Paid parental leave: What can the United States and Australia learn from each other?

Crawford School of Public Policy | Social Policy Institute | Tax and Transfer Policy Institute

Event details


Date & time

Wednesday 16 May 2018


ANU Centre for European Studies, 1 Liversidge St Canberra


Professor Deborah Widiss, Maurer School of Law, Indiana University.


Diane Paul

The Social Policy Institute at the Crawford School of the ANU runs a series of workshops exploring major social policy concerns. The workshops are run on Chatham House rules and involve a mix of academics, researchers, senior public servants and others from the policy community. The workshops are being jointly hosted by the Social Policy Institute at the Crawford School of Public Policy, the Tax and Transfer Policy Institute at the Crawford School (TTPI) and the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods, with the support of Jobs Australia and the Australian Social Policy Association.

In 2011, when Australia launched its paid parental leave (PPL) scheme, the United States became the only industrialized country in the world that fails to guarantee paid leave after the birth of a child. Although the U.S. still lacks a national program, a growing number of US. states now provide paid leave. This workshop, which draws on research I am conducting as a Fulbright Senior Scholar, compares and contrasts PPL schemes in the United States and Australia. The policies employed in the countries provide a similar (and relatively modest, by international standards) number of total weeks of benefits, but they structure the leaves quite differently. Australia provides 18 weeks of pay to the “primary carer” for a newborn and 2 weeks of “dad and partner pay” (DAPP) for a secondary carer. Although a birth mother may transfer some or all of the primary carer benefits, such transfers are quite rare. Thus, in practice, it generally operates as 18 weeks of government-funded maternity leave and 2 weeks of paternity leave.

U.S jurisdictions, by contrast, provide each parent an identical number of weeks of benefits (ranging from 4-12 weeks) for parental leave, with no possibility of transfer, although some provide women an additional number of weeks (usually 6-8 weeks) to recover from the medical effects of childbirth. The benefits also differ markedly. In Australia, PPL and DAPP benefits are a flat rate, paid at the national minimum wage, meaning lower-wage and part-time and casual employees are advantaged as compared to higher-wage and full-time earners. In U.S. jurisdictions, benefits are a percentage of wages (60-90%), up to a cap generally based on the average weekly wage, meaning higher wage workers receive greater benefits (though still less than their regular wages).

The workshop will present data on usage patterns in the two countries and preliminary findings from semi-structured interviews I am conducting with stakeholders involved in implementation of the Australian work/family policies. My research suggests that the structure employed in the U.S. may be more effective than the Australian structure at disrupting the traditional gendered division of family labor. However, it is less supportive of low-wage and single mothers, who may have the greatest need for paid leave benefits.

Deborah Widiss is a Professor of Law at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law (United States), and a visiting scholar at the University of Melbourne Law School. She received a Fulbright Senior Scholar grant to conduct research on Australia’s paid parental leave policy and other legal supports for employees with family responsibilities. She has received several awards for her research, including the Association of American Law Schools Outstanding Scholarly Paper Award. Before transitioning to academia, she was an attorney at a leading women’s rights organisation, where she drafted federal and state legislation, represented individual employees, and consulted with employers on implementation of family-friendly policies. Professor Widiss received a J.D. and a B.A. from Yale University.

This workshop series is in partnership with Jobs Australia and is by invite only.

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