In Sweden, parents are granted 480 days of paid parental leave. The United States, in contrast, is the only industrialized country that does not guarantee paid leave. Many Americans are demanding that generous policies, like that of Sweden and other Nordic countries, be set in place by the government. At the same time, women bemoan that they cannot get ahead in the business world. This is a classic case of wanting one’s cake and eating it too.
Women in America feel that they should be able to be both a career woman and a mother — and they can. Juggling both will come at a cost though.
The Cost to Women
The aim of Sweden and its counterparts with similar maternity-leave policies is to increase the number of women in the workforce. The policy is effective in that sense, as more than 80 percent of Swedish mothers work. That 80 percent does not necessarily translate to workplace achievement though. An equal percentage of Swedish company managers are male. This can be attributed, in large part, to the year-plus that women are paid to step away from work. In that time, they fall behind in skills and networking and miss opportunities for advancement.
More than 80 percent of Swedish mothers work.
The United States, with its lack of government-mandated paid leave, sees higher proportions of women in management positions. The gender wage gap is also much lower amongst America’s top earners compared to Nordic countries. It's ironic that those who are demanding more paid leave for women also want the benefits of a society that does not provide such paid leave.
The gender wage gap is much lower amongst America’s top earners compared to Nordic countries.
Another issue that women face under such a system is hiring discrimination. Employers naturally shy away from hiring anyone who could potentially not be able to fulfill a position’s duties and obligations. If companies were legally required to allow employees to step away for such an extended period of time, they would tend to hire candidates who did not fall into that demographic. Some suggest laws that protect against such discrimination (which Sweden has in place), but that means even more unwanted government intervention in the free market.
The Cost of Governmental Intervention
One crucial factor that many do not consider when pushing for policies that pay is that the money has to come from somewhere. Sweden funds its extensive leave with higher taxes. This would mean less take-home pay across the board and the government’s hand deeper into citizens’ personal lives.
Forcing businesses to pay for leave is majorly overstepping in a free society. Of course, tax cuts and other such incentives could lead to more businesses increasing benefits such as paid parental leave. It is not, however, the government’s job to mandate that a company do so.
Sweden funds its extensive leave with higher taxes. This means less take-home pay across the board.
In a perfect world, women could have it all. One could take a year off work, make the same amount as she would working, and return to work with all the benefits of one who had never left. We do not live in a utopian society, though, so choices have to be made and consequences must be accepted.
If a woman wants to earn more and ascend the corporate ladder, she can choose to work towards such success. If a woman wants to stay at home and raise her children, she can choose to do so. The cry for more paid leave has proven to be ineffective when it comes to promoting economic growth and encouraging female prosperity in the workplace.