Paid family leave makes people happier around the world

The conversation

Laughing father with little daughter

Paid parental leave is good for us (Image: Getty Images)

The United States remains the only advanced economy without paid federal leave, despite overwhelming support for this benefit.

Employers are free to provide this benefit at their expense.

But only one in four American workers, including federal employees, can take paid time off to care for a newborn or newly adopted or foster child.

That’s problematic for many reasons, including the abundant evidence that paid leave drives healthy child development and economic security.

President Joe Biden has sought to expand access to paid family leave, initially through his Build Back Better package, which is now on hold. He reaffirmed his calls to do so in his March 2022 State of the Union address.

Based on our extensive research on the connections between social policies and family happiness, we’re confident that expanding access to paid vacations to more employees would make them happier.

unhappy children and parents

In recent years, a growing number of studies have indicated that parents, particularly in the United States, are generally less happy than their childless peers, especially when their children are young.

Parents also experience more depression, loneliness, and stress.

Some academics argue that a lack of government support for raising children is causing this “happiness gap.”

Only 6.3% of 3-year-olds and just over 33% of four-year-olds nationwide are enrolled in a state-funded preschool program, even though free early childhood education is becoming more common . Similarly, only nine states and the District of Columbia now provide paid family leave for new parents.

In other words, most American families are still left behind. And without universal free pre-K or paid family leave, many parents are largely on their own in terms of finding and paying for private child care for young children.

Paid family leave of at least one month can help parents develop more satisfying family relationships. For example, it can allow parents to spend more time reading and singing to their children, which benefits cognitive development.

The effects of paid leave on the relationship between the parents depend on who is taking the leave. If only mothers take family leave, then gender inequality in domestic work increases. But when parents take paid leave, couples share housework and childcare responsibilities more equally.

This is because when both parents take leave after the arrival of a new child, they are more likely to establish household routines that result in an equal sharing of household chores. One study found that when fathers were encouraged to take parental leave, their involvement in housework increased by 250%.

When parents are free to take more time off work to care for their newly adopted infants and children with less financial cost and little fear of job loss, and especially when fathers are encouraged to take time off work, both children and their parents are happier.

Young family having breakfast together

America is falling behind (Image: Getty Images)

global perspectives

Through our research spanning 27 countries, we found that parents in wealthy countries with weak safety nets, like the US, tend to be less happy than their counterparts in countries like Denmark, where the government provides more support to children. everyone.

This is one reason Finland, Norway, and other nations with strong welfare states consistently rank at the top of the World Happiness Report, an annual assessment based on Gallup World Poll data.

The United States ranks lower than anticipated in that report given its economic position, while the opposite is true for Denmark, Canada, New Zealand and other welfare states.

We have also found that when governments increase their spending on social programs and adjust tax burdens so that the wealthy bear a greater share of the costs of running the government, economic inequality declines. At the same time, the happiness levels of low- and high-income people become more similar.

Higher social spending especially increases the happiness of women with small children and of people who live with a partner but are not married. Other international research shows greater economic and mental health benefits of paid leave for low-income families.

Recent research by other scholars studying countries that have invested heavily in social welfare policies, such as paid family leave, further supports our findings.

Respondents in the world’s most generous welfare states were more satisfied with their work, health and family life than people in places with weaker safety nets.

As a notable example, a recent study co-authored by one of us showed that the Japanese government’s investments in generous paid leave for families with young children, access to child care, child allowances, and free health insurance for children, as well as older benefits for older adults, were associated with modest gains in overall happiness.

These policies made significant differences for women with young children and older people, who became happier between 1990 and 2010.

Losing benefits can decrease happiness

In addition, there is evidence of what can happen when government benefits that meet the needs of many people are taken away. In the former German Democratic Republic, satisfaction increased overall between 1990, just before its transition to a free market economy from a communist state, and 2004 in terms of the freedom to purchase goods and services.

On the other hand, that same study found that satisfaction in the place that also used to be called East Germany plummeted when it came to health, work and childcare. People had been guaranteed access to healthcare and childcare, as well as job security, under the communist regime, but that all changed when that system collapsed.

Federal paid leave gives families the opportunity to find their footing after the arrival of a new child, without having to quit their job or take unpaid time off. It should come as no surprise that such a safety net makes families not only more financially secure, but also happier.

Kristen Schultz Lee, Associate Professor of Sociology, University at Buffalo and Hiroshi Ono, Professor of Human Resource Management, School of International Corporate Strategy, Hitotsubashi University

Click here to read the original article on The Conversation

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