Friday, May 28, 2010

Naïve about leave

Since my maternity leave has officially started, I am indulging in some TV catch-up, and today that included watching the season finale of American Idol. I got a little confused as the line-up made me think I was stuck somewhere between the ages of 10 and 16 – every act conjured up childhood memories*.

This being the first day of my maternity leave, it has been spent milling about for the most part. In Norway, maternity leave starts 3 weeks prior to your expected due date. Parents have the choice of taking either 46 weeks at 100% of pre-leave salary or 56 weeks at 80% salary. You can read more about maternity leave benefits in Norway here.

Daddies aren’t left out either. As of July 1, 2009, men can take up to 10 weeks in paternal leave permission (this comes out of the 46 or 56 total week allotment).  Dad even gets an additional two paid weeks of omsorgspermisjon to help mom get back on her feet immediately after birth. Basically, fathers in Norway get more fully paid maternity leave than mothers in the US or UK. You can read a little more about paternity leave in Norway here.

Why is the leave allowance so long here in Norway and so comparatively short in other places? On the one hand, it would be super to say it is because of the value placed on the family unit in countries like Norway. Unfortunately, that would be both naïve and incorrect. Have a look at this map:

The maroon area represents countries with at least 18 weeks of paid maternity leave.

What do the majority of those countries have in common?

If you guessed that their politics were historically rooted in either socialist or communist** regimes, you’d be right.

But even more fundamental than this histo-political information is why it matters. In a nutshell, birth rates tend to decline over time in strong communist or socialist regimes. When birth rates decline, there are less people to pay tax into the communal pot that will then be returned to the population in the form of social benefits. Basically, if there aren’t any new taxpayers being born, the whole system will collapse.

So countries like Norway recognized this negative birth rate*** and had to come up with a plan to get people back in the bedroom to produce the next generation of taxpayers. Ask any Norwegian who has adult children and they will scoff at how long parental leave is now – it wasn’t always that way. Ask someone with older children and they, too, can remember their own leave even in the last decade not being as long as current mandates. But to get people to have more kids, the government provides extra incentives such as longer parental leave rates, subsidized barnehage (day care), child benefit payments, and extra financial support if you are a single parent.

Does this level of social benefit for procreation’s sake leave recipients with a sense of disproportionate entitlement when it comes to other benefits? Kanskje. But that’s for another post.  I have to go see who won American Idol.  Not to worry, though – I have 46 weeks to ponder this.
* Shout out to Hall & Oates for representin’… they were my first concert and Daryl was my first crush – other than Johan from the Smurfs, but I guess he technically didn’t count since he was animated.
** Notice I said communist OR socialist . They are not the same thing, folks, despite silly propaganda that will try to convince you otherwise.
*** A negative birth rate means that more people are dying than are being born.