Paternal leave increases income inequality?

Back in June, the NYT suggested that moms will be better off if taxpayers and childless workers suck it up to give more paid time off for “fathers”: “Sweden Finds a Simple Way to Improve New Mothers’ Health. It Involves Fathers.”

(Why the headline cisgender-normative assumption (during Pride Month!) that if the first parent of a child is a “mother” then the second parent will be a “father”?)

But which moms?

The study was done in Sweden (by the same author who found that court-ordered child support payments for the mother reduced fathers’ voluntary contributions to the child (monetary and time-invested) in roughly equal measures, thus leaving children no better off financially (and worse off from a personal contact point of view); the NYT did not consider this previous study to be newsworthy). Compared to any other country, the U.S. has a much higher percentage of children who grow up without a father, so maybe it is worth asking “For those children who actually do have a father, what is our best guess regarding the family income level?”

Asians have a low divorce rate and a higher-than-average income, so “Asian and high income household” would be one guess for characteristics of “kid with father”. On the other hand, Asians are not yet a large percentage of the U.S. population. So “White and higher-than-average income” is an even better guess.

Thus, the NYT proposed extra benefit targeted at women who happen to live with the father of their children turns out to be a benefit primarily for richer whiter women. Thus the newspaper that regularly decries income inequality ends up promoting a policy to increase inequality!

10 thoughts on “Paternal leave increases income inequality?

  1. Not to defend NYT, but the real inequality is not between wage slaves, be it single parents or full families. The really startling inequality is between 0.01% who grew super-rich by virtue of being close to the spigot of free money courtesy of Fed and the fractional reserve system. (Tech billionaires are mostly in this category, too).

  2. A little off topic, but paternity leave is a joke. Males have zero to contribute during say the first 9 months of the child’s life. It is hard to understand why society would want to encourage dad to stay home during the first few weeks or months of junior’s life and it is hard to understand why any male would want to do this. He cant nurse the child and the child is completely unconscious of dad & anything else except his mother who will feed him. So what is dad doing at home? Pretending he is bonding with the child? Pretending he is helping mom?

    • “Pretending he is bonding with the child? Pretending he is helping mom?”

      Or *actually* doing those things?

  3. Why has maternal mortality increased 50% in a generation? Are today’s mothers that much sicker? Were pre- and postpartum healthcare better 25 years ago when we were spending a lot less money? Also, the article plays very fast and loose with the time frame – the author says a year after birth. Then the Harvard blog link says:

    “Rather, four out of five of these deaths happen in the weeks and months before or after birth.”

    So it “includes” a year after childbirth (article), or weeks or months before or after birth (blog link), or something like that. Better make it a year. Nice, round numbers. Since it’s also before birth, we had better start providing paternity leave in the weeks and months, or maybe another year before birth, too. Just to be safe, we’re going to have to start providing maternity and paternity leave for a year prior to and a year after birth. Two full years, both parents. Or same sex caregivers. Or grandparents. Or something. That sounds about right.

    We know a whole pregnancy usually takes around 9 months from ignition to blast off, but with time frames these loose, we obviously need to be a lot more flexible. It sounds to me like motherhood is getting a lot more terrifying — existentially, medically, and in every other way. Why does anybody do it?

    From the Article:
    “The weeks after a mother gives birth are a universally vulnerable period.”
    “You’re essentially getting P.O.W.-level sleep deprivation…you’re probably existentially terrified.”
    “The researchers looked at two other areas and did not see a change: antidepressant and painkiller prescriptions.”
    “The infant is still so needy and the mother’s body is still going through so many changes..”
    From Harvard:
    “… I explained what the harrowing stories indicate about our health systems, our public policies.”
    “…This means that compared with their own mothers, American women today are 50% more likely to die in childbirth…”
    “…like abnormal bleeding or hopelessness about the future…”
    “… They struggle with rapidly accelerated responsibilities, extreme sleep deprivation, and relentless pressure to return to work.”
    “…this experience is isolating, disempowering, and mortally dangerous. And over time, these risks are getting increasingly severe.”

