Not long after a friend of mine learned she was expecting her first child, her husband sought out a job at Facebook. As a dad-to-be, he found the company particularly attractive for its generous paternity leave policy — 17 weeks of paid time off.
That’s the highest, tied with Reddit, among the 13 companies surveyed by BuzzFeed about their parental leave policies — a mix of newer tech companies like Google and LinkedIn, and some of the largest companies in the U.S. by market capitalization, like Walmart, Procter & Gamble, and IBM. The newer companies, on the whole, tended to offer much more generous paid leave policies for both parents; one company surveyed, Boeing, doesn’t offer any fully-paid leave for new parents at all. (For the purposes of this article, BuzzFeed defined paid parental leave as time off with full pay.)
Then again, they don’t have to. The U.S. is among a handful of countries that don’t require employers to offer paid maternity leave. (Paid paternity leave is less universal.) U.S. law mandates only unpaid parental leave regardless of gender.
Except for Facebook and Reddit, every company surveyed offers more paid leave for new moms than for new dads. Parents who create families through adoption or surrogacy — a group that includes many same-sex couples — may also receive less than mothers who give birth.
Any amount of paid parental leave is still a luxury for most American workers. Only 11% of private-sector employees have access to paid family leave, which can include maternity and paternity leave as well as time off to care for a sick relative. These policies don’t always cover same-sex couples and parents.
Even unpaid parental leave is relatively new in the U.S. Employers weren’t required to offer it until the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act. The law allows men and women to take 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave, but various exceptions mean it doesn’t apply to around 40% of workers, according to a report by NPR.
Economists say the lack of paid maternity leave for many women is bad for the country’s bottom line. As the New York Times recently reported, female labor force participation has tapered off after climbing from the 1970s through the 1990s. As the Times notes, in June, the White House Council of Economic Advisers highlighted mandated paid leave — which studies show makes new moms more likely to return to their jobs after giving birth — as a way to counteract this slide.
Some male-dominated tech companies have specifically aimed to retain female employees by offering more generous maternity leave. Google, for example, increased the length of maternity leave, made it fully paid, and cut the attrition of new moms by 50%. But economists also caution that giving too much paid time off — like the longer maternity leaves common in Europe — can actually shunt women out of leadership positions.
Paid paternity leave can also encourage new moms to stay in the workforce, but it’s still relatively rare in the U.S. Younger men like my friend’s husband may help move the needle. A Bentley University survey found that nearly one in five college-educated dads born since 1980 say an ideal career would give them time off to be with their kids.
But for now, multiple months of paid paternity and maternity leave remain a perk for a small slice of American workers — and out of reach for most families.
Sapna Maheshwari, Matthew Lynley, and Katie Notopoulos contributed reporting.
This post was updated to clarify the definition of paid leave.
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