Meghan Markle and Prince Harry welcomed their first child, a son, at 5:26 a.m. on Monday morning.
According to earlier reports, Prince Harry will reportedly take two weeks of paternity leave.
A friend of the Prince is reported to have said, “He doesn’t need to take paternity leave because he doesn’t work in the way most people do, but he thinks it’s a very modern dad thing to do.”
The news about the royal family serves as a reminder of how difficult it can be when paid family leave isn’t an option. Becoming a new parent is a huge undertaking, and the situation becomes infinitely more challenging for parents forced to take unpaid family leave.
What’s perhaps most frustrating is the abundance of research that often goes ignored. These studies illustrate how beneficial paid parental leave can be not just for parents, but also for children, society, and companies, too.
Luckily for some, a few companies have taken note. At Netflix, for example, new moms and dads can take off as much time as they want during the first year after their child’s birth or adoption.
But while extended paid leave for new parents is a hot trend for major tech giants, only 35% and 29% of companies offered some paid maternity and paternity leave, respectively, in 2018, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act ( FMLA) of 1993, qualifying American parents are guaranteed 12 weeks of family leave to care for a new child.
While the law requires companies with 50 or more employees to provide new parents with 12 weeks of leave, it doesn’t require this leave to be paid. In fact, the US is the only country in the developed world that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave.
This policy is also restricted to full-time employees who have been with the company for more than a year, which, all told, applies to about 60% of workers in the US.
The US Department of Agriculture finds that parents spend, on average, between $12,350 and $13,900 a year on child-rearing expenses. And big-ticket items like furniture and medical expenses add up quickly. Without the guarantee of paid leave while caring for a child, many new parents are faced with the choice between economic hardship and returning to work prematurely.
People who don’t get paid leave often have a hard time making ends meet
According to a 2012 report from the US Department of Labor on family and medical leave, about 15% of people who were not paid or who received partial pay while on leave turned to public assistance for help. About 60% of workers who took this leave reported it was difficult making ends meet, and almost half reported they would have taken longer leave if more pay had been available.
“Support for motherhood shouldn’t be a matter of luck; it should be a matter of course,” YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki wrote in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. “Paid maternity leave is good for mothers, families and business. America should have the good sense to join nearly every other country in providing it.”
Wojcicki reported the rate at which new moms left Google fell by 50% when in 2007, the tech giant increased paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 18 weeks. “Mothers were able to take the time they needed to bond with their babies and return to their jobs feeling confident and ready. And it’s much better for Google’s bottom line — to avoid costly turnover, and to retain the valued expertise, skills, and perspective of our employees who are mothers.”
In 2004, California became the first state to implement a paid-family-leave policy that enabled most working Californians to receive 55% of their usual salary (up to $1,104) for a maximum of six weeks.
Since then, only New Jersey and Rhode Island have actualized similar programs. (Starting in 2020, Washington state will require employers to provide some paid parental leave.)
Paid family leave may benefit businesses
According to a report from the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, more than 90% of employers affected by California’s paid family-leave initiative reported either positive or no noticeable effect on profitability, turnover, and morale.
Another study, from the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University, found that women who took advantage of New Jersey’s paid-family-leave policy were far more likely to be working nine to 12 months after the birth of their child. The study also found these women to be 39% less likely to receive public assistance and 40% less likely to receive food stamps in the year following a child’s birth, compared to those who didn’t take any leave.
A study of European leave policies by the University of North Carolina found that paid-leave programs can substantially reduce infant mortality rates and better a child’s overall health.
And research out of The Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in Bonn indicates higher education, IQ, and income levels in adulthood for children of mothers who used maternity leave — the biggest effect comes for children from lower-educated households. The researchers cited this as a significant discussion for policymakers to have, as it could reduce the existing gap in education and income in the US.
Paid paternity leave is important, in addition to paid maternity leave
There’s plenty of evidence that supports the effectiveness of paid paternity leave, too.
A study by Boston College’s Center for Work & Family found that 86% of men surveyed said they wouldn’t use paternity leave or parental leave unless they were paid at least 70% of their normal salaries.
But research out of Israel shows the more leave men take to care for children when they’re young, the more the fathers undergo changes in the brain that make them better suited to parenting. And a study by two Columbia University Social Work professors found that fathers who take two or more weeks off after their child is born are more involved in their child’s care nine months later. Simply put, paid paternity leave can help foster better father-child relationships.
And the more leave fathers take, the more mothers’ incomes increase. In Sweden, where fathers must take at least two months off before the child is 8 years old to receive government benefits, researchers saw mothers’ incomes increase almost 7% for every month of paternity leave their husbands took.
As President Barack Obama once said during a weekly addresses, “Family leave, childcare, flexibility — these aren’t frills. They’re basic needs. They shouldn’t be bonuses — they should be the bottom line.”