(The Lack of) Maternity Leave and Infant Mortality: Correlated Issues in the USA

I was reading again about Marissa Mayer’s pregnancy and her choice to forgo maternity leave. While some may applaud her dedication to her job as almost feminist, I see it as largely detrimental to not only the feminist movement, but to herself. 

Whereas feminists once predicted that the rise of women would come with an attendant set of policies designed to make the world fairer, more humane, and more just, successful women have largely achieved by fitting the mold, not breaking it.

The NY Mag article that discusses this issue also point to the affect of maternity leave on the health of newborns. 

Mandatory parental leave wouldn’t just make life easier on moms and dads, it would improve health outcomes for babies. Research shows that “ten-week paid maternity leave was associated with a reduction in infant mortality rates of 1–2 percent; a twenty-week leave, with a 2–4 percent reduction; and a thirty-week leave, with a 7–9 percent reduction.“

This immediately reminded me of another study that compared the infant mortality rate between developed nations. 

We selected the subset of countries that are both wealthy (nominal GDP per capita over $20,000) and have a population greater than 10 million (upper third of national populations, no city-state countries) as a comparison group. This comparison group consists of 14 countries: Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Portugal, The Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. […]

The United States has the highest rate of infant mortality of any of these comparison countries while Japan, the competitor with the longest life expectancy, has the lowest.

It dawned on me that the average employer probably doesn’t see maternity leave as a necessity, but rather as a luxury afforded to new mothers.

The United States is now the only industrialized country that doesn’t require employers to offer paid time off to new parents.

As the article emphasizes, I agree that it is not until we have mandatory maternity leave that we will be able to prioritize health, quality of life, and gender equality. 

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