkin 01.04.08 at 5:04 pm

If z is a forensic scientist then the other scientists in the lab are going to have to cover his workload or some court cases are going to be delayed because the police can’t get the tests done. If z is a vet, then again the increased workload falls on others.

It’s striking how wildly atypical all of Tracy’s examples are. The vast, vast majority of people (certainly upwards of 90%) work at jobs where they are entirely interchangeable with others and there is zero non-pecuniary cost to their employers (and none at all to their coworkers) from their absence. Call-center operators, janitors, salesclerks, bus drivers, nursing home aides — these are the people who would be affected by more generous family leave requirements (especially since th kind of flexible, relatively high-status jobs Tracy mentions generally already give family leave above the legal minimum.)

I don’t know if Tracy’s choice of examples was deliberately misleading or if he/she just has a grossly distorted idea of what most people do for a living, but the fact remains that “workers are human beings” is overwhelmingly an argument FOR more generous family leave policies, not against them.

47

Tracy W 01.04.08 at 5:13 pm

z – you are right, I was thinking about the wrong things. I have heard calls for less government spending on military issues or on social welfare problems. What I should have said is that, while I hear calls for governments to completely stop doing something, I can’t ever recall hearing a call that, while what a government has done itself is good, it’s done enough and there’s no need to spend anymore. My apologies for not covering this off in my earlier comment.

There is the odd abstract economic theory where the marginal benefit is set equal to the marginal cost, including the administrative costs and dead-weight losses of taxation. But no one calling for such a project seems to actually do the statistical work to locate when marginal benefit equals marginal cost.

because it shifts the perception of the society

I am confused. If it is the perception of society that taking care of kids is the job of the father, why would a democractically-elected government in that society support parental leave anyway?

let me ask you this question: assuming a society has decided that the amount of paid parental leave is not zero, which is best, that couples can choose freely how they split parental leave between them or that the mother always gets a fixed amount and the father another fixed amount (presumably much smaller)?

I don’t know. All my friends and relatives who have had kids have wound up in far more complications than the question of a few weeks of parental leave seems relevant to. Working part-time, Mum at home, Dad at home, the birth was so bad that Mum can’t go back to work regardless of what she planned, baby was born at the same time the calves were being born so Dad kept working, Dad earns so much money that it just made sense for him to keep working, Mum timed the pregancny so the babies arrived two weeks after university exams finished, Mum quit one job, had baby, then started a new job, Mum went straight back to work (okay, this wasn’t a friend or relative, but Ruth Richardson, who was an MP at the time and a snap election was on).

I really don’t live in a society where people just stick to the mandates of government.

But perhaps this increase of the age women get children is less strong in the US.

Not being an American, I don’t know everything about what happens in the US and I can’t be stuffed hunting for stats on the web. I quoted the NYtimes article because I read it months ago and it interested me, not because I am an American. The age a woman has her first child has gotten older in NZ. However, when it comes to grandmothers helping out, what strikes me as relevant is the total spread of years of childbearing. A mother who has just had her fifth child strikes me as much in need of a helping hand around the house as the mother of a new-born baby. I don’t think the upper age of childbearing has risen significantly, laying aside the odd case of a woman past menopause being able to have a baby due to modern medicine advances.

The traditional grandmother-helps-out system was very much based on the idea that she lived nearby

Indeed. However the world has changed. When I was a child, one of my grandmothers lived about 400km away, and the other lived further. They still travelled to give my parents a helping hand. They either flew or drove (I don’t remember which). Travelling has gotten cheaper and faster over time. Social standards should evolve to stay with it.

child raising should be women’s only important task.
I think that in modern times we can agree that child-raising is an important task that it is worth spending time on by people of both genders. Look at it this way, if child-raising is so unimportant that it isn’t worth while a grandparent spending time to give a helping hand, why should the government spend money for that purpose?
Traditionally a grandmother would have personal experience in breastfeeding which a granddad wouldn’t, which for most of human evolution was the only way of feeding small babies (leaving aside the rich who could pay for wetnurses). Since the invention of formulae, and the medical fad for it for a significant chunk of the 20th century, grandmothers may more often lack this experience, so the arguments for it being the grandmother rather than the granddad who comes to give a hand are rather less compelling now.

In my family it was the case that the grandmothers came to help because one grandad was dead and the other a farmer who couldn’t leave the farm at short notice.

48

leederick 01.04.08 at 7:25 pm

The vast, vast majority of people (certainly upwards of 90%) work at jobs where they are entirely interchangeable with others and there is zero non-pecuniary cost to their employers (and none at all to their coworkers) from their absence… the fact remains that “workers are human beings” is overwhelmingly an argument FOR more generous family leave policies, not against them.

I’m not convinced this makes sense. You say yourself that the reason generous family leave policies are okay and don’t cause problems is because the vast majority of workers work in jobs where they are functionally interchangable, and this means they can easily be replaced. In other words: what prevents the damage being done is employers treating their their workers like machines, rather than human beings. I think then claiming ‘“workers are human beings” is overwhelmingly an argument FOR more generous family leave’ is a bit weird when you think family leave is possible because of workers’ alienation. If “workers are human beings” we shouldn’t be treating them like cogs and they shouldn’t be trivial to replace and family leave policies should cause problems.

