International Policies Toward Parental Leave and Child Care

Waldfogel, Jane

The pleasures and pressures of parenting a newborn are universal, but the supports surrounding parents vary widely from country to country. In many nations, decades of attention to benefits and services for new parents offer lessons worthy of attention in this country. This article describes policies regarding parental leave, child care, and early childhood benefits here and in 10 industrial nations in North America and Europe. The sharpest contrast separates the United States from the other countries, although differences among the others also are instructive: The right to parental leave is new to American workers; it covers one-half of the private-sector workforce and is relatively short and unpaid. By contrast, other nations offer universal, paid leaves of 10 months or more. Child care assistance in Europe is usually provided through publicly funded programs, whereas the United States relies more on subsidies and tax credits to reimburse parents for part of their child care expenses. Nations vary in the emphasis they place on parental leave versus child care supports for families with children under age three. Each approach creates incentives that influence parents' decisions about employment and child care. Several European nations, seeking flexible solutions for parents, are testing "early childhood benefits" that can be used to supplement income or pay for private child care. Based on this review, the author urges that the United States adopt universal, paid parental leave of at least 10 months; help parents cover more child care costs; and improve the quality of child care. She finds policy packages that support different parental choices promising, because the right mix of leave and care will vary from family to family, and child to child.



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Future of Children

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September 11, 2012