Dems Want to Mandate Paid Maternity Leave: Here's Why That's a Bad Idea


Working moms deserve to spend time with their newborn babies without vocational anxiety. But that doesn’t mean the federal government should mandate all private companies provide paid maternity leave.

Proponents of a government-mandated paid leave program argue that it would make it easier for women to access the child care they need while simultaneously reducing the pay gap between men and women in the workforce.

Despite these claims, a federally-mandated paid maternity leave program is likely to carry unintended consequences for the same women it is supposed to help.

Federally-Mandated Paid Maternity Leave Hurts Women 

At first glance, the federal government requiring businesses to provide parental leave seems like it would benefit female workers. A survey of 9,400 individuals from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2019 found that working women, on average, do more child-rearing and housework than working men — a reality that suggests women would be more likely to need the program.

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Instead of creating more opportunities for women in the workforce, however, the policy is more likely to be detrimental to them.

A 2017 Cato Institute Op-Ed noted that companies associate government-mandated paid leave programs with decreased productivity and increased costs. Women may face a reduction in workplace opportunities, due to the incentive this creates for companies to refrain from hiring women or reducing the number in their employ.

Defenders of the policy may argue that many European countries manage to provide working women with federally-mandated maternity leave. Of course, they neglect to mention that the European institution of such a program has proven damaging to working women.

A 1996 paper published in the National Bureau of Economic Research found evidence that Europe’s parental leave mandates reduced women’s relative wages.

Do government-mandated paid leave policies actually hurt women?

Further research into Nordic policies suggests that they have been a “costly solution” that may have inadvertently created a “system‐​based glass ceiling” for women. The high cost of providing women with long-term paid maternal leave coupled with extended periods out of the workplace hurts women’s career trajectories instead of improving them.

The United States may not have the federal maternity leave policies of Nordic and other western European countries. Still, it does have a higher proportion of women working in top-level positions.

A 2018 meta-analysis carried out by the Cato Institute compiled data from multiple studies, noting that American women are more likely to be employed as managers than women in any of the 21 OECD countries with government-paid leave policies. The report also pointed out that the “U.S. labor market seems to hold distinct leadership opportunities for women, in contrast to other labor markets worldwide.”

The benefits awarded by a federal paid leave program typically come with a cost, and women pay for it with a reduced presence in the labor market and diminished work experience.

Federally-Mandated Paid Maternity Leave Impacts Businesses

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Those who support government-mandated paid leave often underestimate how it can also hurt businesses.

Political operative José Niño wrote at the Foundation for Economic Education that mandatory paid leave merely acts as a transfer of wealth from workers who do not qualify for it and those who do. It also prevents business owners from negotiating leave time with their workers and determining wages based on the amount of labor provided.

Uncertainty is another issue, as it is infeasible for most companies — especially small businesses —  to pay parental leave for an employee who could leave within a few months. The unintended consequence is that employers may hesitate to hire new workers, leading to a potential reduction in business growth.

“Paid parental leave is not a free gift to workers. Mandatory paid leave is ultimately a tax that businesses will have to shoulder and will eventually be absorbed by employers, employees, and customers,” Niño wrote.

“When leave is mandated, it forces the employer to make expenditures in addition to the wages he already pays to employees. In turn, the wages employees take home are reduced accordingly.”

The Federal Government Cannot Raise Women’s Families 

The economic and social side effects of government-mandated maternity leave should push policymakers to help working women in other ways. Instead of implementing top-down policies, economic researcher Rachel Greszler suggested lawmakers could best serve women and business owners by implementing targeted approaches.

“They could, for example, enact pro-growth tax reform that increases workers’ take-home pay. They could promote — rather than impede — flexible work arrangements,” Greszler wrote in an Op-Ed for the Heritage Foundation. “They could cut costly regulations so that employers can better afford to provide benefits — such as paid family leave — that their workers desire.”

Instead of actively interfering with people’s lives, the government should serve a neutral role that neither subsidizes nor penalizes staying at home or working a job outside of the house.

Proponents of government-mandated maternity leave need to recognize the policy they support is likely to make it harder for women to climb the professional ladder.

While it is true that women may need help balancing a career alongside motherhood, assistance from the federal government should be a last resort.

Before trusting the government to serve as a primary caregiver, policymakers should pursue solutions that stand a better chance of helping working women raise strong families without reducing workforce opportunities.

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Samantha Kamman is an associate staff writer for The Western Journal. She has been published in several media outlets, including Live Action News and the Washington Examiner.
Samantha Kamman is an associate staff writer for The Western Journal. She has been published in several media outlets, including Live Action News and the Washington Examiner.