Stevenson makes the case for paid family leave in the U.S. in joint AEI-Brookings series

April 5, 2017

The AEI-Brookings Project on Paid Family Leave has featured contributions from a number of experts, including Ford School professor Betsey Stevenson, who wrote "Why America needs a paid family leave policy," on April 3, 2017. 

In her piece, Stevenson points out that most of the world's countries - and all of the world's wealthy countries - have national paid maternity and paternity leave policies. These policies are beneficial to children, help women to work, are popular with the general public, and help boost company profits, she says. But not having such a policy in the United States, she notes, is hurting the American economy.

"Growth in American women’s labor force participation stalled almost 20 years ago," Stevenson says. "Women’s labor force participation had surged in the 1970s through the mid-1990s, fueling growth in family incomes and GDP. One reason that GDP growth remains tepid today is because growing labor force participation is no longer fueling GDP growth, and in many years declining participation has been a drag on growth."

In addition to stalled growth in the labor force, which has been avoided or changed by family leave policies in other countries, Stevenson notes an alarming trend in which "young men are more likely to embrace a traditional family form in which they are the primary earners and women focus on the family, despite the fact that they are more likely to believe in gender equality."

"Why is this alarming?" Stevenson answers, "Women are more equal players in the labor market today. They have more experience and education than before, and their graduation rates have outpaced those of men for several decades now. The vast majority of young college-educated workers are women."

Stevenson goes on to argue that paid family leave has been hampered by the "permanence" of certain policies and taxes that have come before it and a lack of courage from political leaders to change the system.

"Ask a millennial today whether they would prefer a mortgage interest deduction or paid family leave," she says. "Perhaps most heretical—ask a millennial whether they would like to be able to borrow against their Social Security benefits in retirement in order to fund paid family leave? Or if they would even be willing to give up some of their Social Security benefits in retirement to have more support when a child is born. Regardless of your views of those options, we’re failing millennials by not giving them a choice."

--By Jackson Voss (MPP '18)

Betsey Stevenson (@BetseyStevenson) is an associate professor of public policy and economics. She served as an appointed member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers (2013-2015) and as chief economist of the U.S. Department of Labor (2010-2011).