After decades of judging and shaming mothers for “abandoning” their kids while they went off to work to commit the horrible and selfish act of providing for their families, Americans are now overwhelmingly OK with working mothers, according to a paper published in the latest edition of Psychology of Women quarterly.
The study, from researchers at San Diego State University and the University of Georgia, looked at nationally representative survey data from the 1970s through 2013, and found big cultural shifts. In 1977, 68 percent of U.S. adults believed “a preschool child is likely to suffer if his or her mother works,” compared to 42 percent in 1998 and 35 percent in 2012. (A recent study found that, actually, having a working mother can have a very positive impact on a child.)
Younger adults were even more supportive of working mothers. The new study found that just 22 percent of high school seniors surveyed from 2010 to 2013 said they believe a child suffers when his or her mother works.
So that’s cool. But the thing is, public policy and most private employers haven’t caught up to changing attitudes. The U.S. still remains the only democratic nation on the planet without any paid parental leave.
“The reality is, most women with young children are in the workplace,” said Jean Twenge, the author of “Generation Me” and a psychology professor at San Diego State University who worked on the new research paper. “Yet among industrialized nations, we don’t compare very well in terms of the support we give working families for daycare and preschool.”
Nothing much has changed at the federal level since the U.S. passed a law requiring employers to offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave for caretakers in 1993. “I don’t feel like we’ve made any progress [on family leave] since then,” Anne Weisberg, a senior vice president at the nonprofit research group the Families and Work Institute, told The Huffington Post.
One of the big objections to paid leave traditionally comes from businesses, which tend to argue that offering workers paid leave increases costs. But a mounting pile of evidence doesn’t support that theory. Nearly 90 percent of California businesses reported no cost increases due to the state’s now 10-year-old leave law, according to one survey. In fact, 43 percent of businesses in the state reported a cost savings, because they were able to hold on to more workers (decreasing training costs) and reduce spending on benefits.
Other companies, like Google, have also increased employee retention by increasing paid leave.
Oh, and paid leave saves the government money and disproportionately helps lower-income women. In New Jersey, women who took paid leave were around 40 percent less likely to receive public benefits like food stamps or welfare, according to a Rutgers study cited by Claire Cain Miller in The New York Times.