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A Look At The Case For Paid Family Leave

We are just starting to learn the effect of lack of paid maternity leave on babies and young children, says Tania Lombrozo.

What do the United States, Suriname, Papua New Guinea and Tonga have in common?

These countries are among the few worldwide that don't offer paid maternity leave at the federal level for new mothers. Note that the United States is the only advanced economy to make the list; most others offer at least 15 weeks.

In a powerful new talk available at Ted.com, author Jessica Shortall makes the case for paid family leave — not only as a moral issue but as an economic one. According to Shortall, women make up 47 percent of the workforce, yet 88 percent of working women have no access to paid maternity leave.

What does that mean for new mothers?

Shortall offers stories from new moms — and they aren't pretty. She argues that we need to drop the stock photo image of a working mom with perfectly coiffed hair and a cherubic infant on her lap, cooing happily as Mom works at her computer. Too often working moms are pumping milk in bathrooms (I've been there), making child care decisions driven by economic necessity (I've been there, too) and otherwise scrambling to combine the demands of work with those of having and raising babies.

And what does this mean for babies and young children?

That's something we're only beginning to understandi In a lovely short essay at Edge.org, psychology professor Linda Wilbrecht, a colleague at the University of California, Berkeley, highlights what we do — and don't — yet know about the impacts of early life experiences on later development. High-quality child care — whether it comes from Mom or other caregivers — and a rich, stable environment could have important downstream consequences for individuals and for society.

Wilbrecht's essay is worth a read, and Shortall's talk is worth a look:


Tania Lombrozo is a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley. She writes about psychology, cognitive science and philosophy, with occasional forays into parenting and veganism. You can keep up with more of what she is thinking on Twitter: @TaniaLombrozo

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