A few weeks ago we wrote about the wage gap in Israel leading to some spirited Facebook discussions. It turns out that women are passionate about the wage gap! Strange. Today I wanted to delve a little deeper into one of the important aspects of the gap, childcare leave. The benefits of childcare leave are far reaching. According to various studies, longer periods of paid leave for mothers increases: women’s participation in the labor market, the ratio of hours worked compared to men, the stability of household income, the duration of breast feeding and immunization rates. It also decreases rates of depression for mothers and infant mortality. However, there are indications that lengthening the period of paid leave may also widen the wage gap. Therefore, leave is good, but must be balanced with ensuring women’s place in the workforce. Let’s look at the numbers! (Charts at the bottom)
At first glance, Israel has room to improve. It gives mothers 14 weeks of paid leave (OECD average is 17.7, Bulgaria gives almost 60! 60! As a reminder a year is 52 weeks long). Only 10 advanced countries give fewer paid weeks than Israel. Mothers can also take an additional 12 weeks of unpaid leave and in a less well known allowance, parents may be eligible to take unpaid leave up to 25% of the length of their current employment (up to one year, the 12 weeks count towards this).
In addition, there is something that is allegedly called “paternity leave”, covering five days after the child’s birth. The first three days are deducted from annual vacation days and the last two are at half pay. If the father has no vacation days left then he can take unpaid leave. Thanks Knesset, you really nailed that one. Fathers are also allowed to take leave intended for mothers, though as of 2014 only .4% of fathers take leave.
But statistics, like video game release dates, are not always what they seem to be (looking at you Breath of the Wild fans!). Israeli women receive 100% of their pay when on leave, a policy only practiced by a handful of countries. Full pay becomes more significant when you consider that Israeli women have more children on average than their OECD counterparts (3 to 1.7) raising the cost of adding weeks to paid leave. Over her lifetime, an average Israeli mother actually gets 42 weeks of full pay childcare leave compared to the OECD average of 44. So rather than the situation being bad, its slightly below average. Progress!
So how can we improve? The first step is simply informing people of their rights. Half of women are unaware of the option that their husbands can take leave instead of them. In addition, only 12% of mothers return to work after seven to 12 months following birth despite the possibility of extending their leave beyond 6 months. Meanwhile, 66% of women expressed interest in doing so suggesting a major knowledge gap. The time to inform people of these rights is well before their brains are functioning on 3 hours of sleep and 4 cups of coffee.
Another step is investing more money and time for paternal leave. Doing so could help family flexibility and has lead to significant increases in the rate of fathers taking leave in other countries. It may also help if unpaid leave could be taken any time in the first few years of their child’s life as opposed to right after birth, a concept which exists in other countries. Israel could also provide an option to return part time thereby helping mothers reintegrate slowly back into the workforce. A part time option at Intel reduced the amount of women who left the company by 30%.
Finally, providing incentives for private companies to create their own favorable leave policies may be more efficient than having the government pay the benefits. A major incentive already exists in that companies with favorable policies will be more likely to attract more talented women. However, additional benefits such as temporary tax breaks may encourage more companies to do so while directing assistance directly to working mothers.
Leave your childcare leave horror stories below, but also remember that every MKs email can be found on the Knesset website. Let them know what you think!
For more check out the Taub policy brief here. If you like well written and informed articles disguised under click baity headlines, give Kalpi a like on Facebook and click on the follow button on the right to get updates on new posts to your email. Contact Kalpi at firstname.lastname@example.org.