If the fastest and smartest path towards economic growth is to increase the female labour force participation, one policy which can bring radical change is “parental leave” policy for child care. Making eligibility to paid parental leave “gender neutral” is an urgent policy reform to eliminate the distorted debates in the policy circles that paid child care for mothers can induce a tendency for the management to hire women less.
The most radical transformation in the institution of “motherhood” - to lessen the marginalization of women in job markets or to stem the widening gender gap in the earnings (due to the comparatively increased share of energy and time spent by women on young children) – is to integrate men in every aspect of child care. This “equal sharing” policy would also provide a recognition to the energy, time and resources expend disproportionately by the women in raising children. When an economy progresses, leaving women behind as vulnerable or stagnate them, despite them being efficient and able to contribute to economic growth, is not an “inclusive” economic policy. The highly policy relevant question is of what would provide an enabling environment to encourage “equal parenting” in child care. The recognition that “shared parenting” leads to greater gender equality and in turn economic growth is the crucial step.
One of the significant policies in Scandinavian countries – the countries which top the Human Development Index – is the “equal parental leave rights” for men and women. For instance, in Sweden, parental leave system was introduced in 1974, replacing the earlier maternity leave system introduced in 1954. In 1974, both men and women – the mothers and the fathers – were given an equal number of paid parental leave, with the flexibility to exchange the paid leaves between each other. However empirical evidences showed that relatively more women than men had accessed this leave provisions, though parents were provided equal shares in paid leave.
In 1995, to encourage more men to take paternal leave, Sweden has implemented a “daddy-month” reform, which has provided extra monetary incentives for men to take up parental leave, and with no flexibility of transfer of these paid “daddy month” of 30 days to women. In 2002, Sweden has announced a second “daddy month” where the paid leave for child by men has been increased to two months. The total number of paid parental leave months was also increased to 480 days. The empirical evidences showed that this enhanced paid paternal leave entitlements have significant effect in men taking up child care leave since 1995. This public policy has potential positive impacts in reducing gender gap in earnings as gender differentials in the time spent on young children earlier had a negatively impacted on women’s earnings.
With the advanced policy deliberations at highest level of policy making bodies, India has recently introduced two years’ child care leave for “mothers” (after the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations) in addition to the “maternity leave benefits”. This is indeed one of the commendable achievements of policy makers, economists and the civil society in India to integrate “care economy” in the macroeconomic policies. However, a need is felt to run the last mile by making these paid leave “gender neutral” by extending it to fathers along with mothers - a non-transferable leave at least for a specific period for fathers and the rest of the leaves with flexibility to transfer among the parents - will give a signal that our policies are not based on restricted assumption that “a child is the sole responsibility of a mother”. This in turn gives a positive impact on female labour force participation as the work place cannot “discriminate” or “marginalize” women by not promoting them citing the child care dynamics, once we imbibe it as “equally shared” by both parents, supported by the social security welfare measures.
Making paid child care policies “gender neutral” is a long term policy step to reduce the gender differentials in labour force participation and the gender gap in wage rates. The sociology of fiscal policy is indeed a crucial point. If this potential policy measure of “equal sharing” in care economy would induce intra-household tensions in negating the stereotype gender roles – the role conflicts in a patriarchal set up - in a care economy, that needs to be dealt with positive evidences. An awareness needs to be provided about what “equal sharing” in care economy can bring to people to have quality relationships, and enabling both men and women to contribute equally to economic growth.
Mandated parental leave, along with quality care economy infrastructure policies and flexi-work time for men and women with young children, can ensure people to be actively contributing to the economic growth, simultaneously being “intensely fathers” and “intensely mothers” which is a required effort to enable quality to the human capital formation, which in turn ensures intergenerational equity. This should be an additional fiscal entitlement along with a flexibility of reallocation of the existing paid child care leave between fathers and mothers before the child turn eighteen years old.
Perceiving “motherhood” as a regressivity in a woman’s ability to efficiently contribute to the economic growth - in a particular period of her life – just because of the traditional roles assigned needs a course correction. The social content of this policy would be nothing less than a fitting response to the futile questions like “can men mother?” or “what a man can do in child care business?”.
The author is Associate Professor at NIPFP and also Visiting Professor, Uppsala University, Sweden. The author would like to acknowledge the discussions with Professor Helena Wallström Henriksson, Professor Anita Hussénius, Professor Gabrielle Griffin and Professor Minna Salminen Karlsson and also the deliberations with Ministry(s) of Government of Sweden, Stockholm. This is a portion of the forthcoming working paper on "Economic Policies in Sweden for gender equity" prepared at Uppsala University during August-September 2018 by the author. The corresponding email address of author is firstname.lastname@example.org (and email@example.com )
The views expressed in the post are those of the author only. No responsibility for them should be attributed to NIPFP.