49

lemuel pitkin 01.04.08 at 11:15 pm

leederick-

The contradiction isn’t in my argument, but in reality. Alienated, deskilled labor does make it easier to enact policies like mandatory family leave. And in the short term — and in the context of specific debates like the one described in the original post — paid leave is a good way of recognizing & accomodating worker’s humanity.

In the long run, as you say, we’d like more workers to be engaged as human beings in the workplace and not as interchangeable parts. In which case, family leave would make less sense as a way to deal with work-family conflicts and family-friendly workplaces (nurseries, flexible hours, greater acceptance of breastfeeding and infants generally in the workplace) would become more important.

Nothing weird about all that — lots of bad things have certain benefits and lots of policies only make sense in a particular context. You just gotta think dialectically.

50

Ingrid Robeyns 01.05.08 at 8:23 am

leederick (@35) raises an interesting question:
Would you be happy with the mother just being able to name whoever she pleases as a co-parent and recipient of the leave?

Well, I haven’t thought about this seriously before, hence would love to hear others’ opinions, but here are some first thoughts:
If, when a child is born, the father is alive and present, and there are no criminal/pathological issues involved (the child was conceived after an act of rape, or there is violence within the household or these kind of problems), then he should have an unconditional right to this birth leave. Idem dito for lesbian co-mothers who are in an officially recognised relation with the biological mother and who have indicated that they will adopt the child.
I see two cases where I don’t know what the best or the fairest solution would be:

(1) the father has no interest in the leave, but there is another person who would be happy to do the caring during the leave (such as a grandmother). Or the father would rather want to give the leave to the mother, so that she can be 2 weeks longer at home. Well, my first reaction would be that a short leave, immediately after birth, can legitimately be an individual non-transferable leave, since it concerns a relation between two very specific individuals (the baby and the non-birthgiving parent). For parental leave (say the 3 or 6 or 12 months that some welfare states give) this is more difficult, since there the interests of the child are more important and may be overriding.

(2) the child is born to a single mother. Should she have the right to allocate this 2-weeks birth leave to another adult? If one of the goals of the leave is to support the mother, than one may be tempted to say yes. On the other hand, if one of the goals of the leave is to enable a parent or parent-like person to have some time to start bonding with the child, then perhaps the answer should be that she can allocate the leave to a person who is willing to play this role in the kid’s life. So perhaps in the case of single mothers the person who is willing to legally take on certain responsibilities should also be allowed this leave. But it’s clear that this raises tricky issues, since as far as I know there is no such category in family law, and it would require rethinking social/legal categories such as a parent, which leads to a whole range of difficult questions (for example, there are some people who question why a child can only have two parents; one could in principle imagine family law and social policy allowing more than 2 people to sign up for the role of parent.)

Leederick, how would you answer your own question?

51

Helen 01.05.08 at 11:13 am

This is just silly. I know very few people who could afford to take several unpaid weeks off of work, and even fewer whose jobs would be waiting for them afterward if they did so.

O RLY. Have you never worked in a corporate environment where staff take long service leave? are seconded to new temporary positions? Attend conferences or study leave?

Why is childrearing so full of “cooties” it’s death to your career, while these others aren’t?

Take it from me, and I’m seeing this happen in my corporate environment: once the males in the organisation take this sort of leave, watch how quickly it becomes respectable / shakes off the cooties.

You are viewing the situation through a particular socio-economic lens that’s turning the majority of Americans invisible.

Once the dads start doing it, as I say, watch attitudes change…

52

leederick 01.05.08 at 6:18 pm

Leederick, how would you answer your own question?

I’m fine with transferable leave. I can’t see the problem with allowing grandparents or sisters or brothers to take leave. Once you move away from a very strict biological definition of parenthood, the way leave is framed seems to inappropriately fetishise romantic relationships between adults for no very good reason. I’d throw it wide open.

You might be interested to know the UK criteria, which got me thinking about this. (1) You must take time off work to support the mother or care for the child. (2) Have or expect to have responsibility for the child’s upbringing. (3) Be baby’s biological father; or married to or in a civil partnership with the mother; or living with the mother in an enduring family relationship, but are not an immediate relative.

I just struck me that someone actual sat down to draw these lines and though: if you’re the mum’s dad you can’t have leave but it you’ve just married a woman who’s having someone else’s child you can.

53

Ingrid Robeyns 01.06.08 at 7:02 pm

Thanks for that info on the UK, leederick. You are right about your conclusion — we (or better, the policy makers) need to think much more carefully about where to draw these lines. It may take me some years before I’ll have a more-or-less stable view, but I’m definitely going to give this issue more thought….

54

lemuel pitkin 01.07.08 at 3:33 pm

Seems like there’s an interesting tension here between the goals of accommodating a wide variety of family forms and caregiving arrangements, on the one hand, and reducing the disproportionate burden of childcare on women, on the other.

Not that you can’t work toward both goals but it does seem like the idea of specifically paternal leave, for instance, presupposes a certain kind of family structure.

Comments on this entry are closed.