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Journal Issue: Work and Family Volume 21 Number 2 Fall 2011

International Perspectives on Work-Family Policies: Lessons from the World's Most Competitive Economies
Alison Earle Zitha Mokomane Jody Heymann

Summary

The United States does not guarantee families a wide range of supportive workplace policies such as paid maternity and paternity leave or paid leave to care for sick children. Proposals to provide such benefits are invariably met with the complaint that the costs would reduce employment and undermine the international competitiveness of American businesses. In this article, Alison Earle, Zitha Mokomane, and Jody Heymann explore whether paid leave and other work-family policies that support children's development exist in countries that are economically competitive and have low unemployment rates. Their data show that the answer is yes.

Using indicators of competitiveness gathered by the World Economic Forum, the authors identify fifteen countries, including the United States, that have been among the top twenty countries in competitiveness rankings for at least eight of ten years. To this group they add China and India, both rising competitors in the global economy. They find that every one of these countries, except the United States, guarantees some form of paid leave for new mothers as well as annual leave. And all but Switzerland and the United States guarantee paid leave for new fathers.

The authors perform a similar exercise to identify thirteen advanced countries with consistently low unemployment rates, again including the United States. The majority of these countries provide paid leave for new mothers, paid leave for new fathers, paid leave to care for children's health care needs, breast-feeding breaks, paid vacation leave, and a weekly day of rest. Of these, the United States guarantees only breast-feeding breaks (part of the recently passed health care legislation).

The authors' global examination of the most competitive economies as well as the economies with low unemployment rates makes clear that ensuring that all parents are available to care for their children's healthy development does not preclude a country from being highly competitive economically.