Why Is Paid Family Leave, Paid Paternity Leave, and Flexible Schedules So Important for American Families?
Two-thirds of all employees would leave their job for one with better family/lifestyle benefits. From Millennials to Gen X, Boomers and even Gen Z — each generation values time off to care for family members. Depending on their age and life stage, they may be seeking Paid Family Leave for parental leave, caregiving or both. Let's explore what is driving Paid Family Leave to the top of employees' wish lists. Why is every generation in the workplace looking for family-friendly employee benefits? Millennials, currently ages 23-38, are starting families or heading towards prime parenting years. Generation X is the classic “sandwich generation” — caring for both kids and aging parents. Boomers may also feel squeezed, between caring for spouses as well as very elderly family members or adult children. And even Gen Z is looking ahead to future family needs.
Although paid leave is often framed as an issue that matters to working women, paid parental leave is also critically important for fathers. Policies that ensure fathers have the support they need to prioritize their family responsibilities, while also meeting work demands, can significantly increase the personal and economic wellbeing of their families. Paternity leave – and especially longer leaves of several weeks or months – can promote parent-child bonding, improve outcomes for children, and even increase gender equity at home and at the workplace. Paid parental leave for fathers, as well as for mothers, provides a real advantage to working families. Despite these advantages, fathers still face economic and social barriers that keep them from taking longer paternity leaves, such as inadequate access to paid leave and outdated workplace norms about male breadwinners. Here in the United States where parental leave is already too rare, social and cultural biases along with gaps in policy make fathers even less able to access time away from work for their children. Paid paternity leave is less likely to be offered by employers than maternity leave, and may not always be taken even if offered. For two-dad families, and the increasing number of fathers who are serving as stay at home parents, addressing this unequal access and uptake is particularly important. Workers often face tension in balancing their roles as workers and parents, since there can be adverse consequences to prioritizing family over work or work over family. Empowering more dads with paid parental leave means they can achieve their professional goals and be supportive, nurturing fathers and partners.
Members of Congress who support increased access to paid leave generally cite as their motivation the significant and growing difficulties some workers face when balancing work and family responsibilities, and the financial challenges faced by many working families that put unpaid leave out of reach (Maya Rossin-Slater, 2017). In general, expected benefits of expanded access to PFL include stronger labor force attachment for family caregivers and greater income stability for their families, and improvements to worker morale, job tenure, and other productivity-related factors. Potential costs include the financing of payments made to workers on leave, other expenses related to periods of leave (e.g., hiring a temporary replacement or productivity losses related to an absence), and administrative costs. The magnitude and distributions of costs and benefits will depend on how the policy is implemented, including the size and duration of benefits, how benefits are financed, and other policy factors (Juliana Horowitz, 2017). An overview of paid family leave in the United States, summarizes statelevel family leave insurance programs, notes PFL policies in other advanced-economy countries, and notes recent federal legislative action to increase access to paid family leave.
As has been noted, all of these features can be used by employers and states right now to fill in the current glaring gaps in paid family leave coverage in the United States. In due course, a national program may be possible. Yet even as new paid leave programs are established at all levels, American should keep in mind that no policy works in a vacuum. For example, future U.S. policies to subsidize high-quality, affordable childcare available at both standard and non-standard working hours would complement paid family leave. As work and families change, America must respond in many ways.
Maya Rossin-Slater, Maternity and Family Leave Policy, NBER Working Paper no. 23069, 2017
Charles Baum and Christopher Ruhm, The Effects of Paid Leave in California on Labor Market Outcomes, NBER Working Paper 19741, 2013
Juliana Horowitz, Kim Parker, Nikki Graf, and Gretchen Livingston, Americans Widely Support Paid Family and Medical Leave, but Differ Over Specific Policies, Pew Research Center, March 2017