The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday March 30th

Column: UNC must allocate more resources to paid parental leave

<p>The back entrance of South Building and the Old Well are pictured on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022.</p>
Buy Photos DTH Photo Illustration. The back entrance of South Building and the Old Well are pictured on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022.

In order to maximize the amount of paid maternity leave she could use, my mother worked until the very day before she had me. 

Although she had a well-paying corporate job, her employer only offered birth parents eight weeks off. My father’s company didn't provide leave, so he took five days of vacation and later returned to work instead. 

This phenomenon is extremely common. Last semester, I was shocked to discover that a coworker — whose wife had just given birth the week prior — was already returning to his job as manager of a sports hospitality company. 

The United States is the second wealthiest country in the world, yet does not offer paid maternal and family leave on a federal scale. 

North Carolina — along with 42 other states — does not have mandatory leave policies, meaning the amount of time a parent gets off from work is left entirely to their employer’s jurisdiction. 

Though the Family and Medical Leave Act requires that all public agencies, schools and companies that employ more than 50 employees allow eligible individuals to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, the act is not an adequate substitution for federal paid paternity leave.

To be eligible for FMLA leave, an employee must have worked for employers for a minimum of 1,250 hours over the past 12 months. This policy excludes part-time workers and does not require public-sector employers to pay their employees their previous salary during leave. 

UNC is no exception to this national trend. According to Human Resources, the University offers birth parents up to eight weeks of paid parental leave. The non-birth parent, on the other hand, receives only four weeks off as part of their “Paid Parental Bonding Leave” employee package. 

UNC needs to reevaluate its leave policies to ensure that both parents get an equal amount of paid leave, ideally for longer than just two months. 

Paid parental leave for both partners offers a variety of benefits – not only for its beneficiaries but the broader job market as well. 

A meta-analysis found that U.S. states that have implemented paid leave policies experienced a 20 percent decline in the number of women who leave their jobs in the first year after welcoming a child. This number rises to 50 percent after five years.

Most importantly, paid parental leave helps eliminate the “Motherhood Penalty,” a phenomenon in which a woman loses a significant amount of her average earnings after she conceives a child. The “Motherhood Penalty” occurs due to a combination of sexist hiring practices and preconceived gender norms. 

Hiring managers, for instance, are less likely to hire mothers compared to women who do not have children. If they do, these employees are offered much lower wages than their childless counterparts who have similar qualifications. 

The consequences are financially crippling. Census Bureau data quantifies that between two years before the birth of an opposite-sex couple’s first child and a year after, the male partner’s earnings are double that of his female spouse. 

The wage gap in North Carolina among men and women is already stiffening, as the median income for men is $45,000 in the state and $36,400 for women, according to a press release from Gov. Roy Cooper. 

The disparity disproportionately harms women of color. The press release noted that women in North Carolina wouldn't be able to see equal pay until 2060, according to current trends, while women of color would need to wait even longer wait. 

Not only would paid paternity leave for both partners help alleviate their financial burden, but it would also eliminate gender stereotypes that disincentivize women from continuing to work or make it more difficult to do so.

Finally, extending paid parental leave would allow parents to heal from physically-tolling births. Medicine Net estimates that recovery time following birth oftentimes surpasses eight weeks — the allotted time UNC employees receive for paid leave. 

In fact, researchers find that birth parents may experience “high levels of exhaustion, back pain, urinary incontinence, sexual problems and perineal pain” for around six to seven months. These symptoms are linked to an increased risk of depression for new mothers, which means support from a spouse or co-parenting partner is absolutely necessary during this stage post-birth. 

No individual should have to choose between their career and current or prospective child. And given UNC's sizable endowment, the University can surely allocate resources toward changing scant parental leave policies. 


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