White Paper, Take 2: The Work-Life Balance


Hillary Clinton, the modern working woman

After attempting to narrow down my previous White Paper topic (climate change), I’ve decided to shift my focus entirely and delve deeper into issues surrounding the work-life balance.

When it comes to matters that affect this balance, the U.S. is far behind the majority of wealthy nations, and even some middle- and low-income nations. According to a study by McGill University’s Institute for Health and Social Policy, the U.S. falls shortest in of leaves for childbearing, support for breast feeding, work hours, and leaves for illness or family care.

Maternity leave is generally expected from employers, but the U.S. government has no laws requiring such a leave. This was true for only three other nations in the study: Swaziland, Liberia, and Papua New Guinea. Meanwhile, 169 other countries out of the 173 surveyed have guaranteed paid maternity leaves by law. When it comes to paternity leaves, most Americans probably don’t even realize that the concept exists. While 66 other countries offer such a thing, 31 of which provide at least 14 weeks of paid leave, the U.S. government has no requirement for paternity or parental leave.

In regards to work hours, the U.S. also does not have any requirements for annual paid leave, maximum length of the workweek, overtime limits, or wage premiums for overnight work. In 121 other countries the government requires employers to provide 2 weeks or more of paid leave, 37 of which demand at least 4 weeks. The U.S. does stand out for its overtime pay requirements. The guarantee of “time and a half,” or 150% the regular pay rate, for overtime work places the U.S. at 7th in the world for highest overtime pay rate.

In 1993, Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protecting leave for reasons of health, whether it’s the employee or a family member, or for childbearing- or adoption-related issues. To be eligible, one must have worked for his or her employer for at least a year, including 1,250 hours over that time period. The employer must also have over 50 employees within 75 miles of one’s work location.

Why is the U.S. so far behind on these issues? Is the government reluctant to force requirements on businesses? Wouldn’t most employees enjoy having these benefits from their employers? How would changes in these areas improve the happiness of our nation as a whole?

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2 thoughts on “White Paper, Take 2: The Work-Life Balance

  1. Ok. THis is a society source. I think you want to distinguish between a requirement that a firm offer a child-related leave versus require that a person take it. Those three countries cannot be the only ones requiring the option of leave.

    Bucknell has paternity leave, but only for tenure-track faculty. When I was a visiting faculty, I did not qualify for it.

  2. Why is the US different (behind?) other societies? Good question.

    A history of resistance to social benefits? Employment at will legal doctrines? Institutionalized sexism- it is woman’s work to take care of kids.

    In fact, if you think about raising kids as a collective interest (we all benefit from well-raised kids), then the lack of support amounts to a huge subsidy that mostly mothers provide unpaid to the rest of society.

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