This is the sixth story in a seven-part series looking at women’s ambitions in the years following college.
It’s hard to run headlong into the issue of women and work without face-planting over the current state of paid parental leave in the United States. Article after article reports on the barely existent policies, punctuated with reports that range from depressing (only the U.S. and Papua New Guinea don’t mandate some paid time off) to tragic. So we anticipated hearing a lot of stories from our former classmates about how they’d struggled to return to work after abbreviated leaves, or left altogether because they couldn’t bring themselves to go back after such a short time with their newborn. But not one person said anything related to a lack of paid leave as a major factor in her decision to either leave the workforce or scale back her career.
This isn’t to say that paid parental leave wouldn’t be a boon to working families. We did have a few interviewees who quit abruptly after their leave was up. Would they have made that decision if their child was six months old or a year old when they went back to work, instead of six weeks or three months? None of the women said that would have made a difference, though the reality is unknowable. And reports from states and countries that have instituted paid family leave point to the myriad ways these policies benefit new parents: bonding between newborns and parents, lower infant mortality, improved health in children, mothers who breastfeed longer.