    Since 1990 we’ve gone way downhill and everything’s Kafkaesque nighmare! despite health care expenditures in 2017 constant dollars increasing by nearly 300% – source:

    So we’re spending 3 times as much on health care and maternal mortality has increased by 50%. That’s PROGRESS! Well, now we know where all the dark humor in movies has gone – it’s the health care system after a generation of breakthroughs and trainloads of money!

    But wait…then the article is all about just couple of unscheduled days in Sweden being really helpful. So two years might be excessive. I don’t know, but I’d sure like to go to Sweden for a couple of unscheduled days. How do we write all that into policy? I guess we just throw money at the increasing mortality rate with today’s much much worse, much much more expensive health care until it the mortality rate starts improving. Or maybe it won’t! The track record doesn’t look good. Let’s look at it again in another 25 years. What’s a few hundred billion more dollars to a nation that’s going broke anyway?

    • I didn’t read the article but had a quick look at how parental leave works in Sweden. (I’m sure recent parents know more about how this actually works.)

      First of all, there is paid parental leave and unpaid parental leave.

      Parents have a right to a total of 480 days of paid parental leave, of which 90 days must be used by each parent. These days may be used until the child is 8 years old.

      The payment depends on your occupation, but for the common wage slave it’s 80% of pay up to a maximum of 989 kr per day (about $100). The base level is 250 kr/day. All probably pre-tax. The collective bargaining agreement between your employer and your union may increase this.

      Finally, you must of course apply for paid leave at least 2 months in advance.

      It looks as if the rules furthermore permit up to 18 months of unpaid parental leave. That means you can still go back to work afterwards and may have had your salary revised upwards in line with everyone else, etc.

      My impression is that couples plan their families to have two pregnancies fairly close, perhaps a couple of years apart. This appears to trigger optimal conditions. (Seldom more than two though. None in my circle of acquaintance have more than two kids.)

  4. More questions: Are women having babies later in life, increasing the risks and costs and demands on the health care system and their careers? Why can’t men give birth, too? I remember that being a big thing twenty years ago. Come to think of it, why don’t men have other contraceptive options than almost totally irreversible vasectomy, condoms, abstinence or rhythm? Why is there no pill for men? Are these pregnancies and complications and increased maternal mortality due to more unplanned parenthood?

    The Harvard Blog article mentions people like Serena Williams and Beyoncé – was their maternal care subpar? Or didn’t it matter? Why? I guess the lesson from Harvard is that if Serena Williams and Beyoncé are in Vogue and Vanity Fair suffering from life-threatening pregnancy conditions, everything must be much worse for regular people, despite a 300% increase in health care expenditures. And evidently the problem is much, much, MUCH worse than just the mortality rate: “For every severe injury, tens of thousands of women suffer from inadequately treated physical or mental illnesses, as well as the broader disempowerment mothers face in the absence of paid parental leave policies and other social support.”

    It makes it sounds as though the world is just completely falling apart. When did the word “disempowerment” become associated with pregnancy and childbirth? That’s a political term, not a medical term. I guess since 1970 this country has just completely wrecked itself where pregnancy and childbirth and maternal mortality are concerned, with no end in sight, while we’re spending money like there’s no tomorrow.

  5. The US Military gives exceptional maternity leave through paid sick leave and short term disability (and every new mother takes short term disability).

    My employer just hired a 38 y/o female retired Navy veteran. She served 20 years active duty (though never assigned to a ship at sea). While serving, she had three children with sailor-husband no. 1 and three more with sailor-husband no. 2, taking six months off, paid, with each pregnancy. So, she basically was on duty for 17 years out of her 20 year career, and now enjoys her $30K COLA-indexed annual pension and excellent, lifelong no-cost TriCare health insurance (as do her six children until age 26).

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