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Women With The Most Education Also Get The Most Maternity Leave

Illustration for article titled Women With The Most Education Also Get The Most Maternity Leave

The U.S. Census Bureau recently released a report on employment and parental leave for first-time mothers, showing how little time women now take off when they have kids. The data also show that the least-educated women in America have the least access to paid leave.

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Illustration for article titled Women With The Most Education Also Get The Most Maternity Leave

The mean age at first birth is now 25 years. And while a few decades ago the norm was for women to quit work upon getting pregnant, from 2006 to 2008, 56.1% of women worked full time during their pregnancy, leaving work only as the due date approaches. However, this varies widely by educational level, largely because women with the lowest levels of education are less likely to be working regardless.

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Illustration for article titled Women With The Most Education Also Get The Most Maternity Leave

The graph on the left shows how many months before the birth working women left their work; the graph on the right shows how many months after the birth they returned. As we see, over time women have stayed at their paid jobs longer and returned more quickly.

Illustration for article titled Women With The Most Education Also Get The Most Maternity Leave

During the 2006-2008 reporting period, for the first time a majority — but a bare one, at 50.8% — of first-time mothers in the labor force used paid leave (maternity leave, sick days, etc.). Not surprisingly, access to paid leave also varied greatly by educational level, and that gap has widened significantly over time.

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So nearly half of first-time mothers in the U.S. still do not have paid leave from their jobs.

Illustration for article titled Women With The Most Education Also Get The Most Maternity Leave
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PBS created an interactive program based on the data that allows you to see the patterns more clearly. You select a race/ethnicity and educational level and get a detailed breakdown of the data. For instance, here's the info for White non-Hispanic women with a 4-year college degree or higher.

Illustration for article titled Women With The Most Education Also Get The Most Maternity Leave
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This post originally appeared at Sociological Images. Republished with permission.

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DISCUSSION

I just returned from maternity leave on Monday. I took 11 weeks—part paid, part unpaid—and got all kinds of reactions. One of my bosses kept referring to it as my "long maternity leave," while my clients in Canada and Europe are all aghast that I'm back to work so soon. (My husband had just started a new job and they "allowed" him to go in the hole on his PTO and take 2 days off.)

I'm also the first full-time employee at my company to have a baby, so navigating/negotiating my leave was tricky. Having been with the company for 5 years, I had accrued the maximum amount of paid parental leave: 15 days. After that, I used up my sick and vacation days and then switched over to short-term disability coverage, which paid a fraction of my base salary. However, I'm a commissioned salesperson, and didn't get credit for any of my repeat-client sales that closed while I was out, which was the biggest financial hit. In effect, I probably got paid about 30% of my normal income while on maternity.

My own thoughts about it are mixed. Compared to many, I'm lucky. But I also feel like my options were limited and I was penalized for taking time away. In the end, it was well worth it to have these last 11 wonderful weeks with my baby. I wish it could have been a bit longer, but such is life.