This is it, the big day. After months and
months of eager anticipation your bouncing bundle of joy is on the way home or maybe
stuck inside of your cut in half globe. You’ve watched all of the parenting hack videos online.
You’ve decorated the nursery. Maybe you’ve even bought a color coded cake to do a gender
reveal party for the ‘gram. You should be all set…and then you remember that you have
to head back to work in a few short weeks. So the question arises for many working parents:
what happens to an infant once the shimmery sheen of joy wears off and the practical concerns
of reliable childcare set in? And what does WWII have to do with this historical and social
puzzle? Part of the dilemma here is the debate over
whether or not new working parents should have the right to paid parental leave. Since
the majority of us out here have to work hard for the money, so hard for it honey, the length
and time frame of parental leave is of utmost importance to most new parents. And they aren’t
the only ones concerned about baby’s big day out. This also raises concerns for healthcare
professionals, insurance companies, government agencies and employers. They’re probably
second only to parents with fears about folks being kept out of the workforce for too long
after receiving a visit from Mr. Stork. There’s also an interesting historical intersection
between WWII and concerns over childcare. Because the baby boom that gave the generation
born after WWII its name wasn’t just a metaphor…it was really like a boom of babies. The whole
idea seems pretty adorable to me (I mean picture thousands of infants shooting out of booming
canons in lil onesies). But the entrance of millions of women worldwide into the workforce
followed by the actual baby boom created a logistical dilemma for employers and working
families alike. And since we’re coming up on the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII,
let’s get to the root of where the urge for paid maternity and paternity leave originated. It seems that WWII was a critical juncture
for the introduction of seismic healthcare changes worldwide. And there’s no greater
evidence of that than some of our older Origin episodes. After you finish watching this one
go ahead and check out our episodes on Sex Ed and what makeup sales taught us about Employer
Sponsored Healthcare in the post WWII era. But it’s easy to understand how all these
healthcare changes came to pass, since the war itself caused huge cultural shifts, like
the rising spread of STIs, soldiers returning home with health issues, mass global migration,
and all of those hardworking Rosie the Riveters joining the workforce. But today we’re focusing on a specific invention
of the post war era: maternity leave. Ok so from our research on the topic it seems that
the easiest way to break down this mountain of thorns is into 4 categories of the major
players behind paid parental leave. Because if the saying “it takes a village to raise
a child” is right, then we can also alter it to read “it takes a village…and several
government regulatory bodies to raise a child” when we’re talking about paid parental leave.
So the 4 major players that I discovered were: First: Families…primarily the parents of
the bouncing brand new babe but maybe also other family members who become involved in
childcare if the parents get called back into work. Oh and also this bucket includes the
kids themselves, since without them there’s really no major debates to be had.
Second: The government Third: Employers.
And Fourth: Healthcare officials. All of these groups are concerned about the
balance between baby care and working life, but they approach it from pretty “STORK-ly”
different angles. Let’s start off with the most obvious group:
dear old moms and dads. In the US, the debates about maternity leave
didn’t start in earnest until after WWII. And that’s because before women around the
world were pulled into the workforce while their male family members engaged on the frontlines,
there was no reasonable expectation that women would: A) work full time jobs or B) keep working
after they began to rear children. Women who worked in family run businesses, like agriculture
or small stores, did often play active roles in those businesses after the arrival of babies.
But the massive influx of women entering the formal workforce of factories and offices
for wages during WWII marked a sharp difference in the quality of women’s labor. As a result
of these new wage labor ladies flooding the job market (and many of them staying in the
workforce even after the end of combat) employers now had to deal with a new question: what
should happen to employees when they become pregnant? And should they be hired back once
they’ve given birth? Well the resounding, and super disappointing,
answer to this question was largely a big fat “no!” In the intervening years between
the end of WWII and the early 1970s, many women lost their jobs outright once their
employers discovered they were pregnant. (And we’re talking MANY women. Because don’t
forget: after WWII, there was a baby boom in many countries. During the Great Depression,
there were about 18-19 births per 1,000 people in the U.S. And in 1947, that number had risen
to 26.5 births per 1000 people in the U.S.) And if mothers didn’t lose their jobs entirely,
then there was no strong guarantee of getting their employment back once they’d recovered
after childbirth. So the options for new families were: risk your job, risk your child’s well
being, or just don’t have kids… all of which seems like a pretty lousy set of
options if you’re interested in having kids and not going broke. But that all began to
change in the 1970s in the US. So that’s when our second major player in
this whole game, the government, got involved. Countries around the world began to alter
their policies. Pregnancy started becoming a protected category, meaning employers legally
couldn’t discriminate against pregnant women. But I’d like to also highlight that feminist
activists played a major role in having this legislation come to pass, because governments
(usually) don’t just up and decide to pass certain policies. Rather major policy decisions
are often the effect of years of activist championing. In 1972, the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (EEOC) required employers to treat disability from pregnancy the same
as any other disability. And the 1974 case Geduldig v. Aiello was brought to the Supreme
Court on the basis that pregnancy should be treated as a protected category and that denial
