By Gayle Kaufman
Professor of Sociology, Davidson College
Although it was buried by the buildup to former FBI director James Comey's testimony, American families got a big boost last week. An AEI-Brookings working group released a report that strongly supported paid family leave. While the 14 authors of the report come from both liberal and conservative backgrounds, which not surprisingly meant disagreement on a number of issues, they unanimously agreed that the United States needs a paid family leave policy.
After considering policies put forward by both Democrats and Republicans, compromise in this report calls for eight weeks of paid parental leave available to new mothers and fathers, with payment at 70 percent of wages up to a maximum of $600 per week, funded by a small employee payroll tax and savings from other budget cuts.
But the details aren't as important as the proposal's decisive move toward equality. It states: "Any paid leave policy should apply to both mothers and fathers so that both parents can be equally engaged in bringing up their children and bonding with them at the time of birth" (20). This is important because it insists that fathers are included. The unequivocal embrace of equality finally acknowledges the changes in work and family responsibilities that are already old news to young parents everywhere.
While increases in women's labor force participation have been in the limelight for decades, the report notes that the time fathers spend on housework and child care has tripled over the past 50 years. A report by the Families and Work Institute refers to the "new male mystique," a play on Betty Friedan's "feminine mystique." While Friedan suggested women were not entirely fulfilled by their limited domestic roles in the 1960s, the "new male mystique" suggests that today's men are not entirely fulfilled by work. This contributes to high levels of work-family conflict, particularly for men in dual-earner couples.
According to the Pew Research Center, among full-time working parents, 50 percent of fathers say they spend too little time with their children compared to 39 percent of mothers. Furthermore, in households where both parents work full time, a majority say that both careers take precedence and chores and activities with children are evenly split. As I found in my book Superdads, fathers are increasingly making decisions about work based on their family's needs. A recent survey of millennials (PDF) conducted by the Boston College Center for Work and Family finds that 75 percent of fathers say work-life balance is a top criteria in selecting an employer, slightly above salary and job security. A paid leave policy that treats mothers and fathers equally is sorely overdue.
As noted at the outset, the authors of the AEI-Brookings report did not agree on everything. Like me, several would like more leave and more generous pay. However, it is heartening that a group comprised of people across the political spectrum agree not only that we need paid parental leave but that gender equity must be a core component of any policy.
The viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and official policies of Davidson College.