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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

How about work and kids?

Would a three-year paid maternity leave change your life? Would you have guilt-free parenting? How about the luxury of not having to choose family over work or work over family? And easing back into the workforce? How about going back to a guaranteed job? It's a dream here, but reality elsewhere.

On our drive home from a Christmas party on Saturday, there was a story on the radio about the generous three-year paid maternity leaves that French women get. Then at the end of three years, there is universal, full-time preschool and guaranteed jobs awaiting the returning moms. After a little investigation, I found an article about this in the Washington Post from October. I guess KCBS was airing some Saturday night fillers. Still, I was thinking about how different things would be if all women were given such generous and rightly-deserved programs in this country. Many women here--including my Bank Friend--get a six-week maternity leave before heading back to work. These inadequate leaves not only affect who is raising our kids, but also other personal decisions like whether or not to breastfeed. Bank Friend felt it would be too overwhelming to try and get her baby to nurse only to have to transition to bottles and formula so quickly.

This lack of options leads to picking one or the other. Work? Or Baby? And in my case, since there is no actual job to return to, the thought of searching for a job and interviewing is very intimidating. I've been out of work since early 2003, and I'm sure I'm a bit rusty. There's also a big gap in my resume now. And sadly, "Motherhood" isn't always an acceptable resume place-holder. In some cases, it's probably a liability because companies might equate parenthood with someone who will need time off for sick kids or someone who won't want to work 50 or 60 hours a week. But in France, where the leaves are extensive and paid, women don't have to choose. They get both. Be with the kids until they are three years old, then head back to work.
France heavily subsidizes children and families from pregnancy to young adulthood with liberal maternity leaves and part-time work laws for women. The government also covers some child-care costs of toddlers up to 3 years old and offers free child-care centers from age 3 to kindergarten, in addition to tax breaks and discounts on transportation, cultural events and shopping.
These programs were started because France was hoping to boost its birthrate, and it worked. According to the article, France now has the second-highest fertility rate in Europe. There are 1.94 children born per woman, slightly lower than Ireland's rate of 1.99. The fertility rate in the U.S. is 2.01 children per woman. "Politicians realized they had to encourage people to have more babies if they didn't want to live in a country of old people," said France Prioux, director of research for France's National Institute of Demographic Studies in the article.
This summer, the government--concerned that French women still were not producing enough children to guarantee a full replacement generation--very publicly urged French women to have even more babies. A new law provides greater maternity leave benefits, tax credits and other incentives for families who have a third child. During a year-long leave after the birth of the third child, mothers will receive $960 a month from the government, twice the allowance for the second child.
As a result, 75 percent of all French mothers with at least two children are employed, according to the article. If only we had half of those benefits here...


  1. Anonymous8:27 PM

    Holy shit. And, I need to find myself a nice job in France. Really.

  2. My husband sarcastically said that that's why France's finance is in the tanks. Nevertheless, it would be a good reason for the national debt for once!!!