Paid parental leave is harmful to career women?

“The Gender Pay Gap Is Largely Because of Motherhood” (nytimes, 2017):

To achieve greater pay equality, social scientists say — other than women avoiding marriage and children — changes would have to take place in workplaces and public policy that applied to both men and women. Examples could be companies putting less priority on long hours and face time, and the government providing subsidized child care and moderate-length parental leave.

So childless Americans slaving away in the cubicle farm so that their child-blessed coworkers can enjoy parental leave would make the gender pay gap smaller.

“Germany’s Booming Economy Leaves Female Workers Behind” (WSJ, Feb 26, 2018):

An entitlement to generous parental leave, for instance, creates an incentive for young mothers to take long career-damaging breaks, experts say.

But childless Germans working harder to subsidize Germans with children… that makes the gender pay gap larger!

The two apparently contradictory economies do have something in common:

“Female engineers are hard to come by,” said Christian Thiele, spokesman for machine-tool maker Paul Horn GmbH, adding that the company was shifting its focus toward hiring more women.



8 thoughts on “Paid parental leave is harmful to career women?

  1. Many elite jobs in the USA require long hours starting at a minimum 60 hours a week. I am thinking of such jobs as surgical residencies, investment banking, and junior lawyers at prestigious law firms. Research PhD candidates at top universities work similar hours. Women’s reluctance to put in these hours is often cited as a reason that women don’t get the top spots as often as men.

    Men justify these sacrifices because of the end reward. A tenured post at a university, making partner at a law firm, or becoming an investment banker are all posts with a great deal of prestige and money attached.

    I am becoming convinced that much of this is an elaborate form of signalling. Is it really necessary for junior lawyers to work 70 hours a week, resident MD’s to virtually live in hospitals, and junior faculty to teach a full load while publishing several times a year? Would our institutions still function effectively if our junior people worked a little less?

    Part of this is a type of rationalization which goes something like this: “I have this plum job – lots of security, money and prestige. But before I give it to you I have to make sure you really, really want it. So, I’m going make you miserable for 3 to 5 years to make sure. If your still around at the end of this then, maybe, I’ll give you the job/partnership/tenure/Phd.”

    Many women correctly believe that the Darwinian justification for this attitude (“this is what it takes to be the number one law firm/university/investment bank/medical practice”) is not really true. I note that, in my life, whenever anyone has let me down professionally they usually fall back on telling me how hard they work. All the competent people I know never seem rushed or overworked, never tell me how they have no time – they simply get things done.

    It is not far-fetched for women to view these long hours as not being necessary for institutional success but as artificial barriers placed in their way.

  2. “I have this plum job – lots of security, money and prestige. But before I give it to you I have to make sure you really, really want it.

    I agree that there is an element of senseless signalling in professional jobs, but what is the solution? Make men work 80 hour weeks instead of 60 hour weeks competing for scarcer positions, while women can work 40 hour weeks instead of 60? That’s one way to achieve gender “balance” in employment.

    A better question is to ask why the market allows “senseless signalling” to persist. Perhaps part of it that practice really is needed to sharpen skills, and is not merely senseless. Certainly in computer programming and the sciences, more effort produces sharper skills and better intuitions. In other fields like law and banking, having a junior lackey to complete projects with inconvenient schedules, is part of the compensation for the senior employees. But that means women should be able to make headway by starting their own partnerships.

  3. Brian, imagine you are diagnosed with a brain tumor. Who do you want operating on you, a surgeon who works 30 hours a week after having cone back from maternity leave six months ago, or a surgeon who works 60 hours a week who takes 3 weeks of vacation every year.?

  4. Parson, a rational argument can be made for the rested surgeon who operates 30 hours a week and spends 10 hours a week keeping up with medical advances. I don’t know enough to make that argument. I do think that we accept unquestionably that our major high-prestige institutions do everything better. Learning physics at MIT makes you a better physicist, heart operations at Johns Hopkins have better outcomes than at your local hospital, and so on. I am reminded of Gerry Weinberg’s quote from an unknown computer programming manager. The manager bragged that he had his team tuned and all working 60 hour weeks. “They never left the office”, be bragged. “Now, if I only could get them to stop quitting every two years.”

    Our current system disadvantages women who have other goals and responsibilities outside the office. We defend this system by saying that its the only way to insure high quality and productivity. Perhaps it is not.

  5. Brian:

    “Our current system disadvantages women who have other goals and responsibilities outside the office. “

    Why on earth should any workplace bend over backwards to accommodate women’s (or any other group’s) personal choices?

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