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Should Women and Men Be Given Equal Time for Parental Leave?

Working women believe they should—sort of

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza

The United States is the only industrialized country, and one of the only countries in the world, that doesn’t guarantee time off from work, paid or unpaid, after the birth or adoption of a child.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the primary caregiver of the child, regardless of gender, is offered 12 weeks of unpaid leave, provided they work for an employer with at least 50 employees within 75 miles of the worksite and have worked for this employer for at least 12 months.

The FMLA does not make provisions if leave needs to be extended beyond the 12 weeks (if the mother or child has continuing health needs, for example). These benefits are for only the primary caregiver of the child, and in the United States, women still devote more time to childcare than men.

The International Labour Organization (ILO), a tripartite U.N. agency that sets international labor standards, develops policies, and devises programs that promote decent work for men and women, states that mothers should receive a minimum of 14 weeks leave at no less than two-thirds of their normal pay so they can “maintain themselves and their child in proper conditions of health and with a suitable standard of living.”

We asked: Should women and men get equal time for parental leave?

We asked 8,000 women about their feelings regarding the length of parental leave for both men and women, specifically whether they believe women and men should be given an equal amount of time away from work after the birth or adoption of a child.

The majority of women—73 percent—say they believe women and men should be given an equal amount of time for parental leave.

We asked: How long is long enough?

We posed this question another way, asking women the specific amount of time they feel is appropriate for parental leave.

We asked women to identify the specific amount of time they feel is reasonable for mothers. Seventy percent of women say more than eight weeks is a reasonable length of time for paid maternity leave.

The most popular answer was one of the longest time tiers offered in our survey, with nearly 40 percent of women saying they feel 12–24 weeks is reasonable.

It should be noted that while more than 70 percent of our survey participants believe women and men should be given equal leave, when asked about specific lengths of time, our survey participants indicate they feel paternity leave should be somewhat shorter.

Roughly 60 percent of women say that more than eight weeks is a reasonable amount of time for paid paternity leave (compared to the 70 percent who feel that more than eight weeks is reasonable for maternity leave). More than one in four women feel that fewer than eight weeks is appropriate for paternity leave.

Women are also more likely to feel that more than 12 weeks is reasonable for maternity leave than it is for paternity leave.


Survey of 8,000 women in April 2019.

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By Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza

Content Strategist, InHerSight

Emily is on staff at InHerSight where she researches and writes about data that describes women in the workplace, women's compensation and contract literacy, and women's rights in the workplace. 

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