When it comes to family leave, the U.S. is way behind, being one of just the few developed countries without a policy for paid leave. President Biden’s aim of providing paid family leave for all American workers got one step closer last November, when the the House of Representatives passed a version of the Build Back Better legislation that includes a proposal for four weeks paid family leave. As of writing however, the country is still waiting to see this bill impact everyday life as it’s stalled in the Senate.

But paid family and parental leave generally has broad support and is much less of a partisan issue to the average American. While people have differing opinions on the specifics of just how much leave should be provided to families specifically upon the birth or adoption of a child, CivicScience data from January 2022 illustrate the scarcity of options among working American parents. 

According to a recent survey, just slightly more than one-fourth of those in the workforce indicate that their employer offers paid parental leave for both new mothers and fathers. More than half (57%) indicate that they are offered none or that they aren’t sure of their employer’s parental leave benefits, if any. Furthermore, just 36% of respondents in another survey indicate they are very satisfied with the leave their employer offers.

The data show what family leave advocates have been fighting for: when leave is granted to both parents, satisfaction levels are highest.

Women are unsurprisingly less satisfied with the parental leave offered at their company than men are.

The Leave Gap

Having to choose between income and leave after becoming a parent leads many to not take leave at all. In another poll, more than half of working parents surveyed said they did not take any leave at all when they became a parent. What’s more is that over half of people who did take leave were not paid for at least some of the time.

When digging into demographics, examining age and gender are telling. It’s no secret that women often bear the brunt of caregiving responsibilities, and leave policies and workplace culture often discourage fathers from taking time off if they are offered it at all, perpetuating the cycle of a gender gap in care.

The data show that roughly a third of men took leave when they most recently became a parent, compared to just over half of women. But let’s step back: while it’s important to shed light on the large disparity between men and women taking leave, and the burden that puts on women, it’s worth pointing out the other part of this data: that nearly half of women did not take any leave at all when they most recently had a child. That means these mothers went back to work right away during this time of great transition and recovery, oftentimes when work is not yet advisable.

Examining age vs. recent leave is somewhat encouraging: younger parents are starting to take more paid leave, likely because more and more have the option or the willingness to take it. We see older generations are less likely to have taken leave at all, which is unsurprising given changing workplace culture and policies. 

Income data only further illustrates why many advocate that all parents should be able to take time off to care for a child and not have their income stream impacted: those who are granted and take paid leave are more likely to already be well off–or at least better off financially– compared to those who don’t even have the option to. 

Those who make under $35k annually are the most likely to have not taken any leave or take only unpaid leave. 

While it is encouraging that paid leave is starting to be offered to younger generations of parents compared to their own, the study highlights the great disparities among American working parents when it comes to much-needed financial support during one of the biggest life changes many ever undergo.