Paul Ryan unfairly blistered for his maternity leave position

Politicians and pundits have been piling on Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), possibly the next Speaker of the House, for saying that he’ll accept the job only if he can spend time with his family. Some of the cascade of criticism is vitriolic, of the type that if voiced from the right would be called mean spirited and divisive.

Ryan is being called a hypocrite, or worse, for having the means to spend time with his family, but for voting against a law requiring paid maternity leave. It’s regularly pointed out that the United States is the only industrial country in the world that doesn’t grant paid maternity leave. (The source, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development or OECD is here.)  Less often pointed out is the fact that the U.S.  law does require that maternity leave be granted, but not necessarily paid.

Just a few thoughts:

  • With all the blathering, I have read almost nothing about who should pay for it (taxpayers or employers), Or if the government pays for it, how it should be funded. Or how much it would cost (i.e. add to the deficit). These are all practical and realistic considerations that we are obliged to consider, but are largely ignored.
  • That’s because it is not a topic for rational discussion. As one commentator said, Ryan should have a “change of heart.” How revealing. This is a matter of passion and emotion and good feeling. Instead of calling for a change of heart, the commentator should be calling on Ryan to change his mind.

Finally, there’s this: To borrow the immortal words of Hillary Clinton, “What different does it make?” One study tried to determine that and came up with the answer: Paid maternity leave does not make that much difference. The study, “What Is the Case for Paid Maternity Leave?” by Gordon B. DahlKatrine V. LøkenMagne MogstadKari Vea Salvanes from the National Bureau of Economic Research is found here.

It’s worth quoting at length:

We assess the case for paid maternity leave, focusing on parents’ responses to a series of policy reforms in Norway which expanded paid leave from 18 to 35 weeks (without changing the length of job protection).

Our first empirical result is that none of the reforms seem to crowd out unpaid leave. Each reform increases the amount of time spent at home versus work by roughly the increased number of weeks allowed. Since income replacement was 100% for most women, the reforms caused an increase in mother’s time spent at home after birth, without a reduction in family income.

Our second set of empirical results reveals the expansions had little effect on a wide variety of outcomes, including children’s school outcomes, parental earnings and participation in the labor market in the short or long run, completed fertility, marriage or divorce. Not only is there no evidence that each expansion in isolation had economically significant effects, but this null result holds even if we cumulate our estimates across all expansions from 18 to 35 weeks.

Our third finding is that paid maternity leave is regressive in the sense that eligible mothers have higher family incomes compared to ineligible mothers or childless individuals. Within the group of eligibles, the program also pays higher amounts to mothers in wealthier families. Since there was no crowd out of unpaid leave, the extra leave benefits amounted to a pure leisure transfer, primarily to middle and upper income families.

Finally, we investigate the financial costs of the extensions in paid maternity leave. We find these reforms had little impact on parents’ future tax payments and benefit receipt. As a result, the large increases in public spending on maternity leave imply a considerable increase in taxes, at a cost to economic efficiency.

Taken together, our findings suggest the generous extensions to paid leave were costly, had no measurable effect on outcomes and regressive redistribution properties. In a time of harsh budget realities, our findings have important implications for countries that are considering future expansions or contractions in the duration of paid leave.

You might not agree with this empirical evidence, but at least you should concede that this debate should be considered one, as Vice President Joe Bidden now famously said, not between “enemies” but between opponents.

Here are some criticisms of Ryan:

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  • The one that bugs me most is the notion that he wants family time but won't vote for it. This is an illogical comparison. He *negotiated* the terms of employment. His right. His employers also have the right to accept or reject his offer. Every person of every gender has the right to negotiate the terms of employment. Passing a law is not about negotiation. Two different things. Ought there be better family leave? Maybe. It is a good topic to discuss. But Ryan wanting to spend time with his family has nothing to do with the discussion.

  • In reply to Rick Bohning:

    Well said. Thank you.

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    The thing that bugs me the most about this is the clear double standard on "hypocrisy." Ryan voted against forcing others to provide something that he wants for himself and the left is attacking him, but where was the outrage against hypocrisy in 1995 when Rose Kennedy died leaving an estate estimated at over $100 million, but her heirs, including Sen. Ted Kennedy who had long championed the estate tax, paid peanuts in estate taxes? Just like how everyone was all over Sen. Brown for taking advantage of Obamacare which he opposed, but nobody ever gets upset when rich Democrats who oppose income tax cuts save millions on said taxes. If an opponent of Obamacare who takes advantage of what the law provides is a hypocrite why isn't an opponent of tax cuts also a hypocrite for pocketing any savings from the new law?

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