Progressive Policy Institute
Recently, an increasing amount of evidencehas pointed to the critical role that early bonding and attachment plays in the neuro-cognitive development of the infant.
A recentstudy using data from the National Institute ofChild Health and Human Development foundthat children whose mothers spend the firstyear at home with them score higher on schoolreadiness at age three and the results persist.
Mothers who stay at home for the first sixmonths are also more likely to breastfeed,
which has been shown to be beneficial to theinfant’s health, both in the short-term andthroughout life.
(It also can help prevent breastcancer in the mother.
) Paid parental leave hasalso been found to have have a significantimpact on improving pediatric health, asmeasured by birth weights and infant or childmortality.
Moreover, the benefits are not just cognitiveand physical, they are also emotional andsocial. Dr. Jay Belsky, professor of HumanDevelopment at Pennsylvania State University,reported that his research “clearly reveal[ed]that extensive nonmaternal (and nonparental)care in the first year is a risk factor in thedevelopment of insecure infant-parentattachment relationships.”
Attachmentproblems are one risk factor for child abuse.When they considered “the irreducible needsof children,” leading child development expertsDr. Stanley L. Greenspan and Dr. T. BerryBrazelton concluded that the opportunity forparents to spend significant time with theirinfants was so important that we should havea national program to provide paid leave forone parent during much of the first year of achild’s life.
Why Do So Many New Parents Work?
Only 18 percent of infants spent their firstyear at home in the care of their mothers.
More than one-half of mothers of one-year oldsworked full- or part-time. In 1995, nearly 13million (more than one-half of the nation’s 21million preschool children) were receivingchildcare from someone other than theirparents.
By the time children are four-monthsold, more than three-quarters of families nowuse some form of non-parental day care.
There are multiple reasons for this declinein stay-at-home parents, including women’sincreasing access to the labor market.However, a major factor is that many familiescannot afford to give up the second wageearner’s income by having one parent stayat home during the first year of life. Whilethe FMLA made it easier for parents to stayhome, without financial support it remaineddifficult for many to do so.
Moreover, anestimated 38 percent of workers are notcovered by the FMLA, and those who arecovered get just 12 weeks of leave, notenough for adequate parental leave.
Parental Leave Policies in Other Nations
In contrast to the United States, most otherdeveloped nations provide some kind of paidleave to new parents during the first year ofparenting. According to the InternationalLabor Organization, the maternity and nursing benefits given to working mothers in the UnitedStates are the least generous in theindustrialized world. Ninety-two percent of158 developed and developing nations providepaid maternity leave to women workers, andone-third permit leaves of more than 14 weeks.The United States is the only industrializedcountry that does not mandate job-guaranteedparental leave and some provision for wagereplacement.
For example, in Germany, a newparent staying home can receive modestfinancial support for up to one-and-one-halfyears. Denmark provides 18 weeks paidmaternity leave followed by 10 weeks paidparental leave that can be taken by either themother or father. In Sweden, new parents whohave been in the workforce receive full pay forat least one year.
Beginning in April 2003, theUnited Kingdom will provide 26 weeks paidmaternity leave. New Zealand provides 13weeks paid leave, but the program coversvirtually all workers, even at smallestablishments, and provides full wagereplacement up to $325 per week. Even low-income nations like Afghanistan (at least beforethe Taliban took over) and the Philippinesprovide paid leave because they place a highpriority on the health and happiness of theirnation’s families and children.