Wednesday, July 17, 2013

France's Experience Tells Us Little or Nothing About American Family Leave Policy

I see Ross Douthat has discovered that French employers end up treating working women in a somewhat retrograde fashion, and tries to pin this on the country's overly generous family leave policies. While the country's family leave policies may play a role, it's hard to see what that tells us about American family leave policy. Whenever someone tries to compare country X to the United States, it's helpful to consider we stack up against Y, Z, and W. So I looked up a report on Parental Leave published by Center for Economic Policy Research, and lo and behold I found this chart:

That's France, all the way on the left, where mothers are guaranteed 5 months of paid leave and over three years of unpaid leave. French fathers are guaranteed zero paid leave but up to three years of unpaid leave. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the United States, where female workers get a whopping three months unpaid leave and zero paid leave. In the middle you have one other country that offers less than six months of leave; ten countries that offer between 6 and 12 months of leave; and five countries that offer between a year and two year; and three other countries that offer over 2 years of leave. With the exception of Australia, the remaining OECD countries average about 20-24 weeks of pad leave.

Raising the specter of France in the context of a discussion on American family leave is absurd. If generous leave policies result in employment discrimination against women of child-bearing age, we we should look at the Netherlands or Dernmark or Australia or the UK. Or we should compare the experiences of states like California and Washington that guarantee a month or two of fully-paid or partially-paid family leave under the rubric of "short-term disability" with the experience of Idaho and Nevada and Arizona. There's just no path for the US to reach at a guarantee of three years' job-protected leave, whether that's a wise policy or not.

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