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. Dahl, Katrine V. Løken, Magne Mogstad, Kari 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:
- Paul Ryan Gives His Staff Paid Family Leave. No, He Doesn’t Want It Guaranteed For You.
- Paid Leave This Week: Yelp for Family Leave, Free Maternity Clothes, and Paul Ryan’s Hypocrisy
- Paul Ryan, Opponent of Paid Family Leave, Demands Congress Respect His Need for Family Time
- Paul Ryan, Speaker? Paul Ryan, Hypocrite.
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