Better World

Paternity Leave Is On The Rise, But Maternity Leave Seems Stuck in the Mud

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In recent years America has done a lot of talking about the elusive work life balance, but are we actually making progress? 

Yes, according to the newly released Women in the Workplace report, the largest study of its kind in corporate America. Its annual findings are based on five years of data from almost 600 companies, with employees, managers, and human resources professionals at all levels participating. 

Over the past few years more companies than ever have unveiled policies that support a better balance between work and family life. But there’s still plenty more work to be done: Work-life flexibility remained the number one issue raised by employees in 2019.

The good news is paternity leave has increased, with significantly more companies offering it than just three years ago. The average paid leave available to new fathers also has increased from four to seven weeks. As a result, men were just as likely as women to take leave when becoming a new parent, a shift that helps new families bond and allows moms and dads to more easily share the load of caring for a newborn. 

Some experts think this can also have a positive impact on the health of both parents, especially those recovering from C-sections or experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression and other mood disorders, particularly when the parents are living together. “Having both parents there together gives them each a shoulder to lean on,” says Tania Paredes, Ph.D., a family therapist in Miami, Florida, who specializes in pre- and postnatal mental health. “It helps them go through the process together instead of separate.”

When it comes to maternity leave policies, there’s still plenty of room for improvement. The average length of paid maternity leave has remained stuck at 10 weeks (as a comparison, women in Europe receive 20 weeks on average). 

When they do take leave, 20 percent of women say it negatively impacts their career, compared to just 10 percent of men, a sign that workplace culture may not be keeping pace with these new policies. Women are also twice as likely to say taking leave had a negative impact on their financial health.

Freedom to work from home can make family life easier to manage

For parents who prefer to work from home so they can better manage their schedule, more than 70 percent of employees said their companies offered that flexibility in 2019, compared to just 40 percent in 2015. 

Perhaps in part because we’re seeing more flexibility entering the workplace, dual-career relationships are on the rise. When both parents work, it can make the work life balance particularly tricky (who’s going to pick up the kids from school?). Today 56 percent of men have a partner who works full-time, compared to 47 percent in 2015. In contrast a whopping 81 percent of women have a partner who works full-time, compared to 75 percent four years ago.

Regardless of where they work, women in dual-career relationships were 39 percent more likely to report doing most or all of the housework compared to just 11 percent of men. The good news is a generational shift may be on the horizon: Younger women in dual career couples reported doing less housework than older women in similar relationships. 

However, these imbalances reflect the fact that in many cases, gender bias still exists both in the workplace and the home. Until all workers and all co-parents are put on equal footing, work life balance will likely remain just out of reach.

The former Content Director at Parenting, and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.