Pew Study: Americans Want Paid Leave, Want Employers to Offer It

According to the Pew Research Center, paid family and medical leave has generally broad support, but the devil is in the details—in terms of employee impact, policy strategy, and outsider support.

Paid family and medical leave is one of those things that’s sounds good but has proved complicated to implement.

And a recent Pew Research Center study reveals why that is. “Americans Widely Support Paid Family and Medical Leave, but Differ Over Specific Policies,” released last week, shows that most people support paid medical leave. In the case of sick individuals, 85 percent of those surveyed said workers should receive paid leave. For working mothers and fathers, 82 percent in the survey said women should receive paid leave after giving birth or adopting, and 69 percent said men should receive paid paternity leave.

The challenge, however, comes down to who should pay. And, according to the study, Americans generally put the onus onto individual employers rather than federal or state governments.

But this point becomes even more complicated when further narrowed down: Slightly more than half of those surveyed (51 percent) said the federal government should mandate that employers cover paid family and medical leave, while 48 percent said employers should be able to decide whether to offer that leave.

In other words, the policy questions around the issue are muddled.

“There’s no public consensus on the best policy approach for providing paid family and medical leave,” the report states. “In general, the public has a more positive view of policies that incentivize employers or employees rather than those that create a new government fund to finance and administer the benefit.”

The study also highlighted major concerns that come with maternity leave. For example, paid programs tend to be available more commonly for higher-income adults than for those with lower-paying jobs.

Additionally, paid leave raises job security concerns. More than half of all workers who take leave end up returning early, partly out of concern of their coworkers taking on additional work, and partly out of worries that being on leave could affect their advancement.

In fact, a quarter of women who took such leave within the past two years found that it had a negative impact on their job or career, according to Pew.

On the other side of the coin, 55 percent of the U.S. population believes it is somewhat common to abuse the privilege—with those who lean Republican more likely to think so than those who identify as Democrats.

In comments to Bloomberg, Families and Work Institute President Ellen Galinsky noted the issues such attitudes can create.

“People don’t feel safe in using it largely because of attitudes like that,” she told the wire service. “Although we recognize how important leave is, unless there is a culture that supports it, people are going to worry.”

The Pew report comes on the heels of a Boston Consulting Group report, released earlier this year, that attempts to make the case that paid family leave helps improve retention rates and employee morale.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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