of insurance to pregnant women counted as sex based discrimination. And while the court
at that time found that it did not, this case served in some ways as a precedent for the
Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978. The PDA amended Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act so that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or pregnancy related
illnesses was forbidden. The PDA…if you think about it, that’s a funny name for
an act about pregnancy. But while the US government in the 1970s was
grappling over how to classify and protect pregnant women, other nations around the world
were going one step further and passing paid maternity leave laws. In 1974 Sweden made
maternity leave into gender neutral parental leave and was quickly followed by other nations
in the region, including Norway and Finland. The UK passed their first paid maternity leave
laws through the Employment Protection Act of 1975. Although just because a precedent
was set doesn’t mean it was immediately followed worldwide. The 1980s saw a sprinkling
of maternity leave progress, both stateside and abroad. The UK extended the Employment
Protection Act in 1980. But the strict working requirements of the law meant that only approximately
50% of women were eligible. Thankfully by the early 90s the law was extended to include
most working women, and men were added to the bill with paternity leave in 2003. Meanwhile, during the same time frame in the
US, efforts to enact paid maternity leave nationwide stalled, stopped and started again
before a resolution was reached. The Family Employment Security Act of 1984 asked for
26 weeks per year of job-protected leave. But it combined birth and other illnesses
and was a request for unpaid leave. When this law failed to pass, Representative Patricia
Schroeder introduced the Parental and Disability Leave Act in 1985. It was edited and reintroduced
in 1986 and finally became the FMLA, or Family and Medical Leave Act, which was passed in
1993. So, yes, there is 12-week-long, job-protected
family leave. But it’s unpaid, meaning many families don’t use the full leave, or they
struggle financially because they can’t afford to do without their income for that
long. And let’s face it, babies are pretty pricey. What with the cost of all those diapers
and doctors visits and adorable micro-fashions to wear on Instagram. You can’t just stick
a baby in a cut in half globe! It’s hardly the cheapest endeavor. But lawmakers balance
the challenges of providing relief for individual families and the concerns of employers. Because
the US remains among 8 nations in the world that doesn’t provide any form of guaranteed,
government regulated paid parental leave. So the cost of paid leave, as it now stands,
falls to individual employers. And while 12 weeks of job protected unpaid leave are guaranteed
for workers at companies with at least 50 employees (meaning you can’t be let go if
you leave to take care of an infant), the question still remains about who should be
footing the bill. For many small businesses, that remains unfeasible, although larger companies
sometimes offer maternity and paternity leave as part of their employee benefits. That’s
why employers are our third player in the parental leave conversation. But the case by case system leaves large swathes
of Americans uncovered. And one study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
found that taking maternity leave could be a “damned if you do damned if you don’t”
dilemma for women. So, check out this reasoning. The study found that employees who took maternity
leave were seen as less dedicated to their job, less competent, and therefore less worthy
of receiving rewards and benefits at work than women who decided not to take leave and
women who didn’t make it known whether or not they took leave at all. But those who
continued to work were judged negatively as prioritizing their work over their families
and less desirable as a result than both the employee who took leave and the ones who didn’t
state a choice, even though they were deemed more worthy of receiving rewards at work. Does your head hurt? Because mine definitely
does. Now imagine making this decision with a crying baby suctioned to your hip and you
can see why a lot of new parents are positively at their wits end over parental leave policies.
Because these decisions have big and lasting impacts not only on your job prospects but
also on the health of you and your newborn. That brings us to the 4th and final major
player in the debates over paid parental leave: healthcare officials. Because while the conversation
is often framed as a struggle between employers, government officials, and new parents, there
are larger real world health concerns that come along with this decision. For example:
the World Health Organization recommends 6 months of breastfeeding for new infants. And
this process is obviously easier to accomplish several times a day if parents are given adequate
paid time off, with women who return to work later usually being able to breastfeed regularly
for longer periods of time. A 2015 study states that there could be a
positive correlation between paid maternity leave during the birth of a first child, and
lower instances of late life depression for women over the age of 50. This is based on
data from countries that participate in the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in
Europe (SHARE). And other studies find that there’s a benefit to lengthier maternity
leave for pediatric healthcare as well, so be sure to check out some of these fascinating
findings down in the works cited! So the post war baby boom led us to the question:
what happens to working families after the babies start booming? But even though most
of the generation that were the first wave of infants that caused global concern over
childcare are now either parents or grandparents themselves, the debates over paid maternity
continue to rage worldwide. In nations with paid maternity leaves, like the UK and Canada,
questions about the duration of the leave and the amount of compensation remain in the
public discourse. And in the US, where no paid maternity leave decisions have been reached,
activists continue to agitate for change that benefits working families and the babies in
their care. So what do you think? My only regret about
this episode is that I didn’t have a bunch of babies on set like I wanted to and only
one fake baby, but the information is still worth knowing….even if I can’t look into
their beautiful chubby cheeked faces while I talk.

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